Experiential Avoidance (EA) refers to an individual’s attempts to avoid thoughts, feelings, memories, physical sensations, and other internal experiences—even when doing so creates harm in the long-run. Reluctance to face internal experiences head-on can render an individual prone to unhealthy “escape behaviors”, including substance use.

At LaurelCare, we address Experiential Avoidance in conjunction with substance use issues by employing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT refers to a mode of behavioral psychotherapy developed to treat EA. ACT is rooted in the concept that suffering comes not from the experience of emotional pain, but from our attempts at avoiding that pain. According to Russ Harris MD, an expert in the field of ACT, the aim of ACT is to help people create a rich, full, and meaningful life while accepting the inevitable pain that life brings.

According to experts, while EA and escape behaviors may seem like viable coping mechanisms, they are actually detrimental to us. For one, addressing past trauma and one’s internal feelings is a key step in the healing process. But beyond this, EA doesn’t actually work. As humans, our thoughts and feelings will continue to surface no matter how much we attempt to suppress them. Addressing them in a helpful and healthy manner is the only way to move forward towards emotional health.

EA and substance use are deeply interconnected. Thus, it is integral to work with therapists that are familiar with Acceptance-based therapies such as ACT in order to approach substance use recovery holistically.

Mindfulness is also a big part of ACT. Additionally, some CBT exposure interventions have also been shown to be helpful to reduce EA. LaurelCare uses ACT as one of its core modalities, often in combination with mindfulness and CBT to help clients along their recovery journey.

To learn more about ACT and LaurelCare’s holistic approach, contact our Vice President of Clinical Operations, Crystal Parish at cparish@laurelcare.com.