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  • Writer's picturehayneslamottepsych

The Choice Point: A Helpful Framework for Individual Change in Therapy

Most of the time, when someone starts therapy, there are certain changes they are hoping to see in their lives: become angry with people less often, work on getting out/doing things/meeting new people, exercise more, criticize myself less, function better in my relationship.

In order to make those changes, it can beneficial to first better understand all of the relevant factors that are impacting their behavior. The Choice Point is a concept from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that organizes these factors in an intuitive way.

Choice Point: The Basic Idea

At any given moment, you are at your own personal Choice Point – the present moment is where you have the ability to make a choice as to what you’re going to do. In this moment, there are thoughts and emotions showing up in your mind/body that you’re not necessarily choosing – they are like any other part of the situation that you react to.

When we do things that are in line with how we want to see ourselves, with the type of life we’d like to have and the type of person we’d like to be, we call those towards moves. When things are going well for us, when we are feeling content with ourselves, it can be quite easy to engage in towards moves. We all have an innate tendency to move towards that person we want to be when there are no impediments.

Unfortunately, the reality is that for many of us, when the stressors of life get in our way, when we don’t get the things we want, and when we become very critical of ourselves, it also becomes very easy to start making away moves. Away moves describe behaviors that take us further from that person that we’d like to become. When we are harsh in an argument with a partner, are drinking more than we’d like, avoid going to the social event, or not getting enough sleep at night, these are likely away moves.

When we are making away moves, the reason is almost always that we are being hooked by certain thoughts/emotions/internal rules that we follow. For example, someone avoiding going to a party they want to go to due to social anxiety may be hooked by the idea that “I can’t put myself in a position where’d I would make a mistake in front of others.” In order to free oneself up to make towards moves, this involves finding a way to become unhooked from the factors that were closely guiding the behavior before.

Blank Choice Point to fill out.

Here is a video describing the Choice Point by the developer of the tool, Dr. Russ Harris:

Example Choice Point

The following example can illustrate how the Choice Point concept can be used to better understand our reliance on away moves:

Sally wants to become more trusting in her relationship. She acknowledges that she has had previous relationships that have heavily reinforced the idea that she cannot trust her partner to be truthful and faithful to her. However, she sees her new partner Ben as being very different from those she has been with before, and feels embarrassed when she reacts out of insecurity to Ben taking time to respond to her texts when he is working.

She has begun to address this in therapy and considers her personal choice point when she has the urge to repeatedly call Ben when he does not text back right away. The thoughts that were having Sally hooked in this case are “Your partners always betray you” and the internal rule that “You can’t keep letting this happen to you.”

Below is an example of an annotated Choice Point for Sally’s example. By acknowledging the thoughts that were having her hooked, Sally will be better prepared to experiment with how to unhook from these thoughts and rules. By unhook, I do not mean that she doesn’t have those thoughts or emotions any more, but instead that they don’t directly guide her behavior as they have in the past.

The purpose of this post is to help anyone interested begin to think about their problems and desired therapy changes in a different way. It can of course be helpful to have an individual therapist (in this case one that practices Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) to help guide you through this process. If you live in Seattle or the greater Washington area, and are interested in working on this via telehealth, please feel free to contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation today or learn more about my approach on my website.


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