This is the first of a 3-part series looking into the essential characteristics of Relational-ACT, Values, Narrative, and Behavior. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), created by Steven Hayes, provides a great foundation for counseling/therapy. Through study and application, I began to personalize it, finding the focus centered upon a philosophy that is relational at its core. Relationship is far more than a descriptive of human connection, instead being seen as a fundamental way of looking at our lives and effecting change. I will begin with an exploration of the importance of values.
Relational-ACT looks at our lives as an inevitable trajectory of intentional energy starting with Value, moving through Narrative, resulting in Behavior.
Values are the cognitive manifestation of an emotional state. No feeling exists unattached from a particular situation or object (person, place, or thing). This is because feelings are an initial evaluative tool. They’re an immediate way for us to start the path of our response to a situation or object. The way we describe our relationship between an emotion and what is being evaluated is through the use of a Value.
Two important points here about Values: one, they are not synonymous with behavior and two, they are an intrinsic part of humanity. Let’s unpack both.
Values are Not Behavior
Consider the value of community. How many ways can that Value manifest? School? Family reunion? Work? Church? Online group? Public interest gathering? Now think of a person from one of those types of communities, like a school, coming to your online group and declaring the Value of community can only be found in their school and how dare you believe that you hold that Value as important.
Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is. Values do not demand a particular behavior, as if there are ‘true’ and ‘false’ versions. This is because Values exist as a universal evaluative device to direct our attention to what’s important to us. They are the thinking side of our emotional identification, a cognitive short-hand to display our interests to ourselves and others.
Values are Universal
The words people use for their Values are culturally derived, as is also how they manifest them. Culture here includes family, social environment, all relationship forms, local community and country. All these ways of differentiating us from one another do not remove the vast amount of similarities because of our shared humanity.
Remember that Values are not synonymous with behavior, there are multiple ways to show how one considers a Value to be important in their life. Further, if a person doesn’t show a Value in a particular situation, it does not mean they don’t care about it. Do you Value honesty? I’m sure you do. Would you be honest if it led to the harm of another? Likely not. Does that mean you no longer care about telling the truth? Of course not!
This seeming disconnect of one Value in order to express another is because Values are situationally driven. Remember that they’re evaluative tools, not behavioral directives. Values aren’t being removed, they’re just being selected within a context to help us determine how we’re going to relate to a particular situation or object.
An appreciation for our shared humanity, meaning a recognition of the universal characteristics allowing us to connect to one another, is the grounding principle of Relational-ACT. No problem is so bizarre that it divorces a person from this shared existence. By identifying the importance of our Values, we can begin to understand why we get triggered by some things and not others and start the process of healing.
Part 2: The Power of Personal Narrative