Self-As-Context: A Core Process in the ACT Hexagon Model

By DJ Moran, PhD

This presentation is an excerpt from the online course “Demystifying ACT: A Practical Guide for Therapists“.

Highlights

  • One, self-as-context is the locus from which a person’s experience unfolds. It has no form or verbal content but it can be thought as the place from which observations are made.
  • Two, there are many names even in the ACT community for this process. Most of the time, it is called self-as-context but it is also called the observing self, the core you. Others say it is perspective taking, pure awareness and some call it the transcendent sense of self.
  • And three, ACT tries to assess what language or self-descriptions a client is struggling with that leads to inflexibility and tries to reduce the attachment to the conceptualized self.

 

Transcript

The ACT hexagon model shows six essential components to the therapeutic approach and this video will highlight the self-as-context. Self-as-context is difficult to nail down verbally.

There are lots of synonyms for self-as-context because different people are trying to define what it is. Some people call it the observing self. Some people call it the core you. Others say it is perspective taking or pure awareness. Some therapists call it the transcendent sense of self.

Language has a hard time defining self-as-context because it really is something that one experiences. Self-as-context is not an object of verbal evaluations. Instead, it is the locus from which a person’s experience unfolds. Self-as-context is transcendent in that it has no form or verbal content. Instead, it can be thought of as the place from which observations are made.

Again, it is the place or the perspective from which people are able to observe and accept all changing experiences.

In ACT since we’re aiming to increase psychological flexibility, it would be helpful to assess what the client is struggling with that leads to inflexibility. Sometimes, people say, I’m a bad person. I’m a real piece of garbage. Other people say, I’m too nervous of a person to actually ask for a raise from my boss. Or another person might say, I’m depressed. And if you listen to what people say, they describe the self with certain concepts like bad person, too nervous, depressed. And you can already see how this will lead to behavioral rigidity, how it will influence psychological inflexibility.
The person saying I’m a bad person may then give themselves permission to engage in sociopathic behavior. The person who is too nervous may never earn what they are worth in their career and be miserable at their job because they link the self to too nervous and too nervous restricts them from actually asking for a raise. The person articulating I’m depressed may continue because of this conceptualized self to keep acting depressed.
When people use language to describe the self in these and many other ways, the ACT therapist will look for these attachments to the conceptualized self to see if it can be loosened.

Self-as-context work helps loosen up attachment to the conceptualized self.

Being attached to the conceptualized self is the other side of the spectrum from self-as-context. When people really buy their own self-descriptions, their behavior may become beholden to that language and influenced to restrict their own psychological flexibility. That can have a deleterious impact on a life well lived.

ACT aims to help the client use perspective taking to develop a flexible view of the self. We’ll strive to reduce the attachment to the language concepts that describe a concretized self and see if we can experiment with simply looking at the self-as-context.
And the context is not a thing. It is an unformed place where things can just be. The core self, the observing you is a point of view from which all content such as emotions and thoughts can simply be observed and accepted.
In the next video, we will go through a self-as-context exercise called the observing self.

But before we wrap up, there are three important points from this video.
One, self-as-context is the locus from which a person’s experience unfolds. It has no form or verbal content but it can be thought as the place from which observations are made.
Two, there are many names even in the ACT community for this process. Most of the time, it is called self-as-context but it is also called the observing self, the core you. Others say it is perspective taking, pure awareness and some call it the transcendent sense of self.
And three, ACT tries to assess what language or self-descriptions a client is struggling with that leads to inflexibility and tries to reduce the attachment to the conceptualized self.

More ACT presentations