with Robyn Walser, PhD & Darrah Westrup, PhD, BEE
Many individuals who have experienced a trauma or who have been diagnosed with PTSD are struggling with traumatic memories, painful feelings and unwanted thoughts; and avoidance or control of theses private internal experiences is a common goal. Often, however, the avoidance itself can lead to further struggle and difficulty returning to valued activities in life. One therapeutic alternative to emotional or experiential avoidance is acceptance. Acceptance can create a new context from which the trauma survivor may view the world and the self. If efforts to control private experience are relinquished as a means to mental health, then efforts to take healthy action, while still acknowledging emotion and thought without effort to control, can lead to valued and life enhancing behavioral changes.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is one of the “third wave” behavioral therapies (Hayes, Follette, & Linehan, 2004) along with others such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT; Linehan, 1993), and mindfulness based cognitive therapy for depression (MBCT; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2001) that specifically focus on acceptance of internal experience as an alternative to avoidance and they use defusion and/or mindfulness processes to achieve this goal. In ACT, the function of the internal experience is changed rather than the experience itself. The therapeutic work done in ACT is specifically designed to foster acceptance in the service of valued and vital living. We will present the basic theory and application of ACT and explore its adaptation to individual and group, inpatient and outpatient settings, and state of the evidence.