[ACT] is also similar to many eastern approaches (particularly Buddhism), and the mystical aspects of most major spiritual and religious traditions. ACT did not arise from these related areas directly — it is the result of a 25 year course of development inside Western science — but it arrived at a similar place which is interesting in and of itself.
…trying to change difficult thoughts and feelings as a means of coping might can be counter productive, but new, powerful alternatives are available, including acceptance, mindfulness, cognitive defusion, values, and committed action. Research seems to be showing that these methods are beneficial for a broad range of clients. ACT teaches clients and therapists alike how to alter the way difficult private experiences function mentally rather than having to eliminate them from occurring at all.
When we have been depressed, we dread it coming back. At its first sign, we may try to suppress the symptoms, pretend they aren’t there, or push away any unwanted thoughts or memories. But such suppression often does not work, and the very things we tried to get rid of come back with renewed force. Mindfulness takes a different approach. It helps develop our willingness to experience emotions, our capacity to be open to even painful emotions. It helps give us the courage to allow distressing mood, thoughts and sensations to come and go, without battling with them. We discover that difficult and unwanted thoughts and feelings can be held in awareness, and seen from an altogether different perspective – a perspective that brings with it a sense of warmth and compassion to the suffering we are experiencing.
One of my favourite suppression mechanisms was counting. Walking to work, sitting in front of the computer, lying in bed. Clinging to the thumping beat of internal articulation, of predictable serial progression, loud in the skull, to drown the terror, beat the fear into submission, impose a veneer of order over the chaos. Putting my fingers in my ears and screaming “la la la la la”.
It’s like running away. Moving from one continent to another, for example, merely provides a different backdrop for the same mindscape.
It’s impossible to tell objectively the individual significance of the different factors in the discontinuous/simultaneous equation of drugs, psychotherapy and meditation. However experientially my perception is that meditation has been the most helpful of the three, both long- and short-term. I would go so far as to say it has changed my life. Completely.