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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Have you ever heard of the phrase, ‘can’t see the forest for the trees?’ I think this is a

great analogy to use in order to help us better understand our emotions and the narratives of

our lives. Sometimes the bigger picture of our lives is difficult to see because of how up close

and overwhelming our emotions, thoughts, and feelings are. Our emotional trees are too tall,

so to speak, and it can be easy to feel lost and overwhelmed in the forest that is our lives. So

much so, that sometimes it feels like the best option would be to cut down all the trees and

breathe easy in the now wide-open space; to ignore our emotions or to rid ourselves of them

and our problems completely. However, what makes a forest so beautiful, diverse, and

interesting, is well, the trees.

We don’t want to cut down the trees because they are necessary for us, just like our

emotions and the narratives we create, we need them as markers of where we are and where

we have been, we need them to survive and make sense of the beautiful and unique forest. So,

what do we do when we feel as though all of the trees are looming over us, when our emotions

and narratives are keeping us stuck, and it’s difficult to see the forest and even more difficult to

see a way out? One way is postulated by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, better known

as ACT.

ACT suggests that instead of trying to cut down the trees, or disconnect or rid ourselves

of our emotions, we can learn to accept that they are there, and even though they may even be

in the way sometimes, we can learn to understand how to better navigate through them. We

can acknowledge that the forest is vast, that our lives will present us with challenges and

triumphs, and the trees, how we feel about a particular moment, may feel overwhelming

sometimes, but we can mindfully choose a path to walk with less struggle.

We don’t need to stand so close to the trees, because when we do, they are all we see,

and it is difficult to identify an intentional path forward. Rather, we should take a couple steps

back, so we have some space between us and the trees, and then decide which way we want to

go. Taking a step back from our emotions, through techniques such as mindfulness, can give us

the space to see and accept them, determine what is important to us, and commit to a path

forward. This way, we can see more of the forest and all its beauty; we can see areas ahead

where we may stumble but also areas that we may want to spend time in, say a beautiful

stream, and we can see an easier, clearer path forward.

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