Committed action is not an easy process to work on with our clients. I’ve put together some troubleshooting methods to help you and your client overcome barriers to taking committed action.
There are six places where clinicians often have difficulty deciphering why their clients are not able to take the steps they have discussed towards their values. These six places relate to the six core processes of ACT. Within your sessions you will have been looking to each of the ACT processes as a means of fostering and encouraging progress. Challenges arise when clients are still stuck in or consumed by one or more of the core processes.
So if you’re working on:
Committed action and the client is struggling with applying defusion, the problem may be that the client is still quite fused.
Committed action and the client is struggling with contacting the Observing Self, the client may be stuck in the self story.
Committed action and the client is struggling with identifying their values, the client may be stuck trying to live according to rigid, inflexible rules.
If the client seems to be acting in a way that takes them further from their values (sometimes expressed as avoidance), we can work through a simple exercise to explore where ‘actions’ are coming from.
Start exploring with your client where these ‘actions’ are coming from or what they are based on. You can do this by writing ‘Action based on…’ on a white board. Then explain that there are six places we can be getting caught up on. They are:
Action based on unhelpful thoughts: Our clients are unable to untangle themselves from thoughts that push them around and they take action from this spot and don’t get the desired result (defusion)
Action based on uncomfortable feelings: They struggle with feelings and become consumed by them, then act according to them (for example feeling sad and withdrawing) (experiential acceptance)
Action based on being caught up in the past or future: There is so much going on that they are confused or overwhelmed and tend to do something to avoid or escape the feelings (present moment)
Action based on negative self stories: They take action based on the (negative) labels they bestow upon themselves, such as ‘I am lazy’ or ‘I am worthless’ (Self as Context)
Action based on rigid rules or unrelenting standards: They believe there is only one way to achieve a goal, which becomes a rigid ‘rule’ (values)
Action based on unmeasurable indicators: They have established committed actions but don’t have clear markers to measure progress or achievement, or are not sure how it’s linked to values (action).
When troubleshooting committed action, the bolded words in brackets show how the difficulties relate to the core ACT processes. We can return to the other hexaflex processes if the client encounters difficulties in taking committed action. Discussing this in session can help our clients see what they are doing and how we can help them achieve outcomes based on their values.
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