For part 1 of this post, click here.
I had an “aha” moment and developed a much greater understanding of why there was such a difference between traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) when Dr. Russ Harris outlined that there are two radically different philosophies of science. Neither is better than the other, they are just different–like two flavors of ice cream.
The first, which I have been exposed to for most of my life as a client and throughout graduate school, is elemental realism. Nearly all of psychology and physical sciences are based in this idea. Elemental realism says there is an objective truth to be measured, studied and discovered. This philosophy has radically improved our lives in countless ways with enhanced medicine, technology, education and more.
A traditional second wave CBT therapist, operating from the philosophy of elemental realism, might use this to teach a client to dispute “thinking errors.” For example, when you encounter the thought, “I’m not good enough,” you would try to replace it with a more “true” or “accurate” thought.
On the opposite side of elemental realism lies functional contextualism, which asks how functional or useful something is, in a given context or situation. This is where ACT has its roots. An ACT therapist wouldn’t be interested in whether or not a thought is true, but whether or not it is useful. Instead of disputing the, “I’m not good enough” story, a person would ask, “when you are caught up in that thought or story, how useful is it? Or said another way, “how does it influence your behavior?” When hooked by this story, is your behavior in service of or incongruent with your values?
Likely, when we are caught up in the “I’m not good enough” story, we behave in ways that are self-destructive at worst and unworkable at best. Both lead us away from behaving the way we would like to deep down in our hearts. This has certainly been true in my own life. I have found great comfort and profound meaning from being able to reframe my thoughts and live in greater service of the things I deeply value.
Next time you find yourself replaying a painful thought and trying desperately to think positively instead, consider asking yourself, “Is this useful? Is this thought in service of the things I value most deeply?”
For more information on how to unhook from painful thoughts and destructive behavior and into a life toward greater vitality and meaning, email or call me today. Wishing you love, hope and prosperity on your journey.
Chase Wickersham, LCSW