A functional view of ACT and ACT related behaviors.

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

Angela Cathey, M.A. & Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or “ACT” is a behavioral therapy. ACT teaches people to notice the functions of their behavior and to direct their attention and behavior such that they can pursue a life they find most meaningful. ACT was designed as a treatment approach based on traditional behavior analysis (i.e., operant and respondent behavioral principles) that also integrates in post-Skinnerian research on the functions of verbal behavior.

In practice, teaching people to engage with their values and commit to engaging in behaviors that take them towards their values often involves using language that can feel imprecise to most classically trained behavior analysts. This language is meant to rapidly train non-behavior analysts (e.g., therapy clients, consultees) to track function and adjust their behavior appropriately. For example, ACT language tends to involve discussion of becoming more “mindful” and “committing” to engaging in behaviors that are in line with “values.” Further, ACT tends to spend a good deal of time highlighting particular behavioral patterns that tend to be problematic in the general population. Chief among these in American culture and most other Western cultures is the tendency to react to negative emotions as if they are problems to be solved or experiences that should not occur. The removal or reduction of negative emotional experiences is, in fact, the typical agenda of clients who present for therapy. Most clients do not show up for therapy stating a need for living a more valued life; they instead say, ‘I can’t live with this anxiety’ or ‘if I could just feel less anxious I could…. [insert goal or value].’

ACT and typical ACT verbal topography helps the client to realize that a goal of riding oneself of anxiety, depression, or stress is non-functional. Once a client is able to focus on what they would like their life to be about (‘values’) the therapist then helps the client learn to adaptively focus their attention and behavior on either direct contingencies or verbal symbolic contingencies, whichever better promotes adaptive behavior for the individual.

In a recent video from Brett DiNovi & Associates, Kate Rice, BCBA talks about how ACT can be used to handle stress effectively by setting behavioral goals that better orient you to your values. Further, Kate discusses how ACT-consistent behaviors are frequently observable in the behavior of those we look up to in our culture. Some examples of this might include the way in which Will Smith or Jim Carrey speak about their values and missions in life. Will Smith has often spoken publicly in ways that indicate he works to pursue his values despite fear, and intentionally trains himself to approach life in ways that help him succeed. Similarly, Jim Carrey has recently and repeatedly been filmed speaking in ways that profoundly reflect an intense awareness of the importance of values and perspective taking in the evolution of himself and perspective on his work.

If you’d like to hear more about how ACT can help you reduce stress and gain a more adaptive perspective in life, keep watching for videos from Brett DiNovi & Associates.

Be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos.  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

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Brett DinoviBrett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at brett@brettdassociates.com

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