For the last thirty years or so there have been a few threads of thought and supporting research that have been weaving a new perspective and approach to psychotherapy. New approaches to understanding and the application of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); behaviorism, the various modalities associated with Humanistic-Existential psychology and neo-Freudian modalities have been influenced by:
- The development of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Mindfulness Approach to Stress Management” and his book, WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE,
- The popularity of Daniel Goleman’s book, EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE;
- The publication of important longitudinal studies of the impact of meditation on the neurology of the human brain;
- The emergence of neuropsychological research;
- The formulation of theories of neural plasticity;
- Growing evidence of “mind-body” connections and more;
- The coincidental growth of interest in Buddhist psychology (Mindfulness) and spiritually based Yoga practices.
It seems that all this information points to Radical Acceptance as a foundation stone for psychotherapy. We want to start with a full acceptance of human experience as expressed by each individual who enters a therapy office. The therapist must find a way to fully accept the individual as they are and the individual needs to come to accept their own experience as a real part of life; something that cannot necessarily be eliminated but can be embraced as part of their life experience. It may not be pleasant or without pain; however, the experience, fully accepted, embraced or engaged begins to change our relationship to the pain. One of the best metaphors I can think of is that moment in a yoga class when the instructor tells the class to notice the pain and breathe into it. We do not push it or bounce into the asana we simply allow the body to adjust and melt into the position. Eventually we notice that the pain becomes more like a teacher; one that points out the change in our bodies. I see psychic pain caused by anxiety, depression and powerful emotions as being much the same. If we cover them up, push them away, forget to breathe, worry about why they are there, they only seem to get worse. Acceptance seems to actually allow us to experience a richer life that is more flexible and capable of living more fully; accepting all that is presented to us as something to work with and not fear or reject.
This form of acceptance is not passive. It is not about resignation. It is a powerful tool in helping us to work with the life we have and take on the daily challenges we all face.