Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Review of Training Psychological Flexibility with ACT in Montreal

"If you sort of flinch, like: Oh no, yet another person who is gonna try to convince you to get the tattoo and learn the chicken ritual and pay the fees to the central office, that's just not going to happen." Steven C. Hayes in an ACT Workshop.

        I travelled up to Montreal, Quebec for a few days to attend Benjamin Schoendorff's two day Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) Level 1 clinical training. As a researcher using Relational Frame Theory (RFT), the theory which underlies the thinking behind ACT as the theoretical underpinning of my own masters thesis, and having taken in a lot of ACT material from workshops, books, podcasts,  DVD's, really anything I could get my hands on — I felt like I had a good understanding of ACT. Also, I should mention I have practiced ACT for almost a year at the point of attending this training. I was genuinely excited for the experience but wondered if it would largely be a repeat of many things I had already learnt. I was in for a surprise. Benji (the name our beloved facilitator wished to be called by), brought a plethora of new material and approaches to using ACT with clients. Approaches I had never heard of before. Very little of what Benji spoke about in the training was a repetition of what I had already learned.

The training started with a mindfulness exercise, introductions where Benji surprisingly remembered  our names after only a quick introduction, and a note made by Benji about what each person wished to get out of the training. One attendee spoke, saying they wished to have "ACT demystified," another said "understanding how to use it with my clients," and I said "I want to know how to help clients get unstuck with things they do to avoid and control their lives." Close to the end of the workshop, Benji had cleverly returned to each point and asked each person if they "got what they came for." Everyone, including myself agreed.

        So, what was good!? Apart from how excellent of a presenter Benji was, we were offered a deeper understanding of fusion and defusion than what I had seen before. Benji spoke about the advantages of fusion, spoke from his clinical experience of how difficult it can be to work with clients to defuse from their thoughts, and even spoke about how the silliness does not work sometimes. This was an important concept for me to work on and understand, I have personally used the ACT self-help book, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life and found extremely useful. In fact, I recommend it to clients frequently who wish to deepen their therapeutic work outside of our individual or group sessions. However, I must admit, the cognitive defusion has always been the most difficult for me. I now see that fusion is a result of relationally framing, thanks Benji!

Mindfulness was also presented differently than what you would typically find in cognitive therapies using mindfulness practices. Specifically, we looked at self as context and grounding through mindfulness where we weren't asked to slowly eat a raisin (a common mindfulness activity) but instead, we were invited to conjure things in our own minds and to experiment with how our mind works.

Finally, the matrix. I already learned about the hexaflex from the Learning ACT book, which I highly recommend to fellow therapists wishing to introduce ACT into their direct practice (I also make reference to this book frequently in our peer supervision group), but I felt a little intimidated about returning to the hexaflex, an already complicated concept, and adding to it gave me chills. The matrix however, posed a new and easy way to understand the link between all of the ACT concepts and offers a new way to work with clients in creating committed actions that will improve clients lives through more choices and psychological flexibility. I was impressed.

        At the end of the first day of our training, I was exhausted. I had the same experience the next day and returned home with a workbook FULL of notes. Even now, over a month later, I am still exploring my workbook, talking with colleagues, sharing ideas at our peer supervision group, and still finding that I am making gains from the training. I was convinced before the training that ACT is great but now I'm left thinking it's incredible.

Timothy Gordon
Hamilton, Ontario.

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