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Texas, USA Dissemination Activities 2023

Devin Guthrie, Texas, USA

Could you please tell us a little about you and your background?
I’m a disabled, nonbinary, existential psychologist and acceptance and commitment coach from Texas. I trained as a clinical psychologist for several years at Texas A&M University and graduated with a PhD in social and personality psychology in August 2023. Although I’m keeping a hand in terror management and end-of-life care research and am always open to new collaborations, since graduation I’ve focused on beginning to practice as a “Life & Death Coach” (using my clinical experience as a foundation for life coaching, my end-of-life doula experience for death coaching, and ACT to ground them both). My abiding interests are meaning in life, death & dying, and the psychology of climate crisis.

How did you become interested in CBS?
As soon as I learned about ACT in my second semester of my clinical psychology PhD program, I knew I wanted to practice it. Entering graduate school, I had reservations about cognitive behavioral therapy. Thought challenging seemed often unproductive and while I understood the pragmatic necessity of behavioral activation, it can be a very reductive approach. Originally, I had been most interested in practicing existential-humanistic therapy. This too, however, was unsatisfying in a way that was difficult to pin down. For instance, when I asked Kirk Schneider in a workshop how to help a physically suffering client find meaning worth living for, he told me, “All you can do is say, ‘I’m here with you.’” From one frame of reference, that is profoundly true. From another, I believe clients have a right to receive more guidance from a therapist. In ACT, I saw a workable marriage of the behavioral and existential approaches. So, I began to train in and practice ACT and eventually research and publish on it by the end of my PhD.

Could you tell us about your research and application interests?
As a person with chronic pain, I’ve witnessed ACT’s applications in my own life, and I enjoy using it in my work with disabled clients. However, I’m even more excited about continuing to push the boundaries of what ACT can do in two other areas: Death anxiety and eco-anxiety. As an existential psychologist and terror management theorist, most of my research has focused on what makes life meaningful in spite (or because) of the inevitability of death. Now, working in hospice and other end-of-life contexts, I get to use ACT as a guide to help individuals answer that question for themselves.

I view eco-anxiety as a form of death anxiety, only amplified because it regards the death of the species as well as that of the individual. Applying ACT to this new and growing problem is what I’m most passionate about and what I presented on at the conference.

Could you tell us about your experience at the World Conference this year?
This was my first World Conference, and it was so much more than I expected and so much better than any other work-related trip I’ve been on. Everyone I met was both interested and interesting, and the workshops were incredible! If I hadn’t known I could watch all of them online after the fact, I’m not at all sure I could have appropriately defused from the opportunity cost regret.

Going into the conference, I had two major fears: The first was discrimination, for either my gender or requiring a motorized wheelchair. The second was that my presentation topic, how to use ACT to cope with imminent ecological collapse, wouldn’t be well-received. These had all been major issues for me in my academic communities in Texas, and they were all groundless with ACBS. No one made me feel excluded or burdensome for my differences, and everyone who saw my presentation or who I discussed it with separately was very encouraging and eager to talk about ACT and climate crisis.

I was deeply impressed by the quality of the conference’s organization, content, and the people I met there. I’m extremely grateful to have received the DEI scholarship that allowed me to attend, and I hope to return!

Was there anything that stood out to you about the CBS community?
So many things! The warmth, welcome, kindness, curiosity, openness, passion, and compassion I saw at the ACBS World Conference was remarkable, a drastic contrast from other professional communities I’ve known. The attendees had so much more than a common interest; we had a shared set of values that instantly made me feel like I belonged. I was excited about the diversity of the community and the attention given to diversity in the conference content. The number of presentations specifically dedicated to DEI issues like race, gender, queerness, disability, neurodivergence, and social justice was really encouraging. Of all the excellent presentations I watched, what stood out and impressed me most were those that included subjects that are still fairly far outside of mainstream awareness such as polyamory and even ones that make me personally uncomfortable like client-therapist romantic feelings. The subjects people feel uncomfortable addressing are often the ones where the most the most progress needs to be made.

What did you take back from your experience that has been helpful to you?
So many things! After graduating only two weeks after the conference ended, I began practicing in hospice and other end-of-life contexts, so while I learned from every recorded presentation, the things I learned about death and grief from Robin Walser, Jennifer Gregg, Ray Owen, and the creators of the BEACHeS intervention have helped me most directly in my practice.

I met many amazing people, all of whom encouraged me to get more involved. Post-conference, I’ve become active in the peer supervision group, Pain SIG, and Climate Justice and Action SIG, and will be cohosting a ClimatACT Workshop with my SIG on 1/13/24.

The last and possibly most personally important thing I took back with me was the knowledge that I’m now part of a community, that people want to hear what I have to say, and that I have a role to play. Based on the exemplary models I watched, the discussions I had, and the encouragement to develop my IGNITE talk into a full workshop I received, I’ll be hosting my own, original ACT for Apocalyptic Anxiety Workshop in just a few days. I’m nervous and very excited!

Do you have anything else that you would like to share with the community?
Right now, I just want to share again my deep gratitude for the DEI scholarship I received, the people who accepted my presentation, and everyone who welcomed me into this wonderful community. I’m so glad I get to be a part this. And (committees willing) I hope to have quite a bit more to share with you this summer in Argentina!

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