The History of ACBS -- Love from Hate; Knowledge from Ignorance; Community from Division

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ACBS is grounded in ACT, RFT, and the third wave of course. An early witness to that history, Rob Zettle, has written about it (see attached article).

But the actual spark that gave rise to ACBS was more specific and more emotional: the horrifying events of September 11, 2001. It think that matters that ACBS came in part from that event -- and it makes more sense of why ACBS has the motto that is does (which I will quote at the end of this short piece).

The ACBS "Story of Origin" goes something like this (by the way, while I have vetted the details with those involved, if you know of errors let me know).

I was set to go do two workshops in Sweden (one in Stockholm and one in Uppsala) organized by Ned Carter and Kennth Nillsson, suitcase in hand, when I got a call saying to put down my suitcase on turn on the TV. I did and watched in horror as humans jumped from the twin towers like dust falling from a shaken tree, which then fell to the ground.

All airlines were grounded. There would be no workshop in Sweden.

The next week I told my lab "we are going to study prejudice, bias, and stigma." I told them to watch what was about to happen: we in the West will objectify and dehumanize others out of fear. I remember saying "there are not enough bullets and enough bombs and enough soldiers to make ourselves safe in the world that is upon us. Soldiers and politicians are not enough. Behavioral scientists have to be part of the solution." The whole lab was crying. We wanted to do something.

My lab did alter its focus, beginning basic and applied work on acceptance, mindfulness, perspective-taking and values as antidotes to prejudice and stigma. That work in ACT and RFT continues world wide to this day.

In early 2002 Ned, Kenneth and I started to talk about what to do about the cancelled workshop. I wanted to up the ante in response to the horrifying way that workshop was cancelled.  I'm not sure if Ned or I said it first but in a call with him we began to talk about not just a workshop but a world wide event on ACT, RFT, and the new behavioral psychology. I suspect it was Ned who raised the idea of a conference, because I found out later that Ned had talked to the Wisung's (who you will meet below) in November 2001 about building behavior analysis in Sweden (which Ned was trying to do through his fledging "Swedish Association for Behavior Analysis" and the Wisung's were trying to do with their private practice). I likely added the expansive vision behind a World Conference for ACT / RFT / Functional Contextualism because it was linked to the horror that starting this process. That call on September 11, 2001 was part of the energy that led to the conference. It was not that we felt we had an answer -- it was that we felt we have to care about developing one and that behavioral psychology in a new form could be part of that. We would meet hate with love; ignorance with knowledge; division with community.  

Parenthetically I would not find out until ten years later that Kennth Nillsson had lost $20,000 when the hotel in Stockholm refused to cancel the contract despite the travel lock down. Had I known that I doubt if the replacement would have taken until 2003 ... and knowing about it makes what happened in 2003 all the more remarkable as you will see. 

As the idea began to form it spread out to organizational activities in other areas. The grand vision of a conference all about ACT and RFT caused a shift in thinking, not just in me but in many others close to the work. As we began to think of all the things that could go into such a conference we began to see that our work on philosophy, basic science, applied science, and psychotherapy had laid the foundations for something that did not exist.  

This conference would take money and organization. My own company, Context Press, put in a little; the Swedish Association for Behavior Analysis, and the Swedish Association for Behavior Therapy co-sponsored it (thanks to Ned and Kenneth). They lent some organizational help but we needed funds. That is why Ned and Ken approached Håkan Wisung and Olle Wadstrom in 2002. They owned "Psychology Partners" (PP) a small practice firm with big visions for behavioral psychology in Sweden. PP tentatively agreed to bankroll it. PP leaders Gisela Wisung, Thomas Gustavsson and Johan Holmberg bpought in. Other staff there at the time -- Alberto Santi, Fredrik Gunnarsson, Magnus Stalby, Hanna Stalby Olofsdotter, Cecilia Gustavsson, Sara Hillbom, and Marielle Ryberg -- were supportive. 

We met in a group at the Association for Behavior Analysis meeting in Toronto in May 2002. The attendees were me, Kelly Wilson, Dermot Barnes-Holmes, Yvonne Barnes-Holmes, JoAnne Dahl, Ned Carter, Kirk Strosahl, Jason Luoma, Olle Wadström, and Håkan Wisung. We set a date and a location: Linkoping, Sweden. We decided to do the unimaginable: to try to organize 4 tracks for three days! Wow!

I started the ACT list serve in January 2003 and the RFT list 2 months later. We were deep into the run up to the first World Conference by then (we did not then know there would be a second).  I think the list serves were designed in part to make the World Conference possible -- but they also happened because there had been a shift in our thinking.

In hindsight the leap by Ole and Hakan was pretty bold. They had in effect risked the financial health of Psychology Partners. That is why ACBS gave PP an award at the 10th World Conference.

Just a month before – it looked like it might fail. Registrations were way, way behind. It would lose gobs and gobs of money -- far beyond what Kenneth had lost just 2 years earlier because multiple honoraria had been promised; plane tickets had been paid for. It was do or die. For PP perhaps literally.

But it did not fail. The list serves fed the fever. People traveled. The Swedish professionals and students showed up. By the hundreds they came.

The opening event was a plenary on "The Third Wave: What is It and What, if Anything, Unites It?" Kelly Wilson chaired it. It had an all star list of panelists, Thomas D. Borkovec, Steven C. Hayes, Anna Kaver, Robert Kohlenberg, and Mark Williams. Looking at the panel and room packed with hundreds of registrants Kennth Nillsson proudly stood up and loudly proclaimed  "This is as close as psychology gets to Rock & Roll." We all laughed ... but the emotion of the moment had something to do with how this happened. We did not yet know there would be an ACBS. It took a while to see that step. But we did know we were a community. There was an "us." 

Out of the crucible of 9/11 had been forged a new form of behavioral psychology dedicated to "creating a psychology more worthy of the challenge of the human condition." 



- Steve Hayes

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