Psychology and the Serenity Prayer

PsychologyThe Serenity Prayer is well-known in the United States in part because of its use as part of the Alcoholic Anonymous program. The simple prayer says:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

I see this prayer as describing the essential difference between Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,  two leading but sometimes contradictory theories of helping people change negative thought patterns.

If there is something you cannot change, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) will help you to accept it.

If there is something you can change, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) will give you the tools (and perhaps the courage) to try.

And it may be the role of the therapist or coach to help you know the difference, in the cases where you cannot find that wisdom on your own.

I don’t mean to suggest clinical interventions should supplant religious belief; in fact, if someone is struggling with negative thoughts or feelings the last thing I would want to do is discourage their faith. Rather, I think this prayer does a lovely job of showing how psychology tries to address the various needs people have in times of trouble. It’s worth us all, whether we are in need of help ourselves or called to provide it to another, keeping in mind.