Creative encounters for ACT practitioners

Trauma-focused ACT: A practitioner’s guide to working with mind, body, and emotion using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Context Press) by Russ Harris. Reviewed by Dr Lelanie Smook.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) espouses at its core, a call for flexibility in thinking, feeling and behaviour as an antidote for becoming drawn into unhelpful patterns. This is also true for the trauma focused approach based on ACT. Russ Harris invites clients to actively explore and better understand the fullness of experience, rather than directly aiming to reduce distress.

One of the most attractive facets of ACT work remains its adaptability around the client and their needs. The practitioner and client work collaboratively to explore the path the client wishes to take, and at all times the work is guided by a thorough underpinning of values and value-based actions. Whether confronted with shame, grief or fear resulting from trauma, the client is invited to cultivate compassion, rather than criticism, and is inspired to learn more about their emotions, physical sensations, cognitions and behaviours as understanding is coupled with creating space for discomfort, as an antidote for fighting or pushing it away. 

Acknowledging the components of trauma to extend to the past, Harris includes information about attachment styles and soothing practices for child parts affected by trauma. The use of exposure to traumatic events is firstly situated in a safety blanket of grounding (called ‘dropping anchor’) and is then focused on the main components of the model, which are ‘being present, opening up and doing what matters’. At its core, the guide suggests a novel and creative encounter, which is built around client need, rather than a fixed process or fixed order of components to follow.

The guide could be useful for the experienced ACT practitioner as well as those taking their first few tentative steps into using ACT. It is full to the brim with metaphors, client session extracts as well as acronyms to guide components of exploration. However, it is not for the faint hearted, as it understandably requires a thorough familiarity with the model, prior to then moving on to the use of trauma specific components. Anyone reading and using the guide is invited to join a Facebook group, drawing heavily on the openness and inclusivity found amongst ACT practitioners. There is also access to other free resources and examples to further build on the concepts introduced in the guide itself. 

- Reviewed by Dr Lelanie Smook CPsychol Principal Counselling Psychologist at Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust

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