ACT Book Summary: Pages 174 - 179

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Therapeutic do's and don'ts
The goal of deliteralization is a hefty one. Chapter Six offers a dazzling array of ACT metaphors and exercises: confronting nasty passengers on the bus, endlessly saying milk, milk, milk, soldiers wandering around in a parade amongst the recesses of the mind, taking your mind for a walk, reasons as causes, avoid use of those 'buts," and practicing awareness of your experience, to name just a few. Deliteralization is an essential step in the ACT process, and yet its filled with perilous pitfalls for our heroic ACT therapist.

First, there is the challenging task of entering the client's language system The therapist seeks to realize that it is a language system, while at the same time avoid the many opportunities presented to "fuse" with the system. This challenge occurs because we are using language to point out the dangers of language in an effort to convince a person to avoid being taken in by the power of their own words. Encouraging willingness and deliteralization by using words alone may result in an overuse of logic. Hence, words are always connected to metaphor (and hopefully experience) as a way of avoiding this pitfall.

On the other hand, the use of metaphors presents another challenge in that the therapist may get totally caught up in the process of painting pictures. Telling stories and doing exercises keeps everyone awake, but the goal of willingness and deliteralization may get lost in the mix. Focusing on one metaphor per session at most (and any given metaphor may be useful for more than one session) is the best remedy. Most important, metaphors are adapted to fit a client's particular form of fusion. Context always is combined with content in the client's experience for the proper and judicious use of metaphor.

Next -- How to determine when its time to get out of Dodge City and move on to the next stage of ACT?

First, we know there's progress when a person does not automatically respond to every troublesome thought (or emotion) with the same overwhelming and automatic connection. They cease to automatically fuse with their language system and instead are able to "wake up" and be aware of non-workable reactions, sometimes in the very midst of the process. Second, from this evolving stance of observer to their reactions, a person demonstrates an increased capacity for a willingness to experience content that would have previously brought automatic fusion. In other words, they do not always and automatically respond with well worn methods of control and avoidance. ACT would argue that this occurs when a person ceases to fuse and there is a "weakening of social/verbal context of control." The client is able to have more difficult experiences and demonstrates a willingness to set aside moves of experiential avoidance.

From this point, the clinician is then advised to observe thyself in an exercise which eventually encourages one to "release" attachment to cherished notions of self, whether they be the best of things or the worst of things that you think about who you are. How difficult is it to release our attachment to these statements about self as "literal" realities of who we are? Perhaps this will develop an empathy for the challenges faced by our clients.

Then we are presented with a clinical vignette about a 31 year old man with panic attacks whose life has become constricted because he avoids situations that produce feelings of anxiety and panic. How to conceptualize this situation? What strategies are we to use here?

An ACT perspective would suggest that the client is confusing content with context by treating any appearance of a dreaded symptom of anxiety and panic as a harbinger of absolute danger ahead. An effective strategy would seek to use deliteralization exercises (e.g. Milk, Milk or Tin Can Monster) that encourage the person to step back and avoid the automatic literal response (disaster is here), and instead see these experiences as experiences -- nothing more and nothing less. Can the client allow these symptoms to occur without fusing? Then these symptoms can take their "natural course" without the rollercoaster wrought by cognitive fusion.

Finally, the chapter concludes with two exercises for client homework
The first seeks to analyze the extent to which reason giving pervades experiences outside the session. This will hopefully make the client more aware of how they use reason giving and to see reasons as merely content to be considered as useful only when they meet the criteria of workability.

The second exercise is an awareness exercise which encourages a mindfulness and acceptance of present moment experience that helps one practice being in the role of observer. A useful and life long task indeed.