Home » Training » ACT in Depth

3 Types of Discomfort

Being willing to experience discomfort is an important part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. We seek to hold a safe space for suffering and pain – aspects of life that as humans we usually want to avoid. Depression and anxiety are also causes of discomfort. All these can be broken down to help our clients be present to their pain, in order to reduce avoidance and expand their capacity to be present to life.

This model recognizes three types of discomfort. It is important to recognise which type of discomfort a client is experiencing:

  • Ordinary discomfort – discomfort related to aspects of life that cannot be changed, such as birth, death, ageing or sickness

  • Change – discomfort produced by holding onto or clinging to, or not wanting to lose, something we value, or not getting something that we desire

  • Conditioned state – discomfort emerging from our internal experience, such as thoughts, judgements and commentary, and also physical sensations such as a quickened heart rate, ‘butterflies’, lack of appetite or sweating.

We want to identify what kind of discomfort our clients are feeling. We need to establish this so they can notice and be aware of the types of discomfort they are experiencing. We often move between the types of discomfort. The aim is to eventually be able to hold this discomfort gently.

When introducing this model draw it on a whiteboard during the session and refer to it through out each session. We want look at where our clients are in the triad of discomfort (ordinary, change, conditioned). We also want to help our clients look at and identify their source or sources of discomfort. Is it sickness, job change, worry and anxiety? Clients can use this to understand and monitor where they are in experiencing discomfort, what they are struggling with and how they can hold the unavoidable discomfort more gently.


Connect with Nesh on: