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A Value-based Approach to your New Year

I have a friend that recently shared with me that he enjoys closing out his year by being introspective for a period of time right before the ball drops. He stated that he likes to looks over every aspect of his life, success and failure, good and bad, and accepts every part of it while looking at what he gained from his experiences. He stated that he attempts to recall the man that he has been and desired to be over the year and any hinderances that may have been presented to him that altered his goal-driven lifestyle. I admired the nature of what he was sharing and his willingness to make himself vulnerable to address not just the wonderful experiences in his year, but the difficult times as well as those that were full of doubt and fear.

As I listened, I thought of how I love speaking with my clientele about the two different dynamics of responsibility. First, the things that we have our hands in that we manipulate and maneuver, that whenever those things return back to us, reaping what you sow if you will, and how what we did or didn’t do in a particular situation will have an impact on the outcome of that situation. Second, the thing that is falling out of the sky right now and just by chance the individual will be walking down that same sidewalk the falling thing is destined to arrive at, and though the starting point for the object and the person were completely different, they arrive at the same time at that point and the person is struck in the back of the head by the object. This exemplifies that there are things outside of the realm of our responsibility and just by chance we found ourselves in a position that if we could have tried to avoid it, we would have, but sure enough it is there and now we must deal with it even though we have sown nothing, we now reap.

I was contemplating the dynamics of responsibility in my own life. In particular I began to look at the driving forces behind the decision making that I had over the past year. I identified situations that played out in which I both had my hands in, and which I didn’t see coming and life dealt a blow. I thought about my responses in each realm and came to the conclusion that I had more difficulty accepting the outcome of situations in which I had meddled and had my hands in than those situations that I could not see coming. I believe that an individual will determine the true weight of a situation in their lives based on their own scale and measures, and they will use those measures to determine what they will or will not accept in any situation whether in the realm of their responsibility or something they could not have predicted based on how there are functioning at that period in their lives.

I thought about my clientele. So often their sessions begin with how they have been thinking and feeling poorly, and they’ll explain to me the nature of their actions in response to these situations in their lives. I have seen for years this same scenario play out in both my adolescent and adult caseloads in different positions that I have held. I had worked for years with clients to try and help them change their thought content to impact their behavioral choices in both the things that they have had some level of responsibility for and those things that they could not predict would happen. It always felt empty at the end of a session as I wanted to offer more, but was unable to do so with the approaches by which I was offering treatment. I knew that I was attempting to offer something, but with my modality it seemed true progress would come at some ethereal plane of existence beyond the realm of where the individual I was working with was functioning. Eventually though, I found a value-based treatment modality in acceptance and commitment therapy.

I have found a modality to offer clients that normalized their thought and feeling processes and didn’t seek to slap a label on them and fit a snug category for diagnostic and insurance purposes for billing. A model that accepted the client for who they are and looked to work with them on how aspects of control produce the very unwelcome outcomes they were seeking to find healing from. An approach that offered up more than just the cultural expectation of “Do what makes you happy”, but actually looked at what that actually means and how it produces stress and strain to strive in our thinking and feeling to be as this deity-like human being that does not exist. It proposes acceptance or thought and feeling content and commitment to action in the individual’s life that aligns with what they value, not what they think and feel, and accepting the nature of thoughts and feelings as a normality rather than a problem that needs to be fixed and controlled.

I also contemplated my past year as a therapist and looked at the treatment outcomes of my clientele. I looked at how I assisted my clients in identifying values in their lives that could be their guide through their treatment experience and began helping them form measurable goals that align with their values. I remembered how when they would come in and how they would share their commitments to their values and what it meant to them. I remembered listening them tell me they feel strange because they are no longer fighting with their thought and feeling content, but instead find place for it in their lives. They come in and one session after the next they discuss how they commit themselves to their values and how their values supersede their thought and feeling content in their decision making.

I also thought about how it is not a cultural norm to look at our lives through the lens of our values in our decision making. For example, I often look at substance abuse treatment and the nature of our culture and see how alcohol and tobacco are available at every corner. I wonder if we actually care about our well-being, or we just want to feel good. Just to feel good does not mean that our well-being is okay, ask any individual that struggles with an addiction. Substance abuse is glorified in our movies, our streaming networks, our social media, our media coverage, and in the same breath that we claim it is a problem, we take another drag on our cigarette. This is just one example of many of how we use and/or excuse a feeling or a thought to drive our behaviors, no matter whether it compromises the things that matter most to us or not.

I would encourage us all to live our lives this year through the lens of our values. As I listened to my friend speak, without him even knowing, he was stating his decision making in response to his values time and time again. They were bigger than what he was feeling or thinking in any moment, and as I processed his stories, processed my own thoughts, and the stories that I recalled from my clients, I found that when values were the driving force for all of us that the outcome was much more accepted than not. I encourage anyone and everyone to read up on the theory, it will make excellent reading for your New Year. Align your goals for the New Year right up with your values and commit yourself to follow through on them and give up the unnecessary struggle to control your thoughts and feelings, which are fundamentally an accepted and basic natural experience of being a human being. It is called Acceptance and Commitment Theory and it was created by Steven Hayes. There are many texts that utilize it and most that I have found are simple to read and easily accessible through both the library and the internet.


  • LiNKS

Recovery means something different for each of us. No matter who we are or where we are in our lives it can be reasonably safe to assume that we will all at some point find ourselves in a time or recovery. I enjoy the use of metaphors with my clients to assist them in developing fresh insight and activation of behaviors with a value-based approach to their recovery. Most clients, if honest, will tell you that if they are now in recovery, that means they once found themselves in a place in which they were compromising their values on a daily basis, and were actively participating in behaviors that reinforced the behavior for which they are now in recovery. In celebration of recovery month, I would like to share a metaphor that I utilize with clients struggling with what it means to be sober and in recovery,

You can recover an item that you seek for, but you can also recover an item that you were not looking for and had completely forgotten about. This speaks to the expectation that in recovery the individual with be deliberately pursuing after things that they once valued and patterned lifestyles after. The individual becomes fixated with the idea that they will be living a better lifestyle, and that it will be entirely based on their ideal level of functioning based on past experience. What this does not equate for though is the reality that the individual may have grown older, wiser, and much more capable than they ever were before. It also may highlight that an individual will now walk with a limp that did not previously exist for them prior to whatever experience they are recovering from brought them. It also doesn’t equate for the reality that an individual can learn and experience new things never before seen in their lives, and it can often be an intimidating feature of their recovery. This also speaks to the reality that recovery might possibly be more difficult than an individual anticipated, and this can push an individual toward relapse.

This is where the fight occurs against avoidance and the press begins to learn to accept the reality of what each individual's recovery looks like with the idea that by accepting it and committing to change, the individual will overcome avoidance and the temptation to return to the behavior they are recovering from by accepting that life comes with both joy and pain. There is power in acceptance, and it is the antithesis of avoidance.

The metaphor: An individual is standing on a river bank, looking out at the river before them and the bank on the other side. On the bank which they stand, life has become chaotic. They have no control, and everything is patterned and lived after the chaos that now surrounds them. They never wished to live on this bank, but sure enough after one mistake to the next and one compromise to the next, they find that this bank is no longer a place to visit, but it is where they now reside. The lifestyle, the chaos, and the danger are all very real and the individual knows it, but still they stay on the bank. On the other side of the river though, they see a shore that looks peaceful, and they determine in their mind that it is the place they want to live. To be able to make it to the bank though, they must cross the river.

While traversing the river, the individual begins to make changes to the behavior that reinforced the lifestyle that lead them to living on the undesired bank. They push away anything they believe will be detrimental to their journey to the other bank where they believe their recovery waits for them. The river begins to change them, and begins to wash away the things the individual no longer wants to hold onto. They fight the rip of the current avoiding being washed away, all with the hope that on the other bank is a life, which was so beautiful and full of opportunity when seen from the banks of chaos will perhaps be a life they once enjoyed and let go, or one they’ve never experienced before.

The individual plants their feet on the other bank. They take in a deep breath and rest for a moment. They’ve made it. They now reside on the banks of their recovery. This is where the true heartache come for me as a professional. The individual then stands up, looks at the world laid out in front of them on these calm banks full of opportunity, and they turn their backs to it all and look back to the river and toward the bank of chaos, as if they miss the fight of the river, and the life they so desperately wished to leave behind. The individual will then state, “Recovery means everything to me” while they fixate on the fight through the river, and the lifestyle they once lived on the banks of chaos. When they wake up the next morning they look back to the banks of chaos and pound their new mantra into their heads, “Must stay in recovery, must stay in recovery, must stay in recovery”. The lives they hoped and dreamed for are now only a mere fraction of what they ideally envisioned. It isn’t because the opportunity is not there, it is because they are fixated on what once was, or intimidated by what could be.

I had a client state to me that they did not get into recovery so that they could be miserable. I concur. Recovery will be reflected in all areas of an individual’s life that is committed to their hopes and dreams. An individual will not just recover relationships, opportunities, and things, but they will also recover their lives, and the true potential of what that means can only be played out by each one of us. Celebrate your recovery, no matter what it is from, with those that matter to you most, and set a path toward a life worth living, with all the good and bad, and lets see what your recovery truly means.


Anthony Arthur, MA

Provisionally Licensed Counselor