The Catch-All Nature of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Question: Why can ACT treat everything from schizophrenia to prejudice?

Steven Hayes: Well, and even more than that. I mean, I've mentioned even in this office the same processes are there. We've done research showing that ACT and the processes that underlie it can help things like can secretaries learn new software? Can therapists learn new methods? What about stigma and prejudice between people? So it isn't just in the psychotherapy areas. And why that would be, as an empirical fact there's a pretty enormous breadth to these methods. And why that would be -- because everywhere that a human mind goes, these processes of avoiding the world within in order to try to regulate your behavior, or becoming entangled in your thoughts interfering with your ability to take advantage of what's around you, or losing contact with your values for fear that you'll know more about the places where you hurt -- those kinds of processes are just normal psychological processes that are built into language and cognition itself. They're built into problem-solving. And so if you take the mode of mind that works great in 95 percent of your life and apply it within, it then implodes. It starts creating barriers, and that's true at work, it's true in organizations, it's true in our culture, true in our politics. And yeah, it's true in our consulting rooms.

So we're going -- the reason why it spreads out -- we have pretty good evidence for this; I know it sounds a little grandiose -- but the mental cognitive processes that we're targeting are ones that narrow human beings' repertoire and make it harder for them to learn to be more flexible, to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them. And we think that's something we can have something to say about, something to help with in all of these different areas, maybe even in areas like child development or organizations and schools, or maybe even things like prevention or how peoples interact with each other, one to the other. So we've taken the work, for example, into things like prejudice and stigma, because in the modern world, if we can't solve that we have planes flying into buildings. And then we have planes flying over countries. The amount of hate and objectification and dehumanization that's on the planet isn't something we can tolerate any more in a world that's coming of suitcase bombs and the ability to amplify that hate out into harm towards each other. So it applies broadly because anywhere that a human mind goes these processes go. 

From smoking cessation to depression, Steven Hayes explains why ACT has the ability to treat people suffering from all sorts of psychological issues.

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