Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Experiential avoidance and survivors of adult sexual assault

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APA Citation: 

Burrows, C. J. (2011). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Experiential avoidance and survivors of adult sexual assault (Unpublished master's thesis). The Cairnmillar Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Publication Topic: 
ACT: Empirical
Publication Type: 
experiential avoidance, acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness, trauma, sexual assault, posttraumatic stress

In this case study, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) was applied as a treatment model to three survivors of adult sexual assault. The nature of the participants’ experiential avoidance and the role of ACT in influencing it were examined. The participants completed the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire (AAQ-II), White Bear Suppression Inventory (WBSI), Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) and Valued Living Questionnaire (VLQ) at the start and conclusion of treatment and participated in a post-treatment interview. Internal control strategies, particularly rumination about the future and thought suppression, were found to be the most common manifestations of experiential avoidance. At the end of treatment all three participants reported a reduction in their level of experiential avoidance, thought suppression, trauma symptomatology and an increase in their valued action and quality of life. It was concluded that ACT reduced experiential avoidance by offering willingness as an alternative to avoidance and control, grounding the participants in the present moment, reducing their fear of trauma symptoms, restoring their personal values and engaging them in values-guided action. The results of this study suggest that while incorporating widely used techniques such as grounding, ACT can offer something distinct to the treatment of survivors of adult sexual assault. In particular, the creative use of visual metaphors and experiential exercises in ACT and its emphasis on translating values into committed action make it a unique treatment approach for survivors of adult sexual assault.

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