At the CPI, our mission is to put psychological flexibility in the water supply. This is one of the reasons why we are passionate about making ACT as simple as possible. This way, everybody has a chance to get it. We use what we call the “simple words” approach. In this blog, I’ll explain what the simple words approach means in the context of psychological or organizational interventions.
As committed therapists, coaches or organizational psychologists, most of us have put many years learning and researching the approaches we use. In so doing, we came across many different concepts. For those of us using the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or Training) approach, it means we’ll have become passionate about processes such as acceptance, committed action, defusion, mindfulness, compassion and such like. After understanding and experiencing how powerful these processes can be, it is only natural that we may want to transmit them. However, people who are stuck or looking to optimize their functioning aren’t looking for concepts, they need skills. The best way to impart these skills is rarely to talk about them in conceptual terms.
If you practice ACT and have ever attempted talking to your clients about acceptance, you’ve likely experienced that no sooner have you pronounced the word acceptance, you have to explain what acceptance isn’t. It happened to me when I wrote my first book about ACT, a self-help book in French.
Over time, I have found that it is much more effective to drop most conceptual talk and use everyday language and metaphors. By doing that, it’s much easier to reach people and get them to consider a new point of view. The ACT Matrix is an ideal way to do this. With the matrix we talk of “toward moves,” actions that are done to move toward who or what is important to us rather than talking about committed actions congruent with values. We also talk of “away moves” actions that are done to move away from (or under the control of) what we don’t want to feel or think rather than experiential avoidance. We invite clients to notice the difference between toward moves and away moves and to observe the difference between 5 senses experience and inner experience, rather than to be mindful. We refer to getting hooked rather than to cognitive fusion. We use homely metaphors such as we use an image of kittens to train self-compassion and of teleportation to train perspective-taking.
By deliberately eschewing fancy words, we seek to connect with folks in their most quotidian language. It helps us adopt a position of radical equality with our clients and increases our ability to sip some psychological flexibility in their water supply. Oh, and what is psychological flexibility in simple words? It’s choosing to do what’s important to us, even in the presence of obstacles.