ACT in plain language

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ACT in plain language
Submitted by Joel Guarna on February 1, 2006 - 10:38pm.

I agree that explaining ACT plainly is difficult. With my clients, I often compare and contrast ACT with CBT more generally, since CBT is more widely known. I discuss similarities and refer to some common roots to both. I then illustrate some contrasts to traditional CBT by saying that an ACT approach is "not so much about changing the content of thinking (give examples, +/- thinking, etc) or fixing 'distortions' as about changing your relationship to your thoughts, feelings, memories, and other so-called private events (relate these to their presenting issues). ACT is less about making anxiety or depression go away and more about getting you untangled from the thoughts, feelings and rxns you have and getting you (client) moving in a direction that is important to you."

I give a very lay summary that ACT is related to a basic science and theory about human language and thinking (I do NOT attempt to explain RFT in much detail) and their role in our suffering (I sometimes give examples of our pain/suffering and how it differs from nonverbal animals...if the client seems interested and appears to be following). I add that, since human language seems to complicate our dealing with private events, doing ACT as a "talk therapy" is tricky: "so, if you are up for it, we will use a lot of exercises, mindfulness practice, metaphors, and other methods to keep us both from getting tangled up in the words and ideas." I try to relate all of this to their personal issues as much as possible and use examples. I discuss this in "we" terms throughout.

Once their interest is piqued (& it usually is) and I am satisfied they have a sufficient grasp on the approach to give informed consent, I implore them to hold whatever "understanding" of this that they now have VERY lightly. I then try to back out of all this wordiness and shift back into a more experiential mode. The process is a difficult balancing act b/n providing enough info for informed consent and getting ahead of ourselves and getting too didactic and wordy.