A common question asked of me is what therapy will be like. This is such a great question and my answer is constantly evolving with a few areas remaining unchanged. Queer-affirming is unchanging, and is often where I start with my answer. My therapeutic stance is unchanging as well, and what this means is I strive to offer affirming and empowering spaces for folks, and this simply will not change. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (pronounced as the word “ACT” ) is a therapy approach that checks the boxes for both affirming and empowering.
Also, thanks so far for staying with me up to this point in the blog. If you made it this far, I would love to share more about what I appreciate about ACT and how I believe it serves the folks choosing to work with me.
I am most rooted as a therapist when I am practicing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It has offered me the opportunity to authentically believe in what I am practicing with others. As a therapist, and as a queer human navigating this life's journey, I connect deeply with ACT. The human experience is normalized in an ACT stance, and our experiences are not turned into pathology. There is a focus to increase capacity to notice those things that aren’t serving us, and shift to choices that align with our values. The work here can be difficult as it requires that we open to and make space for those things we would prefer not ever feel or acknowledge in ourselves. This isn't a request made lightly. We make this space as to better know ourselves and to grow.
As I am writing this blog I have my own shit showing up. Thoughts that enter into and out of my head..."is this even interesting?, "Am I doing this right?" , "This could be better," and on and on this stream of thoughts goes. Sometimes I pause to reread, reread, correct, and repeat. Then sometimes I catch myself and pause to recenter. When I am not caught up in this seemingly unending stream of self criticism, I can try to remind myself that sharing my thoughts and passions are connected with my values of being a service to and showing up for others. So it is looking like I am going to risk this blog post sucking to possibly connect with or help folks. Sigh...
ACT may have been where I found my power and strength as a therapist, and it was not where I started. Initially, I was trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). A previous professor of mine once compared Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a therapy prized for being evidence-based and producing fast results, to the work of a mechanic. Basically one aim of a CBT stance is locating an individual's “faulty” parts for replacement much like a mechanic replaces broken parts in a car. This way of looking at things did not speak to me. I do not believe individuals need fixing. I don’t see folks as broken and am not here to shame others for their thoughts, their pasts, etc. You are not your thoughts nor are you the painful experiences of your past. As may be apparent at this point, traditional CBT was not for me because it did not feel true to the spirit or space I want to create in therapy. The therapy space is sacred and folks need empowerment not more shame.
So what connected to me ACT? I love that there is an emphasis on us all being in this together. We have this journey of life that we are on. I have my suffering and you have yours. We have a limited time during this life to do what truly matters to us. And part of this journey is growing your awareness and being present. I love the bigger picture here of being present for the full life experience. Showing up for pain offers you presence for the flip side of pain --- joy, beauty, happiness, love, etc. I love the compassion of the ACT stance too. Folks do what they do because on some level the system works. Yes, it’s causing pain, and it works. In this there is space for compassion to be cultivated. There’s an opening for gentleness and softening.
As ACT therapist I also have a stance of curiosity and openness. I invite folks working with me to be open too. Can you be curious about your feelings? Your experiences, your memories, and sensations in the body? In other words, can you open to your experiences, both internally and externally, instead of closing in around them, and wishing that you’d be rid of them? This is a process of naming, acknowledging and accepting so you can move into what matters.
All of this and I haven’t mentioned the values part in ACT. This is “the why”….. or the reasons how come you choose to do the hard shit. Perhaps this is why you are in therapy or the reason how come you are considering therapy. Or why you feel lost. Maybe you have lost touch with what or who matters the most to you. The questions here are ones of willingness. Are you willing to feel fear and anxiety, and not tighten or constrict, and instead open, if it means you get more of those meaningful moments in your life? And this is just the beginnings of the reasons how come I practice Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. If you have questions or want to know more I would love to offer more information and support.
About the author: Sharon F. Hester, LPC [she/her] is a licensed mental health therapist proudly offering Queer-affirming therapy in Denver, CO. Reach out today to discuss starting therapy.