Home » Training » ACT in Depth

Expansion: Opening Up to Discomfort

Expansion is the practice of holding discomfort. We aim to show our clients how it will help to hold – to allow and to be with – discomfort. Many have spent a large portion of their lives and a great deal of energy trying to eliminate discomfort, or at least pushing it away. They rarely practice holding it. 

Expansion opens the door to many possibilities in our clients’ lives. Acceptance is about holding discomfort so we are better able to focus on what’s truly important to us – rather than wasting energy on trying to eradicate discomfort. Expansion allows us to do that.

There are a number of ways expansion exercises can be used with clients. Here is one:

  1. Invite your client to close their eyes or fix their gaze to a point in front of them.

  2. Ask your client to recall a difficult time in their life, which causes an emotional response.

  3. Ask your client to identify the part of their body where they can notice the most uncomfortable feeling or sensation as a result of this recollection.

  4. Assist your client to describe the sensation. Help your client break it into components (where is the sensation; is it close to your skin or deeper; how big or small is it; what shape is it; does it ache, pulse, throb, vibrate or something else; does the sensation move; how thick is it; does it seem to have a temperature, and if so is it hot or cold)

  5. Ask your client to take deep breathes into and around the area of discomfort.

  6. Ask the client to now make space for the discomfort – allow it to be there, give it permission to be there, sit along side it.

  7. Have the client notice again how the sensation feels, from a very close perspective and check if it changes – can you sit along side it?

  8. Have the client complete a quick grounding exercise (such as noticing what they can hear in the room)

  9. Discuss the exercise with your client.

We want to guide our clients through this process. We start with breathing for comfort then request our clients to recall a moment from their past that causes discomfort. We then guide them through the process of noticing, describing, breathing, creating room, noticing has anything changed or not. Our aim is not to change the sensation but to have the client understand that they can hold it in a different way. We would then discuss our client’s experiences during each of the steps. 

This process helps our clients understand how expansion works. They can then use this technique when they experience discomfort in their daily lives. 


Connect with Nesh on: