“Finding Life Beyond Trauma” by Victoria Follette, Ph.D. and Jacqueline Pistorello, Ph.D.

Subtitle: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Heal from Post-Traumatic Stress and Trauma-Related Problems

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (abbreviated ACT, and pronounced as a whole word) invites clients to observe their own behaviors and let go of strategies which might be keeping them from living their most valued life. It includes a strong emphasis on mindfulness and compassion.

ACT assumes that trying to suppress or escape pain can generate more suffering. Paradoxically, facing pain and accepting it can be the best strategy to ease the pain.

This substantial workbook offers theory, illustrations, stories, metaphors, and exercises to help the reader observe existing strategies around pain, establish values, and choose strategies that move toward those values.

The book assumes that the reader is highly avoidant. Since we all use avoidance in overt or covert ways, it can be helpful for many of us.

My favorite metaphor from the book: You’re blindfolded, and one day you fall in a deep hole. All you have is a shovel, so you start digging. You dig to the right, to the left, and even under your feet, but you’re still in the (enlarged) hole. Eventually, even if someone brought you a ladder, you would think it was a different sort of shovel. Suggestion: put down the shovel and just stop digging.

Putting down the shovel looks different for each person. We all have our favorite strategies that work up to a point, but then we keep depending on them long after they’re just making things worse. The shovel contains all our current working assumptions. Putting down the shovel is a leap of faith into new assumptions.

One of my shovels is wondering what I’m doing wrong in any given situation. Before I put it down, it feels like a radical, risky act. After I put it down, it’s a huge relief.

Another useful metaphor: willingness is like jumping. We can say we’re jumping, we can think about jumping, we can try to jump, but either we’re jumping or we’re not. We can’t half-jump.

Willingness to change is similar. It is important to check whether we’re actually willing to make a change, and choose changes that are small enough that we are willing to risk them.

The book describes unwillingness in willingness’s clothing. One of many examples: “After experiencing a loss, I tried to accept it so that I could stop feeling so sad.”

There are many more useful metaphors and exercises in this book. I highly recommend it for anyone healing from trauma, or helping others heal.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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