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f andd
How Acceptance and
Commitment Therapy Can
Help With Your Career

By Rob Archer – Director,

Bloom Psychology Ltd
What is Acceptance & Commitment
Therapy (ACT)?
1. ACT is a so‐called ‘3rd wave’ cognitive behavioural therapy
ACT is a branch of cognitive‐behavioral therapy, an empirically based psychological
intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies together with
commitment and behavior change strategies to increase psychological flexibility.

2. User‐friendly way of dealing with negative emotions

ACT has a reliance on practical techniques and metaphors to ensure it is easy to use and
understand. I use it with clients who are consideringg a change
g in career. Often a stressful
time, ACT is a way not so much of ‘tackling’ negative thoughts and emotions but rather
renegotiating someone’s relationship with them.

3 Evidence‐based therapy
As a psychologist, I’m always concerned to know that the exercises and techniques I use
have solid evidence behind them. ACT has fantastic evidence base across a wide range of
treatment interventions – anxiety, stress, depression. However, to my knowledge Bloom
Psychology is pioneering its use within the career psychology area.
What is Cognitive Defusion?
Most cognitive
g behavioural approaches
pp to negative
g thinkingg seek to eliminate negative
thoughts and replace them with positive. However, some negative thoughts simply will not go
away. Indeed, the more you push them away the more they return.
Instead, we p
prefer to p
practice cognitive
g defusion
f which encourages
g clients to detect their
thoughts, and to see them as hypotheses rather than objective facts about the world.
The aim of defusion is to try to catch our minds at work telling us stories that are not objective
or helpful.
p We should look at our thoughts, g , rather than through g our thoughts g .
In other words, treat them like passengers on a bus, chattering away in the background. Some
thoughts may be helpful, but most have no real consequence to the direction of our lives.
The exercises in the following pages have been modified for use with career decisions, but
the original versions are from the following books. We can highly recommend both!
An Exercise in Defusion
Pick a thought that your mind often tells you in relation to your
career change.
‘I am X’ (for example ‘I’m incompetent’ or ‘I’m not good enough’).
Is this thought helpful? Does it motivate you?
If not, take this thought and in front of it place the words:
‘I’m having the thought that I’m X’
For example, ‘I’m having the thought that I’m incompetent’.
Say this to yourself now.
Then, go further and say:
‘I notice
ti I’m
I’ having
h i theth thought
th ht th
thatt X’
You can use this process with any unpleasant thought. This process
is known as defusion. In a state of fusion, thoughts seem like the
absolute truth; in a state of defusion they are merely bits of
Identifying Your ‘Usual Suspects’
Can you identify the stories that your mind often tells you about yourself and your
career change? Think again of any of those ‘snakes’ you identified previously.

Summarise the thought

g / Nickname for this storyy Is this thought
typical pattern helpful?
For example: ‘I’m such a loser’ ‘The loser story’ No. It doesn’t help me advance
towards my values or
objectives. Buying this thought
only makes me go into my shell
or feel apologetic for trying to
make progress in my life.
Who’s driving your bus?
Imagine that you’re
you re driving a bus.
bus On
O the
th ffrontt off th
the b
bus iis an important
i t td destination
ti ti
‐ let’s take one of your key values – let’s say ‘freedom’. As you drive, passengers climb
aboard. They represent your experiences, memories, thoughts and feelings. Some of the
p g are nice,, but others are nastyy and keep p tellingg yyou that you’re
y going
g g the wrongg
way, you’re a terrible driver, you’re driving too fast etc. Do you recognise them already?
The temptation is to argue with them – I’m not a terrible
driver! – or to try wrestling them off the bus. Trouble is,
this stops you from driving. Or you could try negotiating
with them, try a different route, and go off on a detour.
But how many times has this actually worked?

We have news for you; your mind

mind’ss battle with itself is an
unwinnable war.
But there is an alternative. You can choose to accept the
presence of the passengers – even though you don’t like all of
them ‐ and be willing to have them so long as you are making
progress towards your values. After all, if you think about it, are
your fears really more important than your values?
This is often a major shift in thinking. But think of the times when you’ve said that you’ll just wait to feel
motivated d andd more confident
fd b
f you change
h your llife.
f Have you ever actually
ll bbeen in this
h perfect
f position??
Or are the fears you have the same ones they’ve had for years and years, and yet still you put your life on hold?

Ultimately the question you must ask yourself is who’s in charge of your bus? Is it your passengers or is it you?
A Video
This is a short film by Joe Oliver which brings the ‘bus’ metaphor further to
life. Except it uses a boat. Don’t be confused, the boat is a lot like the bus.
An Exercise In Willingness
My vision is to.... (summarise briefly)

The values underlying my goal are....

What negative thoughts, emotions and sensations do I expect to

p in p
pursuit off myy vision?
An Exercise In Willingness
The thoughts, emotions and sensations I’m willing to have in order
to achieve this goal are....

At difficult times, it would be useful to remind myself that....

A Metaphor for Willingness
Imagine you’re climbing a mountain and
you’re halfway up. Suddenly, the clouds roll
in and it starts to rain. You have two
choices. You can either head back down or
you can carry on. If you carry on, it is not
because you like the feeling of being cold
andd wet.
t It iis b
because you value
l th
the id
idea off
reaching the top. In other words, you are
willing to experience some difficulties to do
what you really value.
If you are contemplating a big change, you
will experience some emotional discomfort.
You can face this challenge by asking
yourself what your goal is, what the values
underlying the goal are and what thoughts,
feelings and urges you are willing to have in
order to complete this goal.
Why Willingness is Important
Willingness is essential because it’s the only way to deal effectively with
life’s difficulties. Whenever you are faced with a challenge you can either
say yes or nono. If you say yes then setting your ‘willingness’
willingness dial higher
will ensure you stop the struggle with you own thoughts.

If you say no,

no you may avoid the fear and anxiety that comes with any
challenge but your life will gradually get smaller. But if you say yes, life gets
Bloom Psychology
is an independent occupational
psychology consultancy based
in London.
We offer coaching, consultancy,
training measurement and
assessment to individuals and
businesses looking to make a
change for the better.