I recently attended Russ Harris’ advanced ACT workshop in July. I found this training both theoretically informed and inexorably human. Russ covered traditional ACT concepts and therapeutic formalities well. He also introduced novel formulaic and intervention tools (e.g. the Four Horseman of Rigidity and The Choice Point), which were especially helpful when thinking about how to navigate the complexities of the therapeutic relationship without losing oneself to familiar patterns of experiential avoidance, or feeling overwhelmed due to ‘analysis paralysis’. Russ is greatly skilled in helping trainees learn how to ground themselves using brief, yet effective, in situ mindfulness exercises (e.g. S.L.O.W.) to recognise what is happening within themselves in the moment without losing sight of the client’s experience. He makes clear the reason for using mindfulness techniques in ACT serves to broach the more pertinent, and often anxiety-provoking, questions surrounding the person’s values and their workable or unworkable behaviour within, and outside of, the therapeutic space.
His excellent coordination of group activities – some very amusing (e.g. ACT speed-dating, inspired by Kirk Strosahl’s briefer focused version, FACT) – were excellent opportunities to feel one’s way around the Triflex and get to what matters quickly. As someone who has a long history of trying to avoid uncomfortable emotional content, I can only suggest that future delegates try to show up to Russ’ workshop with some of their own personal stuff if they feel ready to explore it. This sobering experience will undoubtedly help you to consolidate a deeper understanding of ‘ACT in action’, and give you a clearer sense of what it might actually be like to take the perspective of both the therapist and client within the therapeutic encounter. This is not just role-play. For me personally, the more I subject my own emotional “stuckness” to ideas presented within the ACT approach, the more compassionate and authentic I become towards others. The less I hide behind more abstract theory, or whip out a thought-diary when things get challenging, and the more I get on with the doing, the closer I get to being the kind of therapist and researcher I truly want to be (warts and all!) Thanks very much Russ, I look forward to your next visit!
Anthony Harrison, PhD Candidate
Health Psychology Section, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London.