The Individual Matrix For PROSOCIAL

The individual matrix is described in detail in Polk, Schoendorff, Webster, and Olaz (2016) and there is also an excellent e-book available here so I will only offer an overview here.

Essentially the matrix teaches people to make two discriminations between: a) toward and away behaviors and b) between behaviors that are ‘private’ – inside the skin and behaviors that are public and can be seen by others.  The horizontal towards-away discrimination helps people to notice when their behavior is being driven by attempts to suppress, eliminate or control unwanted inner experiences or is more freely chosen in the service of values.   The vertical inner-outer discrimination helps people to notice distinguish between the direct contingencies of experience and their verbal (i.e. derived relational) responding regarding that experience. Crossing these two discriminative dimensions creates four quadrants and questions are asked akin to those illustrated in Figure 1.  These questions are supplemented by a fifth question aimed at enhancing defusion and self-as-context “Who is noticing these differences?”


Figure 1: The individual matrix tool as I now tend to do it

The matrix is a simple way to begin enhancing psychological flexibility because it maps all the essential elements of ACT. Participants learn to discriminate when their behavior is under the control of aversive inner experience as well as approaches for defusing from that content and choosing to act in the direction of their values and goals.   The matrix is a self-guided approach to functional analysis, highlighting as it does the workability in the short and long-term of different patterns of responding.

In the context of PROSOCIAL, the matrix questions are usually oriented towards the group. So, for example, we ask “Who or what is important to you in relation to being a member of this group?“.  The function of doing the matrix in this context is to create space for clarifying and acknowledging individual needs and histories within the group. We typically invite participants to complete their individual matrices on their own, before sharing either face to face in small groups or anonymously online with the aid of collaborative software such as GroupMap.

People are often surprised by the extent of similarity between group members of their hopes, vulnerabilities and defensive behaviors. At the same time, differences between group members provide valuable information for enhancing group functioning. One person, for example, might reveal that they withdraw in the presence of conflict. If others notice the person withdrawing, they might be better placed to acknowledge their fear and provide reassurance that the perceived conflict is just a difference of opinion, thereby increasing engagement of the group member.

Overall the individual matrix process is intended to increase psychological flexibility, perspective taking and empathy at the level of individuals; and trust, safety and authenticity at the level of group relationships.  Variations of the individual matrix can also be included within the process of PROSOCIAL to meet specific needs. For example, groups mired in conflict can be encouraged to construct individual matrices from the perspective of those with whom they are in conflict, thereby targeting perspective taking, empathy and an increased likelihood of dialogue to learn more about the perspective of others in the group.

I hope that helps you get started with the individual matrix part of PROSOCIAL. Please make suggestions or ask questions in response to this blog if anything is unclear. Thank you.

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