If all living creatures in the universe were gone, there would be nothing left of importance. Pollution? Without life, it would not exist as a “problem.” The river does not care. Death? Were the sun to die away, the rock would stand unconcerned.
Psychological flexibility represents the acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) model of health—it's the element we want to foster and grow in our clients while modelling it ourselves as mental health professionals.
Behavior change that is consistent with personal values is the purpose of psychotherapy. As teens begin to identify what’s important to them and take steps to behave in ways that move toward those things, they will experience internal events that may be intense or challenging. These are things they’ve spent energy avoiding in the past, which have in turn steered them further away from their values.
Values clarification is a critical part of any psychotherapy session. It may be more challenging for some teens than others, to get in touch with what matters to them. For those who struggle, clinical psychologist Sheri Turrell, PhD, and social worker Mary Bell, MSW, suggest a number of options.
It isn’t surprising that we’re under the illusion that we own our time. People tend to talk about the future as if it’s a physical thing, something promised to us. Adults tell young people that what they’re doing in the present is simply preparation for an outstanding future career. Studying helps them get into the right university, volunteer work looks good on a résumé, and extracurricular activities will show a future employer that they’re well-rounded.
In ACT, every discussion has a value behind it. Sometimes what a person cares about is explicit; other times it’s hidden. As mental health practitioners, our job is to be on the alert, always asking, “What does the client care about here?”
If you use defusion in your therapy sessions, or any other technique aimed at helping clients create distance between themselves and the stories they tell themselves, you may recognize this common pitfall: If our thoughts are not absolute truths, then it may seem that there is no absolute meaning, no right or wrong, and perhaps even no absolute point of reference.