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  • Writer's pictureEaston Gaines, MSEd, PsyD

The Yearning for Fulfillment: ACT in Action

In the intricate tapestry of being human, our deepest yearnings—belonging, coherence, feeling, orientation, chosen purpose or meaning, and competence—serve as the compass to guide our emotional health. When these intrinsic needs are mishandled, they can ignite maladaptive inflexibility processes, creating a web of painful behaviors and thoughts. By understanding how these yearnings are managed, we can uncover the root of current struggles, envision what we need most, and identify self-sustaining processes that will enable us to flourish.

The Evolutionary, Existential, and Multilevel Model (EEMM) bridges the realms of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with evolutionary science, offering a compassionate framework for understanding psychological flexibility. At its core, EEMM aligns with key principles of evolutionary science:

  • Variation (Change)

  • Selection (Function)

  • Retention (Habits)

  • Context (Your life context)

EEMM also encompasses six essential psychological dimensions:

  1. Cognition

  2. Affect

  3. Self

  4. Attention

  5. Motivation

  6. Overt behavior

These dimensions interact within sociocultural and biophysiological contexts, such as relationships, cultural affiliations, sleep, diet, and exercise. By mapping these elements, therapists can gain a holistic view of your life and pinpoint significant factors that may be influencing your mental health.

Network Analysis: Decoding Maladaptive Patterns

In therapy, network diagrams offer a powerful visual representation of your mental landscape. Each network consists of nodes (events, behaviors, moderators) and edges (relations between nodes). Identifying and addressing maladaptive networks requires attention to:

  • Elements connected to multiple nodes or issues.

  • Recognizing self-amplifying loops within subnetworks.

  • Targeting central, accessible processes with your consent and aligning with the therapist's role.

For elements that can’t be directly targeted, building other psychological flexibility skills and planning a sequence of interventions can be effective. This strategy should consider your strengths, weaknesses, and the dynamic nature of your network, aiming to create a goal network of adaptive self-amplifying relations.

Creative Hopelessness: A Catalyst for Change

Creative hopelessness is a transformative concept in ACT, facilitating change when your network stability begins to waver. It helps you recognize that continuing ineffective strategies will yield the same unsatisfactory results, thereby opening the door for change.

When implementing creative hopelessness:

  • Listen for signs of network instability.

  • Use your yearnings as a guide for the approach.

  • Employ both gentle and more direct methods, especially for those with chronic or complex issues.

Values and Committed Action

Values tap into our yearning for meaning, evident in our cherished and painful moments, our heroes, and the narratives we aspire to write about ourselves. Committed action aligns with our yearning for competence, emphasizing the importance of starting small and gradually building habits through a trial-and-error process. Practicing SMART goals and ACT exercises nurtures these habits, supporting a step-by-step journey toward competency.

The center pillar of the hexagon supports you through the vulnerability of this journey, connecting you with others facing similar challenges. By identifying areas where inflexibility hinders values and committed action, you can cultivate flexibility and resilience.

Embracing the Present

Present-moment work is crucial in ACT, helping you engage with life despite your history. Self-as-context and self-as-process work supports this engagement, enabling you to shift, hold, broaden, or narrow your attention appropriately. The goal is not mindfulness for its own sake but to help you live the life you aspire to, grounded in your values.

The ACT Process-Based Functional Analysis

The steps of an ACT process-based functional analysis include:

  1. Broad Assessment: Gather comprehensive information about yourself.

  2. Preliminary Network: Organize the information into a preliminary network, identifying inflexibility processes.

  3. Functional Analysis: Refine the network, assessing the direction and strength of relationships.

  4. Treatment Planning: Set adaptive, self-sustaining network goals and plan interventions.

  5. Treatment and Process-Level Assessment: Implement the plan and assess process changes.

  6. Outcome Assessment: Evaluate whether process changes lead to positive outcomes, revising the plan if necessary.

Addressing the core yearnings for belonging, coherence, feeling, orientation, purpose, and competence within the EEMM framework can transform your psychological landscape. By leveraging creative hopelessness, targeting processes within the ACT hexagon, and embracing present-moment work, you can be guided toward a fulfilling and resilient life.

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