The Six Core Processes in ACT, for the non-ACTers out there
This week’s post is straight from the literature and something I often use with clients. The reason I am sharing it is because a) it is my mission to share what I think is useful, and b) the ACT stance is one of equals, working together to try and make sense of whatever it is you might be struggling with.
It just makes sense for you to know what I know, and to reassure you that however complex your difficulties may be, or how random my approach might seem, there exists a very well evidenced model that can help make sense of all of it. It is not a model of illness/psychopathology, it is a model that can be applied to anybody and everybody, it is the psychology of the normal, addressing the difficulties of being human and trying to survive in this crazy world with all of our shared and idiosyncratic foibles. Yes, you might have a diagnosis, but more importantly you are a human being first, as am I, and we are both imperfect and prone to similar difficulties that just come with living.
The Six Core Processes are:
Defusion (as opposed to fusion) is about learning to step back and detach a little from our thoughts, including memories. Instead of getting carried away with our thoughts or struggling to control them we learn to let them come and go as if they are just cars passing by in the street outside our house. We step back and watch our thinking instead of getting tangled up in it. We see our thoughts for what they are – nothing more or less than words and pictures in our heads and we hold them lightly.
Acceptance/expansion/willingness (as opposed to experiential avoidance) means opening up and making room for difficult or painful feelings, sensations, urges and emotions. We drop the struggle with them, give them some breathing space and allow them to be as they are, instead of trying to suppress them or becoming overwhelmed by them, we open up and let them be. This doesn’t mean liking or wanting them, it simply means making room for them.
Contact with the present moment (as opposed to being lost in the past or the future). We humans tend to have difficulties staying in the present, so very often the skill we need to develop is consciously bringing our awareness to the here-and-now experience when we notice we are drifting off into our thoughts or operating on autopilot. This does not mean that it is inherently bad to be thinking about the past or the future, just that we can tend to do a bit too much of it.
Self as context (as opposed to over attachment to the conceptualised self). This is the space from which we can observe our experiences without being caught up in them, and come to understand that we are the context within which all of our experiences exist, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, others and the world (thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories). We are not our stories, our stories exist within the context of this observing self, which is separate and different from the sometimes noisy, chattering thinking self, more of an observing self.
Values (as opposed to blundering through life without knowing what really matters to us). Values are freely chosen and describe who and how we want to be for our short time on this planet. Clarifying values is an essential step in creating a meaningful life. Values are commonly compared to a compass because they give us direction and guide our ongoing journey. They are not to be confused with goals or rigid rules about the things we feel we should, ought or must do. They are chosen willingly and they are what matters most to us, not anybody else.
Committed action (as opposed to inaction, impulsivity and avoidance) means taking effective action guided by our values. Knowing what matters is the start, but it is only via ongoing, values congruent action that life becomes rich, full and meaningful. In other words, life won’t be much of a journey if we just sit and look at the compass; we need to move ourselves in our chosen direction, even if that throws up unsettling emotions. So committed action means doing what it takes to live by our values, even if at times that brings up some pain or discomfort.
This is not a recipe for a life free of fear or sadness – there is no such life. It is a recipe for a meaningful life with some super useful mindfulness based techniques that might help the most difficult parts a little bit less so.