Linden Oaks is one of the few programs in the country to use Acceptance Commitment Therapy, an innovative approach for anxiety patients. M. Joann Wright, PhD, director of clinical training and anxiety services at Linden Oaks, explains the approach and the benefits for anxiety patients.
Q: What is the definition of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
ACT is a type of psychological intervention based on modern behavioral psychology, including Relational Frame Theory that applies mindfulness and acceptance processes, and commitment and behavior change processes, to create psychological flexibility, according to the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility, so that the patient connects to the present moment more fully. *
Q: What are the components of ACT?
The key components are:
- Acceptance -Instead of teaching a patient to avoid an experience, ACT helps a patient to embrace the present moment - no matter how uncomfortable - so he or she can spend time aligning with values to manage a particular fear. The patient isn't talked out of the fear but rather learns how to move forward with the fear.
- Cognitive Defusion - We have a long history with words, and as a result, some words can become painful, given our experiences. ACT techniques teach people to perceive thoughts, images, beliefs, emotions and memories as what they are, not what they appear to be.
- Contact with the Present - Depression is connected with past experiences ("Why did this have to happen to me?") and anxiety is associated with apprehension of the future ("What if something goes terribly wrong?"). The more we increase our awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness the less we suffer unduly with thoughts of the past or future.
- Self as Context - People's identities shift in different situations. Our behaviors, thoughts and interactions with others change depending on the circumstances. We are very different when caring for an infant than we are at a college reunion. Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging is one of the goals of ACT therapy. Although we take on different roles in different contexts, there is a "you" that remains the same.
- Values- Discovering what elements of life are most important to one's true self; deciding how to "show up" for life. ACT helps a patient to have more flexible behavior that is consistent with his or her current values. For example: Your aunt, who has a dog, is hosting the annual family reunion. Spending time with your extended family is very important to you, but you're afraid of dogs. ACT wouldn't talk you out of your fear of dogs, but rather help you be more adaptable to the situation.
- Committed Action - Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly. Using the above example, one would set small steps to work toward attending the family reunion such as petting smaller dogs, going to dog parks, etc.
Q. How is ACT being used at Linden Oaks?
Linden Oaks offers a dedicated Anxiety Program, staffed by a variety of mental health professionals (including Dr. Wright who serves as director of clinical training and Steven Prinz, MD, who serves as the program's medical director.)
The program is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for adults and adolescents, using ACT exclusively. In the IOP, participants spend about 3 ½ hours a day in individual and group therapy. People can join the program at any time. Therapy is tailored to the individual but helps the person explore other ways of thinking about situations that might lead to less intense reactions.
Q. Who benefits from this approach?
All types of patients can benefit from ACT. Here at Linden Oaks, we're experiencing remarkable outcomes. It can be quite satisfying for both the therapists and the patients to tackle anxiety because there's a tremendous amount of success. The quality of life often increases in a relatively short time. In addition to the tremendous benefits for adults, the adolescent program also manages those who are refusing to attend school.
Q. What are some important steps to overcome anxiety?
Anxiety and phobias can feed on themselves and worsen. As part of the healing process, I believe there are three key steps: accept you have anxiety, choose to move beyond it, and commit to take action.
Q. How can I refer a patient to Linden Oaks?
Linden Oaks values our relationship with professionals in the medical, therapeutic and educational fields. To refer a patient, please call Linden Oaks at (630)305-5027. You will need to provide the following information:
- Patient's full name and correct spelling
- Date of birth
- Reason for the referral
- What insurance the patient has so that we may identify whether we are within their network of coverage
After we receive your referral, your patient may call us to schedule an assessment, or simply walk in at any time and be triaged, as identified through the referral you made for them. As a walk in, your patient may need to wait to be seen, but will be seen that day.
Linden Oaks also offers outreach representatives who are able to answer questions about our programs and referral process. To request a call from a representative, please call Charla Waxman at (630) 646-8061.
Source: Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, www.contextualpsychology.org.