Maintaining Hope When Faced With Unwelcome Change

by 26Health Staff

If you were to combine the concepts of counseling and psychotherapy into just a few words, it may sound something like this: “A series of conversations intended to help clients change through the process of self-discovery.” There is no right or wrong way to change, and it takes as many forms as there are problems faced. We all have things we would like to see become different in our lives. Through a process of self-discovery, we can maintain hope and go about making those changes in our own unique ways.

Finding Hope Amid Unwelcome Change

No matter how much we wish for it, there are some things in life that we do not have the power to change. With effort, steps can be taken to shift the trajectory of our lives in truly unexpected ways. Though, there are some things that, despite our efforts, simply do not budge. While this can be true of an assortment of challenges, I’m reminded of the stories I’ve heard while working with recently diagnosed HIV clients.

Even as we are working on building their support systems and they can see that there is a future for them, there is still a feeling of despair and questions of “Why did this happen?” and “Why can’t we cure HIV?” It’s true that advances are being made every day but, as of this writing, HIV cannot be cured.

Where we find hope is in discovering ways to change our response to the things that we can’t change. One counseling approach for achieving this is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). There are many components of this therapy. Its core approach is evident simply by looking at the terms within its name: acceptance and commitment.

Accepting and Committing to Change

In ACT, acceptance is achieved through an exploration of the experiences or conditions that are causing distress. The idea is to be mindful of these triggers without avoiding them. Avoidance may seem beneficial, but our feelings always catch up to us. They may become even more intense if we don’t face them. Instead of avoiding what we are feeling, ACT calls for exploring our feelings through mindfulness or from an outside perspective.

After this introspective journey, ACT then delves into discussions of personal values and what the patient would like to pursue or do with their life. In other words: “What do I want to do, despite the thing or things that I can’t change or control?” For those who struggle with negative feelings in response to HIV, what opportunities are there for finding goals and meaning aligned to the values they hold?

Pursuing the goals that arise from this process of self-awareness is where we come to the commitment part of ACT. What values do we continue to uphold? Which have been newly discovered in response to the things we cannot change? Once these questions are answered, we can make a commitment to changing what we can to support our goals.

Facing the Future Amid Change

Thinking of the people that I know personally who are living with HIV, I recognize that many of them appear to have gone through the ACT process or something similar. Where their diagnosis once made them question what life could still offer them, they now find meaning and purpose.

This is where we find hope: that people can continue living and pursuing dreams, and that there is a future, all while living with things we cannot change.