Thursday, August 27, 2009

Radical Acceptance

So this llama has my utmost respect. Every summer we visit a local farm and they do this to him. I know that it is hot and I know that it is probably for his own good but I can't help but think this cuts down on his llama cred. Still, and I hope you can tell this from the picture, he holds his head up high and will spit on you if given the opportunity. He is my poster llama for today's little chat about radical acceptance.

This is my last purely contemplative week for awhile since I return as a school adjustment counselor to a middle school on Monday. One of the gifts of the summer is going to conferences, buying into the illusion that more training will allow you to stick another finger in the holes that are springing up in our communities. I work part-time because of funding and because I have small children but I can't begin to get it all done at work. Not. Even. Close. So how do I pick what to focus on? Luckily, it seems to pick me. Next week, the students who are in crisis will find me...the following week, I will find them when they have been kicked out of class for a variety of really creative endeavors.

This summer's training was on Dialectical Behavior Therapy....pioneered by Marsha Linehan to work with chronically suicidal patients. The philosophy behind DBT is this: we are doing the best we can but need better skills to be more effective and we have not caused all our problems but have to solve them anyway. The model uses strategies and a strength-based perspective that asks us to hold in balance things that seem to be contradictory or in direct competition with each other. I think a universal dialectic is that we don't want to be in pain and we don't want to change the way we do things...Dialectics are all the ironies and paradoxes in life. Good place to start, really.

Radical Acceptance is one of the strategies I liked the most. You identify what you have control over, what you don't have control over and accept what as I am listening to this in training, it sounds a lot like the serenity prayer and I'm thinking what is the radical part of this? As I thought about it over the summer, it came to me that the radical part of acceptance of tragedy..which we will all dance with at some point, is acceptance without passivity.

My first teaching job twenty years ago, one of my favorite students was a young boy from a big city. He was studious and quiet but had a seething anger that erupted in a stunning fashion from time to time. I wasn't a clinician then but I worried that his anger was going to keep him out of balance in his life. My sister was getting married that spring and I took some time off for her wedding in Texas. The day my plane left, this young man got in an argument with his older brother and stabbed him to death. I have thought of him over the years but even more so, his dad who worked tirelessly to keep his boys safe. Bad, horrible things happen...with intent, by sheer accident, and all levels in between. When they happen, radical acceptance is one possibility, I think.

Peace to you all.


  1. I know that llama - I saw him spit at a boy square in his eye earlier in the summer. He may be radically accepting of his appearance but I'll tell you what, he is not going down without a fight - ornary!

  2. I think radical acceptance is the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is understanding that bad things happen and they hurt, but we will cope and move on. Suffering is lack of acceptance. Radical acceptance, to me also, is the key of DBT. Even my students had to admit that it's a pretty cool idea.
    Not sure about the llama though - I think he should fight that haircut.

  3. LMc- It does my heart good to hear that he is still a compassionate way, I'm sure!

    TLopez: Very well said! Here is to less suffering in the world.