ACT Book Summary: Pages 168 - 174

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Evaluation versus Description
Evaluations masquerade as descriptions of things and events because language makes little distinction between them. Descriptions may be thought of as primary properties of things and events while evaluations are secondary properties, reactions to things and events.

The authors point out that most clients bring negative self-referential evaluative self-talk directed toward themselves ("I'm a despicable human being") to therapy that would be difficult to accept if it described the essence of a person.

The Bad Cup Metaphor illustrates this principle by pointing out the difference between essential properties of a cup (such as that it is made of metal or ceramic or whatever) and our evaluations of the cup (good cup/bad cup). As an aside, my husband, who is not a therapist, really related to the question of "If all the humans on earth died tomorrow, would this still be a good (or just, or moral, etc.) ____?" as a way of identifying evaluations.

A second strategy for highlighting the kind of thought or speech someone is engaged in is to have them label each thought or sentence as a description, an evaluation, a feeling, a thought, a physical sensation, a memory, etc (Cubby Holing). Although this is awkward, it can be very effective at promoting defusion with private events.

Willingness: The Goal of Deliteralization
The goal of deliteralization is to decrease the role of evaluation and strengthen the client's ability to take a non-judgmental, observer perspective so that they can begin to observe their own disturbing private events with less struggle and more willingness.

Two exercises that give the client live experience with willingness are the Physicalizing Exercise and the Tin Can Monster Exercise.

The Physicalizing Exercise has the client treat their unwanted content (depression, anxiety, addiction, etc) as an object, by describing its physical attributes (size, weight, color, density, etc). Then the client sets it aside and describes reactions to the "object" they described; they repeat the exercise with the reaction. They then go back and look at the first "object"; often it is less intense in some attributes (smaller, lighter, etc).

The Tin Can Monster Exercise helps the client get in touch with their "observer you," then uses that perspective to explore several domains (physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, memories) associated with the problem area. The focus is on staying with the uncomfortable, unwanted content while letting go of the struggle to make it go away.