Home » Training » ACT in Depth

Concern and Control

Action, concern, and control are key parts of the committed action process. Action is related to the concerns we have as human beings, and the control we are able to apply. What often happens is that our concerns become large and we lose sight of our goals – we stop acting on those things that we can do to make a difference. We become consumed with concern and relinquish control.

The ‘concern and control’ model has two parts. Imagine control as the core within a larger, wider circle that is concern. Control is at the centre of the model. Most people are biased one way or the other – either wanting and trying to control everything, even those things that cannot be controlled, or being concerned with and consumed by ‘what ifs’ and other sources of worry; either way, they form barriers to action towards values.

In therapy, we may see clients whose centre of control or capacity for control is quite small. We want to help these clients, through committed action, to expand or enhance their control. We want to slowly increase their control core. 

Other clients may be overwhelmed with concerns. Their anxious thoughts and worries inhibit their capacity to fulfil the actions they have identified as useful in working towards their values.

The car-brakes failing metaphor can be useful in explaining this concept. You are driving along a tree-lined road on a Sunday afternoon, enjoying a beautiful day. The road begins to slope downwards, and you lightly apply your foot to the brake. The brake doesn’t work. You press harder. There is no response – the brakes are not working. 

Suddenly your area of concern is huge – increasing from almost nothing as you enjoyed being in the present moment on a Sunday drive to enormous as you contemplate death. What do we do? Do we go into a panic of concern (letting go of the wheel and closing our eyes) or do we try to control what we can control (grab the wheel and steer the vehicle)? 

While most of our clients will come to us poised most frequently in one circle or the other, we can help them appreciate that negotiating our daily lives requires conscious application of both areas. We don’t want to take ‘concerned’ clients into a space where they feel they must control everything and everyone, to the point of rigidity. Nor do we want controlling clients to be so ‘concerned’ that they worry too much about the ‘what ifs’. We want them to take control of their concerns.

Usually they will have options that will enable them to guide and manage their behaviour. We should help them be flexible in considering and applying methods of control, taking control of our concerns in a flexible and effective manner. We want to grab the steering wheel of life and move forward!


Connect with Nesh on: