This may seem really random, but I thought some of you out there might find it kind of cool or interesting. As a counselor, I’ve been mostly trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (depression/substance use) and cognitive processing therapy (for ptsd/trauma). Anyway, I’ve been learning more about a type of therapy called ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It’s so ridiculously powerful. It kind of makes me giddy inside when I think about it. I just wanted to present to you some examples of the powerful metaphors that ACT uses to help clients experience something different. The following is some excerpts from the book I am reading called Learning ACT. Ah, warm fuzzies!
Chessboard metaphor: The self (i.e., the arena or context in which experience takes place) is likened to a chessboard. The chess pieces are said to correspond to the client’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and so on. Chess is a war game and the board (“I”) has no real investment in how the war turns out. The therapist can also note that, although the various pieces are threatening to each other, they are not threatening to the board, which simply touches and supports them.
Client: [immediately after the chessboard metaphor with actual chessboard and pieces used] So, I’m the board and my thoughts and feelings are the pieces? But what about my thoughts about who I am?
Therapist: [picks up more chess pieces and sets them on the board] More pieces to be added to the board.
C: But when I feel things, it’s real, it’s overwhelming.
T: [picks up another chess piece] Yes, it is definitely an experience you are having. [sets chess piece on the board, representing the feeling] And that thought you just had, the one that said, “But when I feel things, it’s real, it’s overwhelming,” is another piece, too, another experience. [sets another chess piece on the board]
C: So everything I say will become another piece?
T: Yes, each experience you have, whether it be a feeling or a thought is another piece on the board. And, as the board, notice that you are in touch with the pieces, you are in contact with them [slides pieces around on the board to demonstrate contact], yet the pieces are not the board.
C: Well, I think I would just like to dump the board over.
T: And that thought, too, is another piece on the board. See how this works?
C: I know, but I don’t want those pieces.
T: [compassionately] I can understand why. But again, check your experience and see. Have you ever been able to kick the pieces that you didn’t want off the board? Have those bad memories and feelings disappeared?
T: So even “I don’t want those bad pieces” goes on the board. Remember, though, the board is not the pieces. The board- you, the experiencer- is larger than any single piece. You are in contact with your thoughts and feelings. You are aware of having them, and yet you are not them. You experience them, and you are continually adding to your board… and the pieces are not the board. The board can hold the pieces and remain intact and whole, even if a piece says, “This is overwhelming.”
T: Have you ever said to yourself that you can’t stand it for another moment?
T: What happened?
C: Well… [chuckles]
T: Another moment passed, didn’t it?
T: And then another and another. Those moments just kept on coming, and here you are now. You stood it, even though your mind told you that you couldn’t.
C: Yes, but it still felt very bad.
T:Agreed. I do believe it felt bad. But imagine for just a moment that your thoughts actually controlled all your behavior, that every thought you had caused you to do something, What if thoughts actually caused everyone’s behavior? What would the world look like?
C: It would be a mess. IT would be obliterated.
T: Yeah, things would really be bad. Thank goodness our thoughts don’t cause our behavior. Our reasons, our stories, don’t force us to do things. But they like to look big and scary sometimes, as if they could force us to do things. But all they can do is look big and scary. Your mind tells you, I can’t stand this another moment, and then your experience tells you that you can. My question is: Who is aware of all these thoughts in the first place?
C: I am.
T: And is that sense of awareness dependent on only certain thoughts being there? Can you like and don’t like?
T: It is from that place that choice is possible. Whose life is this, anyway? Your thoughts? can you make choices while observing your thoughts? While being with your thoughts, while noticing them, can you take actions that fit with the life you want to live?