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The archetypal psychologist James Hillman was critical of CBT (Wiki) in its adoption of a “natural scientific philosophy and praxis calling it reductive, materialistic, and literal; they are psychologies without a psyche, without soul.”; and being of a similar persuasion, I was also almost sure I’d be convinced ACT might fit neatly into this description - well almost...
What ACT amounts to being are several skilful mindfulness moves or 'pivots’ to lessen the judgmental chatter of the problem-solving dictator within.
The objective lens of a scientific experiment is nary a page turn away in how to cultivate the art of flexible thinking under the umbrella term of third-wave mindfulness CBT. However, I found the narrative space a cloister of stiflingly avuncularness in large chunks, mostly consisting of academic research conducted by Dr Hayes’s former students, colleagues (and glowingly praised friends). Also, the tone set out tends to come across like one big whoop of egoic vindication at an Afflicted Critical Thoughts Convention for “egg heads." Not my words, but Albert Ellis’s (inventor of REBT in fact) opined that ACT would not trans diagnose too well across mental health categories, especially psychosis - much to Haye’s chagrin.
According to ACTors pivots are a third wave ‘contextual revolution’ which makes up for the pitfalls of Ellis and Beck’s second wave CBT by pointing out “changing thought does not change outcomes. It is the behavioural component that has a good effect.” In other words “while thoughts have a life of their own, their impact on our behaviour comes from our relationship to them, from whether we act on them, and the choice is up to us.” This explanation reminded me of NLP, which to my mind had practically realised many of the ACT presuppositions in the late 1970s/early 80s (in particular reframing) maybe, minus the mindfulness component. Though one could argue introducing hypnotic phenomena into a session isn’t far off to the present-momentness pivot in disidentifying a client from their conceptualised self - and more rapidly.
An intriguing and playful correspondence with NLP might be contrived if Dilts’s Logical Levels (after Bateson) are mapped across on to the Hayes Pivots Model with some choice elision along the way:
A = ‘Acceptance’ (Capabilities Level: EQ) merges with ‘Defusion’ (Beliefs Level) i.e. techniques to reduce symptom severity of unhelpful thoughts and emotions, and to meet ‘life as it is’ (or the notion of Buddhist wakefulness). C = ‘Committed Action’ (Behavioural Level) merges with ‘Values’ (Values Level) i.e. greater improvement in lifestyle by taking baby steps consistent with one’s values. T = ‘Taking Self-perspective’ (Identity Level) merges with ‘Present-moment ness’ (Capabilities Level: IQ), i.e. looking at one’s deluded self-story and discovering dispassionate curiosity to aid in “dropping the tug ‘o ‘war”
As described (in brackets above) each Logical Level can correspond to an ACT Pivot. In one sense this might even explain ACT’s commonality to coaching practices, aa if you look carefully there is already a book on this very subject called Acceptance and Commitment Coaching.
In an overly dominated left-brained world (especially in reflecting the current institution of work for most people) ACT is possibly in its present guise, as near a convergence of pure CBT with Gestalt humanism and contemplative practice as it can get without losing its identity completely. The line is firmly drawn at psychoanalysis with its fantastic seduction theories. There does seem, however, to be a little prospect in the short term at least of an Olive Branch being thrown in the direction of body-based therapies; and certainly scant recognition of outside-in (energetic medicine) nor inside-out (intrapsychic multi parts) approaches. My guessing is if you come from other psychotherapeutic disciplines, for instance, those briefly mentioned right above, there will be moments in the book which scream out for more elegantly applied interventions.
It is somewhat apparent there are a lot of autobiographical investments in the anecdotal examples to elucidate a personal mission - much laid bare - and the difficult birth in bringing forth into the world a statistically robust psychological method. Hayes’s very useful key tests are ‘precision’ (clear and specific); ‘scope’ (apply to lots of conditions); ‘depth’ (consistent, not contradicting with research in other fields over time); demonstrating ‘change processes’: (how to make specific changes to reach goals). Therefore, it is easy to see the attraction of ACT to large institutions, in particular, which must demonstrate a value for money. However, I can see another advantage of ACT. Its emphasis on flexibility is built right into the model and can easily be incorporated into different therapeutic approaches, especially when there is a call to tailor a session to the specific needs and requests of maybe a more rational based client when left-field ideas just won’t do - and there is no morphine to hand too.