Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA
Brett DiNovi & Associates
The first Randomized Controlled Trials using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or “ACT” started in 1986. More than 30 years and 282 RCTs later, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) has become a major player in the psychology and behavior analytic communities, with over 8,000 members listed in their directory, and their 17th annual World Conference coming up soon.
ACT is one of several behavioral approaches designed to explicitly leverage the power of language, and to overcome barriers inherent in language, to help people live meaningful lives. Because language is so useful in our lives, it can sometimes overgeneralize and impair psychological functioning. As a result, we can come to function in a world of language somewhat disconnected from more beneficial direct-acting contingencies in the environment.
Rather than changing our thoughts and feelings that may inhibit our wellbeing, ACT helps to undercut their functions such that we can contact contingencies that matter. One organizing model within ACT is the hexaflex, which illustrates how core behavioral processes work together to produce psychological flexiblity, defined by Steve Hayes as “the ability to contact the present moment more fully as a conscious human being, and to change or persist in behavior when doing so serves valued ends.”
In a recent video by Brett DiNovi & Associates, Michelle Zube and Kate Rice, both Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), provide an overview of the hexaflex.
Michelle and Kate note that a key element of defusion is to simply notice your thoughts as thoughts. Defusion is the difference between looking at our thoughts as part of the world, vs looking at the world through our thoughts. If you are defused, you are more likely to view your thoughts as behavior rather than “truth”. The opposite of defusion is fusion, or believing your thoughts as “truth” or representing reality. Defusion can lead to greater flexibility while fusion might lead to rigidity – both may or may not be useful or functional depending on the context.
Acceptance is the “A” in ACT. Michelle and Kate relate acceptance to discomfort, something most of us actively try to avoid. Discomfort can come in many forms, such as physical discomfort (e.g., pain, cold, etc…), or emotional or psychological discomfort (e.g., anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts). If we are accepting of discomfort, we will be more likely to persist in valued directions despite the discomfort.
Contact with the Present Moment
The present moment is always with us, yet language has a way of taking it away from us. We might be in a staff meeting while thinking about troubles at home, or the vacation next weekend. Or you might be overly concerned with how you will respond to your spouse during an argument instead of listening to what he/she is really saying. Our thoughts can grab us, and pull us away from what is happening here and now. These are stimulus functions of our language that can sometimes be maladaptive, and indicative of fusion and avoidance. Contact with the present moment helps us better track the direct-acting contingencies present here and now, and take action in line with our values.
Self as Context
Self as context is one of three “selves” in the ACT and RFT literature. Self as context refers to the verbally constructed perspective of “I” as something separate from “YOU”. We call these relations deictic frames, and they are a core relational operant. Self as context is distinguished from the content of our language (self as content) or the ongoing behavioral processes in relation to “I” (self as process). As Michelle and Kate mention, the ability to see yourself in this way can facilitate perspective taking, empathy, and other outcomes.
Whereas Skinner may have thought of values as reinforcers, ACT views values as behavior. As Michelle and Kate mention, from an ACT perspective, goals are not values. Values cannot be achieved, they can only be enacted in our ongoing behavior. The ability to clarify your own values can give you direction in life, help you evaluate whether your thoughts, actions, and goals are in the service of larger life directions, and help you track direct-acting contingencies in your environment that will lead you down a meaningful life path.
As Michelle and Kate describe, committed action is related to actively following through with goals aligned with your valued directions. Committed action is inherently goal-directed. As you encounter psychological road blocks along your journey of committed action, other ACT processes become useful.
To hear more of Michelle and Kate’s take on the core ACT processes, 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!
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way. Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar. He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues. His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition. He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Dr. Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Brett 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 email@example.com
* Paid content by Brett DiNovi & Associates.