Part three of a six-part series on ACT processes
Like all other creatures, humans live in the present. Without training, we are rarely there consciously.
Whenever there is a problem to be solved, we look backward for clues about how things came to be messed up and then forward to see where we’d rather be. The present becomes little more than a kind of ongoing Verizon commercial (“Are we there yet?”): a kind of placeholder that merely allows us to measure the discrepancy between where we are and where we want to be.
Clients come to us in that mode of mind. Attention is reflexively and rigidly focused on the past and future. The now is a mere placeholder. We cannot be in the now consciously until attentional processes are taken back from that problem-solving organ between our ears. To help a client do that, you need to read where they are.
How do you know a client is sometime else? You can sense it by the lack of vitality in the room. Present instances of behavior, feelings, or thoughts are missed. Fixation and/or distractibility are pervasive. The clients fails to notice details of the environment or changes in you (or notices these things compulsively). The past and future dominate as topics of discussion. Attention is not flexible, fluid, and voluntary.
When you see those reads, just stop. Ask your client to take three deep breaths, to feel the table, to smell their clothes, to focus on a sound, or to sense their heart pumping. Anything, provided that it is here and now. If attention wanders, just bring it back.
Take time to come into the present in session and help the client to see that the now is always here. After all, we live in the present. It is just that we are rarely there consciously.
Steven C. Hayes, PhD, is Nevada Foundation Professor in the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. An author of forty-one books and more than 575 scientific articles, he has shown in his research how language and thought leads to human suffering, and has developed acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)—a powerful therapy method that is useful in a wide variety of areas.
Jason B. Luoma, PhD, is cofounder and CEO of Portland Psychotherapy Clinic, Research, and Training Center—a research and training clinic based on a social enterprise model that uses business revenue to fund scientific research—where he maintains a small clinical practice. As a researcher, Luoma studies shame, self-criticism, and the interpersonal effects of emotion, as well as related interventions. He is a peer-reviewed ACT trainer, former chair of the ACT Training Committee, and former president of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science.
Robyn D. Walser, PhD, is codirector of the Bay Area Trauma Recovery Clinic, staff psychologist at the National Center for PTSD Dissemination and Training Division, and assistant clinical professor in the department of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. As a licensed clinical psychologist, she maintains an international training, consulting, and therapy practice. Walser is developing innovative ways to translate science into practice, with a focus on the dissemination of state-of-the-art knowledge and treatment interventions.