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Using acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to increase adherence to exposure work

Exposure therapy is a gold standard treatment for many mental health concerns including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and specific phobias. Despite this, client adherence to treatment protocols can be lackluster due to the aversive nature of exposure work. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be an excellent approach to use as a precursor to engaging in exposure work in order to increase adherence.

Through experiential exercises, role plays and didactic instruction, participants will learn how to use ACT as a framework for approaching exposure work to improve adherence. Participants will learn how exploring the function of behaviours can increase client willingness to engage in exposures. We will explore how values work can be used to increase acceptance of discomfort during exposure work and how to set exposure hierarchies as committed actions in service of clients’ values. Through partner exercises and self-reflection, participants will also explore their insecurities around introducing exposure work to clients and go from “talking about” exposure work to doing it. They will learn how to flexibly respond to changes in protocols based on what is happening in the moment with clients.

Learning objectives:

  • Understand how to teach clients to evaluate the function of their own behaviour to create more “buy in” to exposure work
  • Explain how patterns of experiential avoidance work and use the Life Map tool to describe this to their clients  
  • Learn how to explore, clarify and identify clients’ values in order to increase willingness to come in contact with aversive experiences such as exposure work 
  • Develop skills and tools for improving present moment awareness and defusion practices in clients to encourage persisting in response to intense subjective units of distress (SUDs) during exposure work  
  • Learn how to increase psychological flexibility in their own work to better adapt to exposure protocols based on context