A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters, Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D. New York: Avery Books, 2019.
Summary: An introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a psychological counseling approach that develops psychological flexibility through learning acceptance rather than resistance or flight from painful thoughts and reality, and how we may pivot toward commitments rooted in what we value most deeply.
Steven C. Hayes proposes we all have a Dictator Within. We all have thoughts that cause us problems. We try not to think about pink elephants, painful experiences, messages that tell us all sorts of negative things about ourselves, or that raise our anxieties. We try to argue with those thoughts or avoid them or get rid of them, often in inflexible ruts where we go round and round with little success. At very least, we struggle with lack of peace of mind. At worst, these ways of thinking hamstring the way we live and the relationships we form.
Hayes, one of the pioneers of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) proposes a very different approach. He describes an approach that begins with acceptance of our thoughts. He proposes that one of the things that defuses the power of our thoughts is simply to stop trying to get rid of them and notice them. There is a sense that we step outside these mental processes and take perspective. And it means acceptance of the painful and approaching that pain with curiosity and openness where our goal no longer is feeling GOOD but FEELING good.
Moving from Acceptance to Commitment we learn the practice of presence, of living in the now, the present rather than a painful past or a yearned for future. We identify what we value and then identify actions to which we may commit that support our values.
After tracing the development of this approach in Part 1 and the idea of developing psychological flexibility rather than rigidity through crucial pivots in our lives, in Part 2, he describes the six pivots in greater depth:
- Defusion–Putting the Mind on a Leash
- Self–The Art of Perspective Taking
- Acceptance–Learning from Pain
- Presence–Living in the Now
- Values–Caring by Choice
- Action–Committing to Change
He devotes a chapter to each, sharing, and even walking us through exercises for each pivot.
In Part 3, Hayes applies ACT principles to a variety of aspects of life including healthy behaviors, mental health, nurturing relationships, various types of performance, including sports performance, spiritual well-being, and coping with illness. Here and elsewhere Hayes cites studies showing the superior effectiveness of ACT to other counseling approaches.
I cannot assess his claims. I do have two criticisms. One is how often he repeats the claim of the superiority of this approach, to a point that I found tiresome. The second is that there seemed to be an inadequate “cutting room floor” and I felt that at times, his central ideas and arguments were obscured by excessive verbiage.
Nevertheless, the ideas of acceptance, of defusing, of perspective-taking, of becoming attentive and curious, even about pain, are at the heart of contemplative spirituality that has been helpful to many. To couple this with learning to be present and to live in the now, and to allow our values to shape our commitments seem to reflect the wisdom of many approaches toward transformation. I appreciated Hayes receptiveness to religious faith and an approach that recognized the complementary character of his therapeutic approach and the formational practices in religious traditions.
Perhaps the founder of this approach may be forgiven what I criticized as excesses. He’s talking about his baby! What is evident throughout the pages of this book is the author’s personal embrace and passion for ACT principles, his extensive clinical practice, and the deep care he has for clients and for seeing people flourish in their lives through applying the psychological flexibility skills he teaches in this work.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own.