Foundations of ACT and the Limits of CBT

Steven C. Hayes, PhD

Steven C. Hayes, PhD (@stevenchayes) is Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is the developer of Relational Frame Theory (RFT), an analysis of human language and cognition, and the creator of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

He’s the recipient of numerous awards including the Nevada Psychological Association Psychologist of the Year Award, a B. F. Skinner Award from Palo Alto University, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

He’s the author of more than 530 scientific articles and 38 books, including the  #1 selling “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life“, and his TEDx talks “Psychological flexibility: How love turns pain into purpose” and “Mental Brakes to Avoid Mental Breaks” have racked up 150,000 views and counting.

In today’s episode we talk about the foundations ACT and the limits of CBT. What exactly is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and how does it differ from, and improve upon traditional CBT?

We discuss the concept of psychological flexibility and its role in either preventing or provoking the development of mental health issues. We ask whether or not there is value in addressing issues from your past, the importance of self-compassion during periods of psychological distress, how to discover your own personal values, and putting it all together, in Steve’s own words:

“How to back out of the war within, come into the present moment, focus on what we care about, and get on with the business of living.”

Steve’s website: stevenchayes.com

 

Steve’s Recommended Links

Psychological flexibility: How love turns pain into purpose – Steve’s first TEDx talk

Mental Brakes to Avoid Mental Breaks – Steve’s 2nd TEDx talk

ACT for the Public – Yahoo Group

Association for Contextual Behavioral Science

Book’s Mentioned in This Episode

               

 

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Image courtesy: martinak15

7 replies
  1. Danny Whittaker
    Danny Whittaker says:

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s so great to know there are people out there willing to interact with this stuff.

    I look forward to a time when there are enough comments like this after each episode that I can revisit each topic and do a “Part 2” consisting solely of questions from listeners, to help challenge and clarify certain points.

    Danny

    Reply
  2. Adam
    Adam says:

    Just have to say Danny, brilliant blog and Youtube channel. Very informative and helpful information with some very high profile people in the world of psychotherapy!

    I’m interested in the debate between CBT and ACT. Which one is better and for what particular case of mental health?

    I’ve tried CBT and ACT and they can both be very effective at dealing with mental health. The only thing I would say is that CBT is better for dealing with depression and ACT for anxiety, although that’s not to say they don’t overlap.

    I think because depression is a very dull and low mood feeling CBT’s ‘positive thinking’ is perhaps more effective than ACT because it gives you a sense of hope that you CAN take control over these powerful negative thoughts and turn them around. That sense of hope motivates someone who is depressed. Positive psychology also gives you a sense of control. In other words, I can take effective action and have a step by step approach that can alleviate a problem.

    Anxiety on the other hand is an immediate and highly emotionally charged feeling, so trying to challenge the thoughts and think positively in that situation is perhaps not the best course of action. The best way to deal with anxiety is to use ACT’s acceptance of the feelings by not fighting them because that internal struggle only makes it worse. It helps to reflect on the anxiety as completely normal. So say you’re on a date or have a job interview, of course these situations are going to make you anxious and it’s completely normal. Shows you’re human and it’s what connects you to others.

    It would be interesting to have a debate about this. Is CBT better for depression and ACT better for anxiety? It’s no wonder when I listened to both of the podcasts that David Burns referred mostly to depression and Steven Hayes to anxiety when talking about the effectiveness of their treatments.

    Reply
    • Danny Whittaker
      Danny Whittaker says:

      Hi Adam,

      Thank you for the feedback. I really value it at this stage of the game, when I still kinda feel like I’m just talking to myself for the most part 🙂

      For me, what distinguishes ACT from CBT isn’t so much the particular condition to which they are best suited, but the nature of the experience you’re attempting to rectify, regardless of is diagnostic categorisation.

      In short, I think CBT is best suited to tackling thoughts, and ACT is better suited to tackling emotion.

      If the nature of your depression is a feeling of doom and dread in the pit of your stomach, but which lacks any specific content, then I suspect that ACT would be a more effective approach.

      When it comes to anxiety, there is often a very content-driven, anticipatory thought process which foreshadows the emotionally charged experience itself. This early stage of anxiety is probably best tackled with CBT.

      There is definitely room for debate on the topic of CBT versus ACT. Lord knows it rages on between those people actually studying it. And two-way debates is a format I’d love to include at some point in the future.

      In the meantime, like I said in the introduction to this episode, the best thing that those of us struggling with mental health issues can do is educate ourselves in both (and other) approaches, cherry pick the techniques that have the most positive emotional impact on us, and then apply them as necessary, with absolutely no sense of loyalty to one acronym over another.

      Thanks again, Danny

      Reply
      • Adam
        Adam says:

        Don’t worry Danny, I’m sure people are listening. Besides, your Youtube channel is fairly new and it’s how I came across your blog. It’s just a matter of getting the word out because you have some really valuable stuff here.

        Yes I see what you mean because it’s not really practical to start challenging the feelings with evidence like you would with thoughts in CBT.

        But having said this, ACT would say that getting caught in the content of your own thoughts by trying to challenge them only brings them into focus causing more psychological pain. However, I think CBT gives you a sense of control to steady the ship especially with depression, but at a deeper level, acceptance of who you are and what you feel is fundamental for mental health.

        Looking forward to seeing more of your content. Perhaps a break down of the techniques to help with mental illness would be good topic to look into?

        Adam

        Reply
        • Danny Whittaker
          Danny Whittaker says:

          This is precisely why I advocate cherry picking from different approaches. Regardless of the philosophical principles a therapeutic approach is based upon, it doesn’t necessarily account for the philosophical lens through which the person suffering is viewing the world. Nor how this lens itself might shift depending on the circumstances.

          For me, there are certain situations – say, busy social events – when analyzing the situation and trying to discredit the negative thoughts that arise certainly feels like I’m doing little more than getting caught up in the anxiety, and only serves to exacerbate it.

          However, there are also occasions when a cold hard analysis of the situation helps to dissipate the anxiety really effectively.

          Fretting about “losing my mind” during a panic attack is a good personal example. In the midst of mental pandemonium, doing the math and reminding myself that I’ve been on this hellish roller coaster a million times before and never once fallen into the abyss is precisely the thing that pulls me out of the anxiety.

          Anyway, I’m definitely moving towards more practical content soon. Consider all these early episodes foundations for elaboration.

          Thanks again, Adam. I appreciate the engagement.

          Reply
  3. Karen
    Karen says:

    When I saw the length of the interview, I balked, but it was tons of fun. You have talent as an interviewer and a nicely designed website.

    Reply
    • Danny Whittaker
      Danny Whittaker says:

      Thank you, Karen, that’s really nice of you to say.

      A lot of the people I interview balk at the idea of longform interviews as well, but I think it works.

      I’m just trying to create the podcast that I was searching for during my own difficult periods, and comments like this reassure me that maybe I’m onto something.

      Thanks, Danny

      Reply

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