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Applications of Self as Context

Self as Context deals directly with identity and how we view ourselves. Self as Context in the ACT model has three approaches.

Approach 1 – Defusion from the conceptualised self:

We generally hold a story or stories about ourselves. For example, ‘I am a professional’, ‘I am a brother’, and ‘I am active’. We can also identify with these stories. However, we can also identify with stories that say ‘I am boring’, ‘I am useless’ or ‘I am pathetic’. We can become fused with our conceptualised self, which can cause problems, even with an apparently positive ‘story’. For example, a professional runner may fuse with her identity as a world-class athlete. What happens when she has an injury or retires? The conceptualised self is a story about me, but it (the story) is not me. My thoughts about me are not me, but elements of a story about me. The way to defuse from this is to use metaphors, exercises and psycho-education to promote defusion from the conceptualised self.

Approach 2 – Providing a safe space inside:

This approach uses experiential exercises. One way to introduce this is to conduct a quick noticing exercise. Start with asking the client to notice the five senses. As you progress through each sense, ask the client to be aware that he or she is noticing, and identify what part of us does the noticing. 

Help the client recognise that this ‘part of us’ is the Observing Self, the internal witness to the world. This allows us to be there. It is unchangeable, is always present, and has been part of us for our entire lives.

This can provide a safe space inside. It is useful when working with trauma clients. 

Approach 3 – Spirituality:

Many people are very strongly connected with a sense of spirituality or have a feeling of being ‘spiritual’ yet do not always consider themselves religious. Being spiritual or having a sense of spirituality is not a requirement when looking at the Self as Context. 

Self as Context provides a connection with the Observing Self, a part that transcends the Physical Self and the Thinking Self. The Observing Self has no form; it is a place of perspective, a viewing platform from which you can witness everything. The Observing Self also recognises that all other humans have this same ‘silent witness’ inside and as such we are connected by this.  

We do not have to be connected with the Observing Self all the time to know that the observer is always there. Experiencing the Observing Self and understanding the Self as Context also provide a sense of spirituality for some.

Keep these approaches in mind when going through Self as Context with your clients.


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