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Teaching Psychological Flexibility
Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes
Executive Director, AllCEUs Counselor Education
Host: Counselor Toolbox Podcast

CEUs are available at and

– Define psychological flexibility
– Explore how to apply psychological flexibility
– Identify the shortcut question
What is Psychological Flexibility
– The willingness to:
– accept things as they are in the moment
– make a conscious choice to act
– purposefully choose behaviors, thoughts and feelings that move them toward a rich and meaningful life—as they define it.
Step 1
– Define what a rich and meaningful life looks like
Describe Destination Happiness
Values & Goals
– Clarifying (collage)
– Relationships: Who is most important to you-
– Which people-
– What do you want those relationships to be like-
– Under the picture of the person, on a post-it note identify 5-10 ways to realistically create that relationship.
– Beneath that, on another post-it note, identify anything about that person or relationship that causes you distress or unnecessarily drains your energy (criticism, lack of responsiveness) and what you can do about it.
Describe Destination Happiness
Values & Goals
– Clarifying (collage)
– What events, things, experiences are meaningful to you-
– Work, Health, & Personal Growth
– Under the pictures identify what aspects of Work, Health, & Personal Growth are important (accomplishment, money, camaraderie, helping others, mental stimulation/creativity…) and what you can do to ensure that work is using your energy for happiness
– Under that identify aspects of Work, Health, & Personal Growth that cause you distress or unnecessarily drain your energy and how you can better use your energy to address it (let it go, accept it, have compassion, check your interpretation (CDs), address the issue, transfer…) (cranky co-worker; helicopter/critical boss)
Describe Destination Happiness
– Clarifying Values
– What values do I want to embody (Choose 4 and write them on the top, bottom and sides of your collage)-
Step 2: Visualize options
– Like a cell phone battery, you only have so much energy… you have to decide how you are going to use it to achieve your goals for the day.
– Mindfulness: At 4am I have 100% charge.
– Goal: My battery needs to last from 4am until 6pm and allow me to monitor my heart rate at the gym, listen to music at the gym, make calls if needed, get directions if needed, receive text messages from my kids
– Brightness
– Music (screen on or off)
– Videos
– Apps (Garmin, Polar, chat apps, email*, research* etc.)

Psych. Reach Destination Happiness
Psych. Reach Destination Happiness
AWAY Thoughts and Feelings
– All feelings are normal. It is what you do with those feelings that can be harmful.
– Think of an emotion like the smell of dog poop.
– When you smell it, you get up to check if the dog crapped in the house. If not, you chalk it up to gas and go about your day. If you find dog poop, you don’t just get angry and leave it there. You do something about it or it will make the whole house stink.
– Negative emotions are like the dog poop of the soul. If you don’t address them, they will permeate your whole being and repel others.
AWAY Thoughts & Feelings Questions
– What thoughts do you regularly have that keep you from being happy- (make a list/keep a journal, so you can start addressing them. Include your inner critic’s commentary)
– When you get angry, what thoughts do you have that keep you stuck in the quicksand of anger-
– Remember resentment, jealousy, envy and guilt are all forms of anger.
– When you are sad or grieving what thoughts do you have that keep you stuck-
– When you are anxious/afraid what thoughts do you have that keep you stuck-
– When you are lonely what thoughts do you have that keep you stuck-
– When you are sad what thoughts do you have that keep you stuck-
– BTW: What impact does being angry have on your trip-

Away Behaviors and Reactions
– You only have so much energy. It is either used to help you move forward, or wasted spinning in circles or going backwards.
Emotion Focused Coping
– Emotion focused coping does nothing to change the situation, it is designed to eliminate the unpleasant feeling. Examples:
– Aggression
– Alcohol
– Drugs
– Gaming
– Sex
– Shopping
– Sleeping
– Smoking
– What could they do instead-

Emotion Focused Coping
– Have clients identify all the things they do when they get upset, reasons and what they could do instead
– Have clients identify all the things they do when they are acting purposeless which prevents them from moving toward their Happiness (playing hooky, binge watching television, poor time management, lack of sleep or poor nutrition, disorganization, spending time with unhelpful people…), reasons and what they could do instead

Cognitive Distortions & Unhelpful Thoughts
– All or Nothing & Overgeneralization
– Mental Filtering
– Magnification of the Negative
– Minimization of the Positive
– Exaggeration
– Mountain from a molehill
– High and low probability
– Personalization
– Availability Heuristic
– Jumping to Conclusions
– Mind Reading
– Blaming
– Shoulds
– Fallacy of Fairness
– Fallacy of Control & Change
– Emotional Reasoning
Distress Intolerant Thoughts
– I can’t stand this
– It’s unbearable
– I hate this feeling
– I must stop feeling this way
– I will lose control
– I’ll go crazy
– This feeling will keep going on forever
– It is wrong to feel this way
– It’s stupid and unacceptable
– It’s weak/bad
– They must be punished (so I can feel better)
– I must be in control of this situation

“Dirty” Discomfort
– Guilt and fear of rejection about getting angry
– Anger about feeling grief or guilt
– Depression (hopelessness because of ongoing anxiety)
TOWARD Activities: Prevention
– Sleep
– Nutrition
– Exercise
– Ergonomics
– Social Support
– Recreation
– Relaxation
– Positive Triggers
TOWARD Activities to Build Happiness
– The first note under the pictures
– Set a goal to do at least one thing each day to move you closer to Happiness in each of the following areas
– Health
– People
– Work
– Personal growth
– Perspective/Attitude
TOWARD/Problem Focused Coping
– Changing the situation (fix it)
– Changing how I think about the situation through
– Acceptance
– Compassion
– Evaluating old beliefs
– Choosing to let it go
– Getting social support/help
TOWARD Thoughts and Feelings
– Make a list of empowering thoughts
– I’ve got this
– I’ve been through worse
– This too shall pass
– Today is gonna be a great day
– Make a list of compassionate thoughts
– Its okay to feel ____ just don’t unpack and stay there
– It must be a really dark place in his/her head
– I wonder what might be cause him/her to feel so unsafe-
– Keep a daily gratitude list

TOWARD Thoughts and Feelings
– Add triggers for positive emotions to your room, car, office, common areas
– Aromatherapy/smells
– Sights: Pictures, books, colors, things, people and pets
– Sounds that make you happy (music, comedians, birds, windchimes)
– Touch: Temperature, texture, ergonomics
– Taste: Good food

Step 3– Becoming Mindful
– Becoming aware of thoughts, feelings and urges in the present moment (Fly on the wall)
– Without judgement (Observation)
– How do I feel-
– What are my thoughts, wants and urges-
– What physical sensations am I experiencing-
Note: These are probably mostly the Autopilot/Negative Bias sensations
– Without having to react (Acceptance)
– Unhook

– Once they have
– Observed
– Accepted
– Unhooked
– Then they are more able to sort through their thoughts and feelings and start to see options
Step 4– Implementation
– Clients now need to learn how to apply what they have put into their matrix
Psychological Flexibility Summary
It’s an Adventure
– This activity helps clients visualize how much energy they waste on irrelevant things
– Have clients imagine they are going to create a utopian world in which they feel happy, healthy and loved (most of the time)
– They only get $200 per day to create this world (use monopoly money)
– This money represents their energy
– Each time something happens and they make a choice about how to handle it, they “spend” $10
– It is up to them how they choose to “spend” their $200
– Have clients keep a log of their days for a week, writing down 20 things they do each day
Example: 16 steps forward / 4 back
– Got up (10)
– Picked berries from the garden (10)
– Went to the gym (10)
– Got irritated on the way home at a motorcyclist who was driving erratically (10)
– Ate a good breakfast and talked with my kids (10)
– Went to work (10)
– Worked on a presentation (10)
– Skipped lunch to work on something else (10)
– After lunch worked on another presentation (10)
– Answered emails (which were somewhat annoying) (10)
– Paid bills (10)
– Drove home &listened to comedy (10)
– Made dinner and spent time with the kids (10)
– Got frustrated with my daughter (10)
– Got frustrated with both kids about chores not being done (10)
– Did my chores (10)
– Emailed my step-dad & 2 friends (10)
– Mowed the lawn and did some weeding in the garden (10)
– Watched television with my family while I crocheted a blanket (10)
– Went to bed at a reasonable hour (10)
Psychological Flexibility: Prevention
Chronic Pain Intervention

Do Something Embarrassing
Shortcut Question
– Are my current thoughts, feelings and actions moving me closer to, or further away from my goals and values.
– Every event is an opportunity to choose thoughts and behaviors that will help you use your energy to move toward your goals and values
– Acceptance means accepting, without judgement, how you feel and the situation as it is instead of fighting against it.
– Commitment and purposeful action mean that you choose to use your energy on thoughts and behaviors that move you closer to your goals