When you’re struggling with some emotional problem, like for example anxiety, depression, or momentary anger, what can you do to get past this? Modern psychology offers many ways to resolve such issues. Some of the most widely used techniques work on changing your thoughts; other more recent approaches stress acceptance and mindfulness. In this article we’ll look at some of these ways that can help you.
The most common techniques today are “cognitive” which change the way you think, that is, your cognitions. The basic idea is that our emotions are always preceded by thoughts, which may be automatic and almost unnoticeable. If your thoughts are “maladaptive” to the situation, then you may suffer negative reactions or emotions. Cognitive techniques therefore teach us to listen to our thinking very carefully for such maladaptive thoughts, catch them, and counter them with more “coping” thinking. This then can start the healing. And this is really not that different than what we normally do in our inner dialogue, only much more structured. Many good tools were developed to help with this, and the success rate is usually quite high.
However, it does not always work.
This is why there now are other techniques that do not deal with thinking at all, but rather directly with the emotion: they teach us to better be with these emotions and “accept” them --just long enough-- so that we then can move on with our lives in the directions that we see as worthy.
One such approach is called “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy,” or ACT. The acronym ACT can also stand for
- Take Action.
Here you learn to Accept your limiting emotions, then Choose what you want to really do and Take Actions to move in this direction. The access to acceptance in ACT is typically though “mindfulness,” i.e. becoming totally aware of the emotion without engaging with it or trying to “change it away.” The amazing thing is that once you do not feed any more thoughts into the emotion, it often subsides enough so that you can move on with your life.
But one of the really useful things about ACT is the “Choose” part, which makes you focus on what rally matters in life. Other cognitive techniques usually do not even address this: they simply resolve the issue at hand and then send you on your way. The ACT approach, however, also makes you focus on the big picture in life: what should I do with my life?
The unfortunate thing is that some (but not all) therapists who practice ACT do not want to deal with cognitive techniques at all, and vice versa. I think this is very regrettable, because both sides offer much to the other, or better, to the person who is looking for help.
This is why, in The Steps of Essence, I create a coherent system that incorporates all of this so that it can help you better.
I do believe that at the heart of resolving and healing is in fact acceptance. But there can be many ways to acceptance—not just mindfulness as ACT teaches. You see, acceptance is arguably always a part of the healing. No matter what technique a therapist uses --may it be cognitive techniques, Jungian analysis, or whatever-- then you still have to internalize what you are being told. And that also is a form of acceptance, for acceptance literally means “to take in willingly.” If you cannot accept what you are learning, that is, make it your own willingly, then the technique does not work. So acceptance is always at the heart of healing, and various techniques can get you there.
- any Appropriate technique to Accept and resolve,
- Take Action.
This seemingly little change creates a bridge between mindfulness based techniques and the many other successful techniques from the various schools of psychology—may they be cognitive, analytic, humanistic, existential, or behavioral, etc. Because different techniques work for different people: if a change in thinking gets you to resolve the problem, then great: use it; and if not work, try the mindfulness techniques.
On the other hand, this change now also links the powerful Choose and Take Action part to all the other schools of thought, and thereby opens up psychology to a greater “life design” mindset, which focuses people back on the big picture of their lives and makes them focus on their more positive values or skills, etc. Thereby, the approach becomes integral and whole.
In the Steps of Essence, you will therefore find many techniques from various schools of psychology, as well as ways to choose your purpose and tools to bring this to life. If you read the Steps, choose those techniques that work best for you and then move on in the direction of your life that you value.
Wishing you the best life.