We have a real problem with staying the moment and for some, it is unfamiliar territory. For some others, it is dangerous territory where reality bites. We are often told in therapy that we need to stay more mindful of what we believe about ourselves and to work on irrational thoughts. Sometimes, in my opinion, the fact that we struggle to find solutions is frustrating enough to actually be the problem. Being mindful or “in the moment”, gives us a chance to respond appropriately to any situation.
On a side note, one of the best mindful-based therapies is ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). The basis is an action-oriented approach to therapy (For me, action is a very important part of therapy) that stems from traditional behaviour therapy and CBT. Clients learn to stop avoiding, denying, and struggling with their inner emotions and, instead, accept that these deeper feelings are appropriate responses to certain situations that should not prevent them from moving forward in their lives. With this understanding, clients begin to accept their issues and hardships and commit to making necessary changes in their behaviour, regardless of what is going on in their lives, and how they feel about it.
The theory behind ACT is that it is not only ineffective, but often counterproductive, to try to control painful emotions or psychological experiences, because suppression of these feelings ultimately leads to more distress. ACT adopts the view that there are valid alternatives to trying to change the way you think, and these include mindful behaviour, attention to personal values, and commitment to action. By taking steps to change their behaviour while, at the same time, learning to accept their psychological experiences, clients can eventually change their attitude and emotional state. In effect, it is accepting that we will have to face certain things in our lives and we have much more ability to work with them if we accept this and work with what we have. Scott Peck alluded to this in The Road Less Travelled:
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. Self-discipline is self-caring”
All mindful therapies rely on the client making the most of the present moment, to be mindful and have what Stephen Covey calls “response-ability”: That means, in his words giving yourself the choice to respond to any stimulus that comes in, whatever it is. To do this, you do not only need to be in the moment but also to accept any feelings that you may have as a valuable sign of what is really happening. This is where the temptation to “solve or distract” may come in. In my sincere opinion, I do believe that most of us cannot make use of the present because we are mostly in the past or future when we are trying to process things and we need some help to do that.
I truly believe that therapy as a profession needs to allow itself to become more flexible to other influences that might enhance the possibilities of client growth. Once such influence could well be coaching in its directive action based model of progress. I truly like inner child and especially Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), that looks at the range of thinking parts and the influence they bring. In IFS especially, the process of “unblending” from parts that keep us stuck and the discovery of “exiled” parts that we have repressed can help us to look at things in a more practical way.
Part of this process is to use the Adult voice to help find compassion for the other troubled child like voices like shame, critic, escape and anger. But just what is it to be an adult?
If we are honest with ourselves, we spend a lot of time in “child” mode, re-enacting aspects of our development. Whether it’s in conflict with another or when we are ruminating or listening to our own self-talk, our younger selves often come through, consolidating our early beliefs. We have to learn to be an adult.
Most adult responses are a combination of emotion and logic, not too much of one and not too much of the other. Decisions and responses are made with all information at hand and realism is applied. This can only be done by being in the present moment, listening and communicating effectively and gathering information that is relevant. Any less than positive experience around the same event can be tempered with lessons learned. This is difficult for many of us who live our lives with fear, anxiety, regret and the expectation of outside influence.
How do we learn to be an adult when we have not been taught? One exercise I really like to kick off the process is from the Inner Child Workbook by Cathryn Taylor. She quotes Dorothy Corkville Briggs from Celebrate Yourself “A responsible inner adult is that part capable of thinking, in touch with reality, that postpones instant gratification for long term gain. It estimates the probability of consequences of certain acts. It is the part of you that is responsible for you and to others”.
Finding your adult side is extremely important because it can help negotiate a balance between other parts of your thinking. Taylor suggests an exercise where you list various men and women who you believe are responsible and why. The exercise moves on to write a list of responsible things done and rating against a list of what is perceived as responsible behaviour. One small step forward but maybe a giant leap will follow!
Carl Rogers also gave us information on what it is to be an adult:
1. Open to experience: both positive and negative emotions accepted. Negative feelings are not denied, but worked through (rather than resorting to ego defense mechanisms).
2. Existential living: in touch with different experiences as they occur in life, avoiding prejudging and preconceptions. Being able to live and fully appreciate the present, not always looking back to the past or forward to the future (i.e. living for the moment).
3. Trust feelings: feeling, instincts, and gut-reactions are paid attention to and trusted. People’s own decisions are the right ones, and we should trust ourselves to make the right choices.
4. Creativity: creative thinking and risk-taking are features of a person’s life. A person does not play safe all the time. This involves the ability to adjust and change and seek new experiences.
5. Fulfilled life: a person is happy and satisfied with life, and always looking for new challenges and experiences.
Rogers believed that every person could achieve their goal. This means that the person is in touch with the here and now, his or her subjective experiences and feelings, continually growing and changing.
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.
For more information, please visit: www.drnjenner.com