On Monday April the 18th., 2013, I attended a lecture given by my mentor Matthew McKay, Ph.D. on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), exposure-based interventions, and distress management.
This lecture was extremely motivating because it opened the door to a room full of possibilities to help people struggling with ongoing crises in their life.
It’s common to hear clients saying “I knew I had to do something different, but I simply couldn’t do it; or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me…it was so hard to remember what to do in that moment even after we talked about it.” The list of reasons why people continue to engage in problematic behaviors over and over goes on and on. It seems at times that discussing, practicing, and even creating reminders that could facilitate an effective behavioral response when dealing with a crisis is simply not enough.
We all know how difficult it is to cope with problems in an effective way, especially if the “emotion switch” is on all the way. Most behavioral approaches attempt to address these difficult situations in a specific manner. For example, a DBT approach would recommend that in order to deal with a problematic situation you should practice soothing, relaxing, and then solve the problem. Although this general principal works at certain times, it’s also evident that at other times it’s simply a struggle trying to figure out what to do in a troublesome situation, and in particular if there is anger or any other intense emotion associated with it.
Dr. McKay presented an alternative behavioral approach that primarily helps clients to (a) identify their core values and specific behavioral steps that are congruent with them when dealing with a problematic situation, (b) face the uncomfortable emotions associated with those behaviors, (c) rehearse the identified behaviors, (d) learn stress coping skills and (e) use them when rehearsing new behaviors. This treatment approach is going to be piloted at a low-fee clinic in Berkeley during the next couple of months.
On my side, I can say that it’s extremely encouraging to take part in conversations about increasing our potential to be effective when dealing with pain. I also relate to the ongoing desire to improve our clinical interventions by challenging, questioning them, and creating new possibilities to do a better job in the therapy room. At the end, that’s how psychological science evolve: if we don’t question what we know we won’t learn what we don’t know.