A big part of how I function is that I need to continue to learn. I find myself making choices around this both in my everyday life as a human and also as a therapist. This past year, I have been exploring Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) while also expanding my knowledge in DBT.
While they are two different treatment approaches, ACT and DBT therapy share some similarities. They both fall under the umbrella of third wave behaviorism. They share principles and techniques of balancing acceptance and change. And they both emphasize the importance of committed action to your values. Instead of giving you a psych textbook explanation of ACT and DBT, I want to focus on this last concept: changing through our values.
Change via values exploration
Yes, the new year is upon us! And often what accompanies the new year is change, goals, resolutions, etc. You may hear from others (or your own voice), “I want to make more money” or “I want to exercise more”. You may participate in conversations not just about what you are changing, but what you hope changes next year. Inevitably, you’ll stumble upon Instagram posts about it.
I want to make it clear that I am not at all against having goals or resolutions. I, too, want and will take action towards personal goals in my life in the year ahead. But for most of us human beings, change comes with uncertainty, loss, feeling of failure, and a whole range of uncomfortable feelings to sit in. In this moment, I am reminded of my goal to start cross-stitching and wonder where my cross-stitching material even are in my home.
Today, the question I want to explore here is how can we make choices and committed action towards change in our lives? Where do we even begin? Change doesn’t happen just with a firm decision to do or not do something.
What even are values?!
When I bring up values in the therapy space, I often get an understanding nod of the
importance of values. Sometimes I get a follow up question of: what really are values? It is a fair question and one that invites the curiosity to understand the more significant question: what are my values? The actions that we choose that are important to us make up a valued life. It’s intimate and individual.
Values are not goals or resolutions. They are principles of what’s important in life. Sometimes we get a peek at our values are when we notice uncomfortable feelings coming up when we have not acted within our values (guilt or shame). Sometimes we get a peek at them when we look at what we have been avoiding (fear). Other times, it takes a concerted effort to sort through different values to determine what brings us fulfillment. And it’s totally normal for those values to change with different ages of development and different life experiences.
Change begins with understanding our values.
Change is closely connected to living a valued life, and taking continuous action to get there. Through making the choice to behave in accordance with our values, change happens. This choice is on-going and does not happen by saying to ourselves “I will be a better person”. Rather, in the face of all sorts of challenges, we act with compassion towards others and towards ourselves based on our value systems. THEN change happens!
What I want to propose today is not to get stuck on the results of change. Instead focus on initiating the process of change: first through understanding your values first and then by making commitments to them.
The best part of this is that it means change can start at any time and go on for a lifetime. It’s not just said once on December 31st at a party each year!
About The Author
Lizzy Kosin, LCSW-C is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Therapist at Montgomery County Counseling Center in Rockville, MD. She earned her AM degree (equivalent to an MSW) from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Her training includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She works very well with kids & teens, as well as with adults who want the benefits of therapy without feeling stuffy or over-medicalized. She values the importance of the mind-body connection and using experiential activities to keep the fun in building insight and motivating towards progress. Lizzy is licensed in both Maryland and Washington DC.