We use two primary techniques as guides to help each other recover:
- CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
The origins of psychotherapy can be traced back 2000 years to the Greek philosopher, Epictetus. He taught that philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are beyond our control and we should accept calmly and dispassionately whatever happens. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.
Sigmund Freud is probably the best known psychoanalyst and up until the 1950’s, most therapists used his techniques. In 1953, Albert Ellis perfected what he called, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). In 1955, he presented Rational Therapy (RT).
He sought to help the client understand – and act on the understanding – that their personal philosophy contained beliefs that contributed to their own emotional pain. This new approach stressed actively working to change a client’s self-defeating beliefs and behaviours by demonstrating their irrationality, self-defeatism and rigidity. It became known as the “First Wave”.
In the 1960’s, Dr. Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist, found that depressed patients experienced streams of negative thoughts that seemed to arise spontaneously. He called these cognitions “automatic thoughts.” Dr. Beck began helping patients identify and evaluate these automatic thoughts. He found that by doing so, patients were able to think more realistically. As a result, they felt better emotionally and were able to behave more functionally. When patients changed their underlying beliefs about themselves, their world and other people, therapy resulted in long-lasting change.
Dr. Beck called this approach “cognitive therapy.” It has become known as “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.” It was the “Second Wave”.
CBT has proven itself to be effective for a wide range of problems besides depression and we use the book “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies”, by Rob Wilson and Rhena Branch as one of our resources.
Of course we don’t think people are dummies, we use it because it is aimed at the person suffering the problem, not as a handbook for therapists.
We also use information videos, which tend to stay in people’s memory longer because of the mental pictures they can instantly recall.
However, CBT doesn’t work when the problem is not one of faulty thinking. Where there is a physical cause, such as a chemical imbalance in the brain or malfunctioning parts. No amount of thought will solve the problem.
You cannot cure bipolar depression or schizophrenia, for example, by simply thinking differently.
Around 1982, a psychologist named Steven C. Hayes developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, in order to create a mixed approach which integrates both cognitive and behavioural therapy.
The objective of ACT is not the elimination of unhelpful feelings, but to be present with what life brings us and to “move toward valued behaviour”. It invites people to open up to unpleasant feelings, and learn not to overreact to them, and not to avoid situations where they are invoked. Its therapeutic effect is a positive spiral where feeling better leads to a better understanding of the facts.
In ACT, “reality” is measured through the concept of “workability”, or what works to take another step toward what matters (e.g. values, meaning). It became the “Third Wave”.
We use the book “ACT made simple” by Dr. Russ Harris, who is an Australian doctor (and now psychotherapist), and world authority on ACT.
Again, we also utilise videos on ACT that help explain how to use it in a peer group situation.
By using CBT, ACT and our lived experience through our own therapy with professionals, we can usually help members to identify where their problem area is and whether they can fix it, or simply learn to accept it and live with it.
Often, we find chronic mental health issues have made our life unmanageable, because we were trying to fix something that is not fixable. Like a chronic physical illness, it is more important to learn what we need to do to manage it, and stop trying to fix it.
Whether our problem is temporary or lifelong, it can be minimised by using the techniques of CBT or ACT. The objective is to STRIVE for progress, not perfection. If we can solve the problem, that is great. If we can’t, then we can learn to accept it. People learn to live a good quality of life with all sorts of physical limitations. We can do the same with mental ones.
As I have emphasised before, we don’t play doctor. We are not professionals and we don’t cross the line into being therapists. Our purpose is merely to present members with a range of tools, show them how they work, and let them decide whether they wish to use them.
And it is not all just about fixing our problems, we also hold social events, where we can relax and simply have fun – something many of us have forgotten how to do.