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The ACT trained physical therapist: Psychologically flexible, resilient, and armed with evidence-based tools (Pages 253-260)

Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science (JCBS)

Volume 26, October 2022, Pages 253-260


Joe Tatta, Annette M. Willgens, Kerstin M.Palombaro


Background and Purpose

Burnout, compassion fatigue, stress, and management of pain-related health conditions are common concerns for the novice physical therapist. To date, there is a paucity of research on interventions that promote resiliency in this population. The aim of this study was to determine if training novice Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) practitioners in delivering ACT-informed interventions can cultivate psychological flexibility and professional quality of life and 2) examine the acceptability and feasibility of an ACT training delivered to novice DPTs.


In this convergent, mixed methods study, licensed DPTs (n = 35) with less than 2-years of experience completed an 8-week, 20-hour online ACT for pain training course with synchronous and asynchronous components. Pre and posttest measures included the Comprehensive assessment of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy processes (CompACT), the Mindful Healthcare Scale (MHS) to measure changes in psychological flexibility, and the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL) to measures the positive and negative effects of helping others. An open-ended post-course survey was used to elaborate and confirm findings for the secondary aim.


All post-test measures improved significantly, (p < .05) except for the valued action domain of the CompACT. DPTs demonstrated increased psychological flexibility which promoted more openness and engagement in both personal and professional life, along with improved quality of life after the training. Qualitative results expanded the findings to reveal 1 overall theme and 3 sub-themes for each open-ended question. The most robust theme, A Shift in my Role as a DPT, crossed all 3 questions. As participants used the course tools, they experienced less pressure to “fix” the patient, which relieved work stress, and promoted feelings of resilience.


This is the first study to explore the influence of an ACT training course in the novice DPT. The course improved psychological flexibility and quality of life in the novice DPT. The training was acceptable, feasible, and considered an essential skill to manage pain. Results highlight the role of psychological flexibility and ACT as a helpful addition to psychologically informed physical therapy practice.

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