Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a values-based approach, which can be useful in treating symptoms of distress and anxiety.
By understanding our values, we can use them to guide and motivate us to make our lives more meaningful. As the name implies, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy focuses on accepting the things that are out of your control, and committing to the work it takes to realise a values–guided life.
Values are the beliefs that guide your actions; the concepts that are core to how you believe you can make your life worthwhile.
Deep distress, unhappiness and anxiety can arise when an individual’s core values are in conflict – such as in the following theoretical examples:
- Meet Amy, the 13 year old who believes loyalty and trustworthiness keeps your best friends close; but also believes that true friendship means being protective when that friend is in trouble. Amy is plunged into massive anxiety when her best friend confides she wants to kill herself – because if Amy is to be a “true” friend, she is not to tell anyone!
- Craig is a 30-something young father, whose own workaholic father had little time to spend with him. As a result of his own deep sadness, his core value as a parent is developing close ties with his own children, by making sure to spend some time with them nearly every day, to help them flourish and grow into secure adults. At the same time however, Craig has another core value also learned from his high-flying father: that successful masculinity, and his identity as a man, requires him to be a rich man by the age of 40. This means Craig must spend long hours at his business, leaving little time to be with his children. This conflict in his values may be deeply disturbing for him, and give rise to very high levels of stress affecting his health, his management skills and his relationships with his family.
- Rita has strong religious beliefs, core to her being since childhood: marriage is for life, for better or for worse. This is challenged when Rita discovers her once adventurous, bright, clever, loving, beloved daughter is suffering from verbal, psychological and financial abuse in her marriage, and has become frightened by the threats, feeling inadequate as a person and a mother, and is very depressed. Rita has always been fiercely protective of her daughter’s wellbeing as core to her beliefs about being a parent. If she believes her daughter is “sinful” for divorcing her husband, yet fearful for her adult child, she will be in great distress and will find no peace until this conflict of values can be resolved.
A values-based approach requires the individual, finding themselves in a seemingly impossible double-bind, to examine in depth their core values and where they conflict, in order to decide which value must take priority in a given situation, to develop a rich and meaningful life.
Learning to be insightful and deeply honest about the self can be hard work, but also very rewarding.
Once the values we commit to are truly in line with our best selves, we can be inspired to follow through with the actions that will lead to the reduction of stress and distress. Once certain of the values that will safely guide us, they are guiding lights to help us confront and change – or accept, with strength and calm – the challenges as well as the joys, of experiencing fully mindful lives.
If you would like to find out more about how a values-based approach, can help you tackle deep distress and anxiety, I welcome you to make an appointment with me.
Author: Susanne Gilmour, BA, Dip Soc. Science, Grad Dip Psychology.
Susanne Gilmour is a Registered Psychologist experienced in working with individuals of all ages, couples and families around a range of relationship and emotional difficulties. In therapy, Susanne draws on evidence-based strategies including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy, Schema Therapy, Neuropsychotherapy, and Narrative Therapy.
Bookings and Fees: To make an appointment with Susanne Gilmour, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Aisbett, Bev, and Harris, Dr Russ. “The Illustrated Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living”. Shambhala Publications, 2014, Boston. (Recommended as a starter guide to this approach to reduce stress and overcome fear to create a richer and more meaningful life).