For me this is the most difficult part of ACT Therapy to explain. It may not be understood initially by many people, but I think it is important to begin planting the seed of understanding early on in treatment. It is the least concrete aspect of ACT and many people may not be familiar with cultures or meditation techniques that incorporate this way of looking at the world. "It may not even be all that necessary to understand in order to get the benefits of ACT therapy", although, understanding what is meant by "Self as Context", may be helpful. Personally I am not all that excited by the term, and certainly the concept is not original. Like several aspects of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, many parts of this system have been borrowed from other treatment systems, cultures, and meditation approaches. Most likely it has taken the best and most researched aspects of all these approaches. I have heard Eckhart Tolle, the author of "The New Earth", say, "Be The Watcher", What does he mean by this statement? There exists within each of us a consciousness that allows us to observe the events and forms which exist in our world. It is that which allows us to observe the world around us, our thoughts, and our emotions. It is the unchanged consciousness that observed us when we were five years old, and the consciousness that observes us now. We have changed, however, it has not. My friend who teaches meditation instructs his students to observe a candle flame. He asks, "where is the consciousness that observes the flame? As I said, self as context is stable and unchangeable. It is the part of you that notices your breathe, and the part of you that notices the candle flame. Simply put it is the observer of everything you sense within your body. Many spiritual people identify themselves as being the observer, or the consciousness of the universe. For them is their true self. ACT therapy encourages us to learn to be the observer. To observe our thoughts and feelings with detachment and at the same time accepting them as aspects of our experience. The "Conceptualized Self", on the other hand is quite different. This is the image that we see ourselves as being. It is our social identity. I am a psychologist or a doctor. I am John Smith and I enjoy playing golf. I see myself as what I am good at, and what I am not good at doing. How much money I make and how successful I am. I am a father, a son, a mother, or any one of a thousand things that the world can notice about me. It is not stable and can easily be impacted by what is happening around us. We can have high self esteem, but if we are fired and become homeless, we view ourselves completely differently, and our high self esteem slips away. This is the social self that is reflected back to us from the world around us. ACT therapy encourages us to learn to be better observers. To observe our thoughts and feelings with without judgment. As we learn to observe without judgment, it becomes almost automatic that we begin to become more comfortable with both our thoughts and emotions. We can begin to become more at ease in our bodies and experience less stress and anxiety. For me ACT fits very well with the way I have been working with clients, however, it does provide some new pieces and a framework which I find very helpful, for both myself and my clients. What if we were not our thoughts and feelings, but the consciousness that experiences those thoughts and feelings?
What is meant by Self as Context in ACT Therapy
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