Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Providing a Relational Framework

MSP is pleased to offer workshops that highlight the professional interests of our faculty and offer MCBAP approved Continuing Education (CE) credits.  Melissa Farrell, PsyD, will present “A First Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Training” workshop on Friday, January 20 from 1PM to 4:30 PM.

While in graduate school I chose to study within Existential and Humanistic Psychotherapies. However, my work with children and adolescents necessitated that I also learn and work with empirically based treatments designed for concrete operational thinkers. Like many clinicians trained in the last fifty years, I learned Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques to help my client’s who suffered with difficult thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

For years I sought to understand how to combine my view of the human condition as a truly relational, dynamic, and phenomenological experience and the effectiveness of manualized and seemingly impersonal CBT techniques. In 2014 my search brought me to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

As any good clinician will tell you it is important to continuously educate yourself and keep current with new treatments. It was in one of these efforts that I received training in ACT. ACT is an empirically based treatment developed using Relational Frame Theory and is considered by many to be part of the “third wave” of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies.

Relational Frame Theory and ACT effectively address significant issues with more traditional forms of CBT by integrating mindfulness and directly addressing the individuality and meaning making of each person. ACT is defined by the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science as, “A unique empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.”

ACT combines the research on cognition and behavioral theories with research on how language and meaning develop and contribute to human suffering. ACT has moved away from the traditional CBT emphasis on changing or correcting one’s thoughts in order to alleviate suffering. Instead, ACT aims to change the way we experience our thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations, so they no longer control and distress us.

By building more flexible ways of interacting with our inner experiences through mindfulness and acceptance ACT seeks to help individuals live vibrant, valued, and meaningful lives. This shift from trying to change, dispute, or “fight with” distressing thoughts and feelings to a path of acceptance and self compassion has rung true for many of my clients who saw no success with traditional CBT strategies. Furthermore, in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” When we can come to a place of acceptance and hold our thoughts and feelings lightly we can begin to live with meaning.

Since my first training in ACT I have immersed myself in the literature and sought to educate both myself and others about this deeply meaningful and profound new way of treating human suffering. It is my deepest hope that through providing trainings I can help other clinicians to begin the journey into doing ACT based therapy, thereby improving the outcomes of clients.

Melissa Farrell, PsyDDr. Melissa Farrell, PsyD is currently adjunct faculty at MSP.