3 R’s in Counseling: Radical Acceptance, Resonance, Resource Building

BY: MJ Harford, MA, NCC

Counseling is all about exploring. Together, clients and counselors join to investigate what might be getting in the way of a healthier, more meaningful, and joyful life, develop a plan, and gather resources to heal. This process of investigating often starts over and over throughout the counseling process. It can be broken down to its very core into three basic experiences: radical acceptance, resonance, and resource building. This framework is adapted from Mindfulness Self Compassion (MSC), developed by Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Christopher Germer. MSC is a theoretical orientation and an evidence-based practice both in and outside of psychotherapy, based on developing a kind, loving awareness of ourselves as we’re operating in the world. This includes moment-to-moment presence (mindfulness), self kindness, and recognition of common humanity.

Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is the constant, unwavering allowance of all components of reality. 

This may sound dramatic, as if radical acceptance means never experiencing a moment of frustration, disappointment, or dissatisfaction. That simply isn’t true! The goal of therapy is not to dull, remove, or avoid emotions and reactions like this but to approach them with a clearer, more open manner. During a counseling session your counselor will be practicing this by simply listening without judgement; it is more about allowing you to show up as you are than anything else. 

Marsha Linehan, a therapist who developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a widely used approach for managing challenging mental health conditions, coined this term and explained it as the act of allowing all parts of a person to be present, without choosing which parts to accept and which to reject. Most of us discriminate in this way dozens of times a day by giving ourselves praise for perhaps working out in the morning but criticising ourselves for not calling a struggling friend. Radical acceptance would mean embracing both situations equally. Studies (Horney, 1950; Powers, Koestner, & Zuroff 2007) have shown this type of skill is more positively associated with motivation and change-behavior than self criticism. 

This may also sound like extreme tolerance; radical acceptance does not equate to permission. We can acknowledge and allow for what is currently happening without agreeing with it. For example, we can say to ourselves, “You are so lazy, you haven’t been to the gym in 3 months, look at yourself. You’re disgusting,” which may in fact scare us enough to go the gym tomorrow. This would help us censor our self-doubt, low self-worth, and general anxiety about our body, but it would not alleviate the cause of whatever stopped us from going to the gym in the first place. It also would not quiet the voice telling us we’re not good enough unless we meet certain standards or follow certain rules. If we instead said something like: “You haven’t been to gym in 3 months. You feel better when you move your body and get out of the house. It is important to you to be healthy. Maybe you could go to the gym tomorrow morning,” we are more likely to create long-term sustainable behavior change that is motivated out of love, values, and strengths. 

Resonance

Resonance is a way of describing the experience of emotional connection and attunement between clients and counselors. This is the “feeling felt” moment that (hopefully!) happens during a counseling session when your counselor, with or without words, conveys a deep understanding and warm support of what you’re communicating. 

The word resonance is a movement-word; it conveys the idea of a sound-like vibration or light-like vibrance. This is purposeful and helps us understand how connecting empathetically is an active process. Resonance is something that helps folks on the client end of the relationship take in the warmth, support, and validation of a counselor. Without resonance it can be a challenge to feel emotionally safe and to take what’s happening inside of counseling sessions into the outside world. 

Resource Building 

Resource building helps both counselors and clients focus on strengths. This therapeutic perspective prioritizes existing strengths and wellness above deficits and disease. By identifying what strengths and areas of health (psychological, physical, social, spiritual) are already operating, because they undoubtedly are, we can seize the healing process with greater efficiency and sustainability. 

Resource building includes the idea of reducing struggle against what it is that brought us to counseling in the first place; a new way of relating to what it is that we’re facing. Resource building is based on hope and capability.

By just acknowledging these three areas as you begin your search for a counselor, in your current therapeutic work, or as you think back on the ways counseling supported you, see what stands out. Maybe there is room in your life today to experiment with an R or two.