Student Committed Action Fuels Growth of ACBS Pennsylvania Chapter and Delaware Valley Affiliate

Student Committed Action Fuels Growth of ACBS Pennsylvania Chapter and Delaware Valley Affiliate

By John Armando, Pennsylvania Chapter President

In 2013, Alisa Kamis-Brinda organized a series of ACT consultation groups that met at her office in the Rittenhouse Square section of Philadelphia. Those first meetings were small- maybe four or five people at most. There were a couple of students, and the rest of us were clinical social workers.

At that time, there was no easily accessible way for Philadelphia area therapists to learn about how to practice ACT with fidelity. Under Alisa’s leadership, we began to come together and form the early foundation of a community. We were clearly learners: curious, inspired, and in search of a path forward toward using ACT with more confidence and competence.

In 2014, a small group of us found each other at the ACBS World Conference in Minneapolis, and laid out our plans to create an affiliate to the Pennsylvania Chapter. In the following year, we began to host planning meetings, and then annual training events.

For the Delaware Valley Affiliate’s first actual training event, we were able to catch Steven Hayes while he was in Philadelphia for the ABCT convention. We offered him a ride from the convention hotel to the airport, with a planned stop at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) where, it turns out, he was born. Steven Hayes riffed and improvised for an hour or two to the delight of a group of about 40 local clinicians. The talk was titled, “ACT in Communities: Utilizing Prosocial Principles” (November 23, 2014). In true ACBS fashion, we asked folks for values based donations to help cover the cost of Steve’s limo. The largest donation dropped into the basket was by Steve himself. The ACBS Delaware Valley Affiliate was off to a decent start!

Not long after that, we started providing training opportunities by our members. Yaacov Kravitz, Ed.D., and Andy D’Amico, Ph.D. did the first one called, “Experiential Mindfulness and ACT workshop” (February 22, 2015). As the title suggests, this was an experiential workshop which provided a rich and direct exposure to ACT processes. The opportunity to come into direct contact with vulnerable feelings in the exercises was an important step forward for many of us. This created the conditions for psychological flexibility necessary for us to begin forming as a community. We now had a shared sense of mission, feelings of excitement, and a developing belief that we had everything necessary to teach ourselves how to be effective ACT therapists. The fear and frustration that no one was going to lead us by the hand into ACT expertise was something that we were now beginning to accept. We were beginning to notice the feeling of moving toward our values with a willingness to bring our distress along for the ride.

Our annual spring events since then have included presentations by DJ Moran, Frank Masterpasqua, James Herbert, Dennis Tirch, Joseph Trunzo, Matthew Boone, and Lisa Coyne. This spring, on May 21, 2020, we will host Emily Sandoz. In the spring of 2021, we will host Robyn Walser. In between these events, we’ve had regular talks and presentations by our members, most notably frequent meetings hosted by Frank Masterpasqua, Ph.D., Professor at Widener University’s Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology. Within the past year we’ve also started a Portland Model Peer Supervision Group held online monthly.

We were having some real success in introducing ACT to the many curious clinicians in our region, but almost invisibly and without planning it, student involvement and attendance were beginning to drive our growth.
James Herbert and Evan Forman had been teaching ACT at Drexel University. Frank Masterpasqua (whose totally awesome hip hop nick-name among his students is “Master-P”) was generating an ACT movement at Widener University. The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine’s master in counseling program and LaSalle College’s programs were also igniting enthusiasm for ACT.

Our goals as a chapter and affiliate were to become better ACT therapists and to promote ACT among local clinicians and clients. When we realized that our events were heavily attended by students, we fully embraced the additional goal of supporting the growth of ACT and ACBS by serving and also involving students. With this new goal in mind, we found sharply discounting student fees to our events a useful step.

In 2015 Joanna Kaye, at that time a doctoral student from Drexel University, became our first Student Representative. Joanna was a force to be reckoned with. She had leadership skills! She saw opportunities to make valuable contributions and got things done. In particular, she helped us improve our process for managing the attendee feedback data for our APA approved training events.

When Joanna graduated, she recommended another Drexel University doctoral student, Lauren Johnson. Lauren had been one of the Pennsylvania Chapter Student Representatives since 2018. Lauren has followed in Joanna’s footsteps as an essential contributor to all of our events.

Lauren says that she had some knowledge of ACT and CBS when she first became involved with our group, but found that getting into action with our steering committee and interacting with experienced clinicians prepared her for an upcoming practicum where ACT was being practiced. She explains that, after spending time in our community, she “really began to have a much better understanding of process based therapy.” Her participation with us allowed her to attend diverse training events, ask questions of a range of clinicians, and significantly enhance her confidence in utilizing ACT when heading into her practicum.

Anecdotes from those that attended the ACBS World Conference in Montreal in 2018 sparked Laurens’ interest in attending the 2019 conference in Dublin. She applied for and was awarded a student scholarship from ACBS and also received a 20% conference registration discount as a student spotlight award winner. In retrospect, Lauren says, “Going to the World Conference in Dublin was the best decision I’ve made.”

For the past two years, Lauren has arrived early at each one of our events, greeted attendees with a welcoming smile, and found ways to be helpful and make everyone’s experience more seamless. She has attended many steering committee meetings and kept us tuned-in to the student perspective. She was one of the founding members of our Portland Model Peer Clinical Consultation Group, and was bravely willing to do the first role play as therapist/skills builder. That was a bold move!

Lauren recently matched at Joint Base Andrews, Malcolm Grow Medical Clinics and Surgery Center. She will serve both as an Air Force Officer and clinical psychology resident, providing outpatient mental health services primarily to active duty military service members. As she embarks on her career as an Air Force psychologist, she expressed her passionate interest in utilizing a CBS approach to make a difference in the lives of military personnel.

The Pennsylvania Chapter and Delaware Valley Affiliate have, through the example and leadership of Joanna; Lauren; Steve Bisgaier, PsyD, our current Pennsylvania Chapter Vice President, and psychology fellow at the CBT Center for Anxiety and OCD; and steering committee members Kate Detrich, PsyD and Rachel Steen, LPC, grown to over 350 members of our Delaware Valley Affiliate group. Moreover, on March 1, 2020, Steve, Kate, and Rachel will be presenting a free Introduction to ACT training at Widener University to 150 registrants.

We’re both proud of and inspired by the impact our students and early career professionals have made to our chapter’s growth, and for helping to spread ACT and RFT widely in our region. We appreciate them all. In recognition of her outstanding contributions, we are awarding Lauren Johnson a scholarship that can help cover registration, travel, and lodging so that she has the opportunity to present her exciting dissertation research at the 2020 ACBS World Conference in New Orleans.

As Lauren stated, “ACBS is unlike any other organization. The level of support and compassion, the impact on my research, my leadership skills, and my professional network has been truly tremendous.”

Thanks for all you’ve done Lauren, and we’ll see you in New Orleans!

Learn more about the ACBS Pennsylvania Chapter:

Learn more about the ACBS Delaware Valley Affiliate (greater Philadelphia region):

ACBS has more than 40 Chapters and 25 Affiliates worldwide:

What is the difference between a chapter and an affiliate?

  • Chapters are membership organizations associated with ACBS.  Chapters are established within states, regions, countries, or within language communities to promote the work of CBS. Chapters plan diverse activities within its geographical area such as training workshops, peer supervision groups, networking events, and small conferences. Chapters are formal entities with an officer structure, membership base, formalized mission, and goals. Chapters must be formally approved and recognized by the board of directors. Chapters are self-governed entities.
  • Affiliates are smaller & simpler to form than chapters, but can do most of the activities that chapter may do. Affilaites are established within cities, states, or countries. Affiliates plan activities such as peer supervision groups, training workshops, and networking events. Affiliates don't need formal sponsorship with a chapter.
  • Chapters and Affiliates provide an excellent way for ACBS members to become involved at the local, state, or regional levels.