Recently, I took a week-long training at the wonderful Cape Cod Institute on ACT- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Although I had heard of the model, I was not familiar with the paradigm and I was eager to learn something brand new that I could bring to my practice and my teaching. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and resonated with so much of the material, I was struck with the notion that much of what I was learning, I had already incorporated in my work with clients. There were definite differences in the language that was used to describe the treatment approaches and techniques. And the paradigmatic lens that the presenter looked through to assess and describe clients’ struggles was specific to the ACT model. But during the week I realized, more and more, that no one is really reinventing the wheel when it comes to the process of therapy. And then I realized that that was ok.
Although we focus on the uniqueness of each client, we also recognize the universality of clients’ issues and the manifestations of their struggles. Maybe that’s why it makes sense that there is a universality to our treatment approaches as well. No matter how we semantically spin what we do, isn’t it fair to say that all models encourage the foundation of a safe, trusting, and non-judgmental therapeutic alliance? Don’t we all, to varying degrees, help clients notice their thoughts, feelings and behaviors? Aren’t we all encouraging clients to “stand back” from entrenched cognitions and inner criticism so they can re-evaluate their validity and the extent to which those thoughts are helpful versus destructive? Don’t all paradigms embrace the notion of self-compassion and self-acceptance? Aren’t we all helping clients, in a variety of ways, tap into their own inner wisdom, creativity, and their resiliency? Don’t all models encourage clients to define personal goals that encourage growth and positive change? At the end of the day, aren’t we all trying to help clients to heal?
What I learned that week in Cape Cod is that once you tear away at the unique and new “packaging,” what’s inside the box is remarkably familiar. As I learned about ACT, I was re-learning concepts related to Internal Family Systems, Gestalt Therapy, Ericksonian Hypnosis, CBT, Mindfulness, Somatic Resourcing, Focusing, etc. Once I let go of my initial frustration (“Why aren’t I learning something BRAND NEW?) I discovered I liked the idea that “everything old is new again.” It allows for the compatible weaving together of “different” models, corroborates that we are all on the right track as clinicians, and reinforces the many ways in which we all experience the same struggles as human beings. And the notion that we are all in this together is ironically one of the core concepts of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy! It’s a model worth looking at and incorporating into your work.
What have your experiences been when you go to a workshop to learn a “new’” treatment paradigm?