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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) & Classic Recovery Principles

by | Jun 8, 2020

Timothy Mayer LMHC,QS  – Primary Counselor  Headwaters

In Bill Wilson’s 1968 forward to the groundbreaking book “Understanding Alcoholism “compiled and edited by the Smithers’s Foundation, he states, “It is most refreshing to see in these concepts that no contributor quarrels with one and other: No professional suggests that his particular discipline has anything like complete answers.” The book was a clear attempt to nest several concepts together for the good of all. The book wisely uses 12-Step facilitation as the needle and thread that holds everything together.

Nothing in my personal experience ties in with 12-Step work better than Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

ACT asks participants to commit to their values and accept or receive whatever thoughts and feelings show up. ACT then teaches us to defuse from our thoughts and feelings and know that a more fundamental self lies behind those thoughts and feelings that is less temporary, less impulsive, and more evolved.

“Defusion” is a term used in ACT. Defusion is the opposite of fusion. When we are fused to a feeling like anger, we are, in fact, anger. When we defuse from anger it’s still there, but we can observe it as a feeling and respond to it from a more permanent, kinder place. This values-based self is much better equipped to make healthy decisions while the feeling -and thought-based mind struggles to make long term decisions and should be kept on a tight leash by the more observant, adaptive mind.

These ideas fit perfectly into the values-based, principle-driven, 12-Step work that is the core of Origins Recovery.

Not once do the 12-Steps ask us how we feel, instead they ask what we are doing. Are we taking the values-based actions of a recovering person or are we still hostages to our primitive drives and feelings for comfort, security and avoidance. Can we feel bad and help others? Can we feel good and help others? Can we do the daily disciplines of recovery whether we want to or not?

The secret sauce of ACT is the development of “Psychological Flexibility” that allows us to make values- based decisions and let our feelings and thoughts come and go as they please.

If a person is rejecting the 12-Step facilitation offered, he is inflexible. When he develops psychological flexibility, he can lean in and do the Steps even if he does not want to or understand why he is doing them. Success in our neighborhood comes more from doing than knowing.

So, in our search to help, I urge all of us to find gems like these that integrate with each other. The issue is not if one theory or discipline is better than another. Instead we should ask ourselves: Can I build a nested set of tools to use so I never feel spun out. Can I live on life’s terms without self-destruction? Can I then teach this approach to others?

For more reading, please refer to “The Wisdom to Know the Difference” by Kelly Wilson, Ph.D. and Troy Dufrene and “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life” by Stephen C. Hayes, Ph.D. Both these books offer exceptional examples of how ACT can help recovery.

HeadWaters Origins is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renown clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 844-439-2837.

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