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Aledo Times Record - Aledo, IL
What is counseling for?
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By Nathan Gates
March 31, 2013 4:53 p.m.



Here in the Ledger's "Living Well" blog, my goal is to explore lots of different ways to experiment with health, well-being, and the Good Life that may increase your chances of stumbling into solutions that work. Enhancing quality of life is very much the primary goal here. How one might go about that is the question I'm seeking to answer — in lots of modest, small-scale, individualized and eclectic ways.

To that end, I enjoy compiling interesting tidbits from around the web and the larger journalistic web and commenting on them, hopefully bringing a diverse array of different ideas to your eyeballs. In addition, I want to explain over time and in more depth how the process of counseling actually works, how it can be helpful and the actual processes of change that counseling can help influence for the better. This may be of personal interest to you or perhaps serve a helpful function in your life. Maybe it will just satisfy a bit of curiosity regarding how humans tend to work, from my perspective as a practicing counselor and informal lifelong student of human behavior.

One thing you are likely to hear about is a particular approach to enhancing psychological well-being known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, pronounced as one word. In a previous post of "Wellness in Action," I described wellness as a state of positive adaptation.  Adaptability is not the same as go-with-the-flow; it entails focus, presence, openness and commitment.  A more precise term for this adaptability is a process known as Psychological Flexibility.  Psychological Flexibility is the core aim of ACT.

ACT, sometimes known as the Psychological Flexibility model, is an approach to human thriving, built on a robust research tradition in psychological science that has direct applications for anyone who wishes to live more fully and purposefully. Psychological Flexibility refers, broadly, to one's ability to adapt successfully to changing life circumstances. Unfortunately, this is often much harder than it sounds.  Often, with many changes swirling at once it becomes easy to become engaged with comforting but perhaps unproductive patterns of action.

Psychological Flexibility is more about resilience that it is about maintaining control. In fact, the way that we relate to control is at the very heart of PF theory. There is a tremendous focus on controlling what you do, rather than what you experience. The reason for this is entirely pragmatic.  It is much easier to control one's actions than it is to control one's thoughts, fears, memories or urges. For this reason, the PF model is a great fit with approaching counseling from a wellness, rather than from an illness, perspective.  We won't worry about trying to fix unwanted aspects of your experience, we will focus on maintaining value-driven action in the face of any number of uncomfortable or overwhelming experiences that may be at times an unfortunate but unavoidable part of living as a human being.

As a clinician, I practice ACT primarily because there is a great deal of scientific evidence demonstrating that it works. But it also is a very good fit with my own life experience and seems to be a good fit for the folks I work with. If you are curious, a great place to start is with a simple workbook created by the lead academic developer of ACT, Dr. Steven Hayes called Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. It is a stimulating and somewhat counter-intuitive read, and will give you a lot to chew on.

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