The Sweet Spot
“Think of a moment in your life that was sweet...there is nothing that moment needs. That moment is complete”.
(Wilson & Dufrene, 2009, p.200, 203)
“The whole ACT model has one main aim: developing the ability for mindful, values- guided action”.
(Harris, 2019, p. 212)
“Are your clients maths problems to be solved or are they sunsets to be appreciated?”
(Wilson & Sandoz, 2008, p.94)
What is it?
The Sweet Spot “TSS” is a versatile experiential ACT exercise that enables clients to access and explore their values (Wilson & Sandoz, 2008).
How is it done?
Clients are asked to recall a sweet moment of meaningful richness from their lives (Harris, 2014) when they felt a complete sense of contentedness and belonging, free from over- excitement or struggle with intense emotions—indicating that they were in that instant, consciously or unknowingly, living in harmony with their values (LeJeune & Luoma, 2019; Stoddard & Afari, 2014). The therapist offers a simple example from their own life before carefully guiding the client through their sweet spot exercise (Wilson & Dufrene, 2008), asking them to mindfully linger in the experience of being in their chosen moment (LeJeune & Luoma, 2019), connecting with and making room for any emotions that arise—including sadness, which is often present (Harris, 2014)—noticing who they are with and what they see, hear, taste, touch and smell, as they revisit and vividly re-experience the memory (Stoddard & Afari, 2014). Employing mindfulness and grounding practices, the therapist helps the client to connect to their experience during the exercise and upon returning to the present (LeJeune & Luoma, 2019). During debrief the therapist invites the client to describe what it felt like to be in their sweet spot, noting the thoughts and emotions which arose, and any they feel as they relate their experience in the present, while resisting any urge to explain or evaluate them (LeJeune & Luoma, 2019; Wilson & Sandoz, 2008). The therapist embodies ACT principles, mindfully attending to the client in the present without judgement or analysis as they relate their sweet spot encounter (Stoddard & Afari. 2014). Therapists are encouraged to let go of the view that clients are problems to be solved, and instead appreciate them as sunsets rich in possibilities, creating favorable conditions for change to occur (Wilson & Sandoz, 2008).
The therapist may explore possible values unearthed by TSS by asking the client to reflect on:
* what personal qualities they were showing
* what this memory reveals about what matters to them
* how they were treating themselves, others and the world around them in that moment
* what this suggests about things they would like to do or the way they would like to
behave moving forward (Harris, 2014)
“The Sweet Spot exercise is a great way to begin a session, especially one that will later turn to values, which is the main focus of the exercise”.
(Stoddard & Afari, 2014, p.105)
“Mindful interactions around valued domains can precipitate a strikingly intimate therapeutic relationship”.
(Wilson & Sandoz, 2008, p. 94)
The Sweet Spot: Purpose and Benefits
Values Based Therapy
ACT’s purpose is to guide people towards living more meaningful lives (Stoddard & Afari, 2014). Clarifying values is a critical step in this process because personal principles underpin clients’ understanding about the kind of people they wish to be and the lives they want to live, providing guidance and motivation for ongoing committed action (Harris, 2014); values need to be identified before goals can be set, while for those working with the choice point they form the basis of workable towards moves (Harris, 2019).
When to use
TSS is suitable for use early in ACT because clients can contact their values without needing to name or explain them (LeJeune & Luoma, 2019), while the mutual disclosure of sweet spot experiences and associated vulnerabilities by both therapist and client helps to foster a strong working alliance (Wilson & Sandoz, 2008). TSS benefits clients who find it difficult to access their values in the present, engage in rumination or are poorly motivated, by encouraging them to experience self as context over self as content, making connection with values more likely (Harris, 2019; Wilson & Sandoz, 2008); it also assists those who partially connect with their values but are not incorporating them fully into their lives (LeJeune & Luoma, 2019). TSS can be harnessed to facilitate therapeutic activity in other areas of the ACT hexaflex, i.e. to encourage clients to persist with challenging defusion or acceptance work (Harris, 2019). A recent study (Engle & Follette, 2018) confirmed that identifying values during therapy encouraged client engagement in meaningful values-oriented behaviour, an approach effective for treating borderline personality disorder (Cameron et al, 2014), depression (Bramwell & Richardson, 2018) and fibromyalgia (Steiner et al., 2013). The relational aspect of TSS makes it suitable for one-to-one and group therapy settings, where it is conducted in pairs (Wilson & Dufrene, 2008).
TSS is not recommended for clients without positive memory recall, with histories of abuse, low affect, or the reward focused i.e. workaholics or high achievers—as it may reinforce experiential avoidance and fusion by triggering shame, regret and pain (LeJeune & Luoma, 2019).
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