Life Skill Coaching, moving from experiential avoidance to psychological flexibility.

Abstract of an article by Dr. T.T.Srinath, Ph.D. (full article available as download)

A middle aged CEO of a fairly well reputed multi-specialty hospital sought my assistance in helping him work through some of the challenges he was experiencing.

He was experiencing the following difficulties in coping with his challenges and these were evidenced as:
·         A tendency for him to be unable to distinguish between the issue and an individual.
·         His stuckness with his past, his anxieties with the future and the rules and judgments that caused an internal chatter in him.
·         A tendency to avoid immersing in the experience that he was currently going through and burying his head, almost ‘ostrich-like.’
·         Being distracted, disengaged, disconnected and disassociated with his current reality.
·         Being remote from his values.
·         Essentially grappling with unworkable solutions.

He was therefore experiencing in some ways what Russ Harris, a proponent of what is called ‘ACT’ or ‘Accept and Commitment Therapy’ calls, ‘psychological rigidity.’

‘ACT’ or ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’ is an evidence based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness techniques alongside behaviour change strategies to help one live life according to what really matters to the individual.

This therapeutic process was developed around the 1990s by Steven C Hayes along with Kelly Wilson and in recent years has gained eminence due to the pioneering work of Russ Harris.

ACT says that we must develop psychological flexibility and not resort to experiential avoidance.

Experiential avoidance means, attempting to go away, deny or suppress pain which is caused by the thoughts that erupt in us and these have an impact on our emotions, feelings and actions. ACT says that we must not attempt to push away thoughts that upset, yet try to reframe our relationship with these thoughts.

To achieve this and thereby lead a fulfilling and meaningful existence, three things may be attempted:

·         Accept your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations because you cannot really avoid or control how you think and what you feel.
·         Choose your values and move in that direction by identifying what matters to you and defining how you want to live.
·         Take action by starting to do things that matter to you.

There are two languages that we operate through:
·         Public language
·         Private language

Public language is what we utter through words and outward expression.

Private language is the thoughts, feelings and internal processes that go on within us. While what we say outside determines the impact that we have on people and their lives and often times feedback is available for public language, private language being a completely internal process has no check back mechanism other than the thoughts and voices that we hear within ourselves.

Full article: Life skill coaching, moving from experiential avoidance to psychological flexibility.pdf

Key Words: Acceptance Commitment Therapy; psychological rigidity and flexibility; experiential avoidance; life skill coaching; defusion; choose your values; feelings; accept thoughts; public language; private language; take action.

© Dr. T.T.Srinath, Ph.D.

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