The bus driver metaphor


sometimes it’s helpful to listen to a “bus passenger”



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sometimes it’s helpful to listen to a “bus passenger”: Although the best strategy is usually to simply let the passengers shout while we get on with “mindfully” driving the bus in the direction of our values, sometimes it’s useful to listen and respond to a “passenger”. For example a.) when the “passenger” (the thought or feeling) repeatedly shouting in the back of the bus is due to trauma we have experienced earlier in our lives. In this situation it’s good to keep driving the bus in the direction of our values, but when we have time it is often worth stopping to “emotionally process” the troublesome memories with their associated – currently inappropriate – upsetting imagery and feelings. High scores on the revised Impact of Event Scale suggest that this processing approach might be relevant. b.) when the thought or feeling is raising an issue that needs to be problem solved. The worry tree diagram can be a helpful way of clarifying whether we should be problem solving or simply mindfully allowing the passenger thought or feeling to shout away while we get on with driving our values-directed bus. The handout on problem solving also explores this issue more thoroughly. c.) overlapping with this issue of when to problem solve and when simply to be mindful is the question about whether a particular set of thoughts & feelings are more useless noise or useful responses. Emotions that are useful and appropriate responses to a situation are likely to be helpful in energizing adaptive actions – see the handouts on emotions are like a ‘radar system’ and emotions, ‘arriving’ & ‘leaving’ for more on this.

It can often be useful though, as a reminder, to think of the bus driver metaphor when we’re trying to get on with the busy-ness of every day life while struggling with difficult thoughts and feelings. These ideas are adapted from Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). Below are details of two interesting ACT self-help books.


Harris, R. “The happiness trap.” London: Robinson, 2007.
Hayes, S. & Smith, S. “Get out of your mind & into your life.” Oakland: New Harbinger, 2005.


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