Q&A: Acceptance & Commitment Therapy

Through Forrest Rambles I have had the pleasure of interviewing some wonderful friends and colleagues on various topics including compassion focused therapy, voluntary work and working with children.  This month Jason Roscoe joins me to talk about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and life as a therapist!

I met Jason a couple of years ago when he started volunteering for the Liverpool Branch of the British Association for Cognitive and Behavioural Psychotherapies of which I was the Secretary at the time.  I’ve attended some of Jasons training events on supervision and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which have been really informative, fun and engaging so I thought who better to tell my readers about ACT …

Lizzie: Can you start off by telling us a little about yourself and your career so far?

Jason: I’m a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist working in private practice and I also teach on the CBT training course at University of Cumbria. I tend to integrate ideas from Compassion-focused Therapy, Schema Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy into my clinical work. I worked in the NHS for an IAPT Service originally but I have always liked the idea of working for myself. The balance of clinical work and teaching allows me to keep my knowledge and skills up to date whilst getting to contribute a little bit to new research. 

Lizzie: I know that you are particularly interested in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) so can you please explain what this is in a nutshell?

Jason: For me, ACT is not just a therapy it is a way of being. The central idea is that psychological suffering is normal (yes that’s right!) and it is our attempts to get rid of this ‘clean discomfort’ which ultimately leads to ‘dirty discomfort’ – mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders. Treatment involves taking a mindful, curious and accepting stance towards all of our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations whilst committing to live our life based on our values.  As therapists our brains work the same way as our clients therefore it is important to practice what we preach. I often find that difficult thoughts and feelings show up for me in the work that I do but my commitment to live my life based on my values overrides this. 

“ACT is not just a therapy it is a way of being”

Lizzie: One of the things I like about ACT is the metaphors which are used to explain the theory, these can make quite abstract ideas easier to understand and the metaphor is a like a little picture or story which easily stays is our minds.  Can you share one of the metaphors which you like best or use quite often in your work?

Jason: I really like the ‘Passengers on the bus’ metaphor as this captures many of the ideas that I incorporate into my work, not just from an ACT perspective. I have been influenced by Jeff Young’s work on schema modes and find Steve Peters ‘The Chimp’ a really useful metaphor to help my clients understand the natural conflict that exists in their mind. Passengers on the bus suggests that rather than their being one ‘self’, there are in fact multiple selves that can help or hinder us should we chose to listen to them. If we are the bus driver, trying to move in valued directions then the passengers consist of our self-critic, perhaps our fearful self but also compassionate versions too. It can be so tempting to want to stop the bus and try to throw off these unwelcome passengers yet in doing so, we get caught up in a fight we can’t win, all the while neglecting the whole point which is the journey. My approach is about trying to help clients to recognise these different passengers and understand them better. To open up dialogue between these passengers and accept that they are along for the ride but this does not mean they get to call the shots!

Lizzie: What do you like most about your work?

Jason: I do quite a bit of supervising these days and I would say that this is where my heart lies more so than clinical work. I really enjoy teaching and seeing clients, supervisees and students grow as individuals is really pleasing. I have always valued autonomy and variety and so I have tended to shape my working life to accommodate this. I feel very fortunate that I have the mix of teaching and clinical work as life never feels like it gets too repetitive. 

Lizzie: What do you do to unwind and take care of yourself?

Jason: I don’t think this is really my strong point! I need to take set weeks off but often don’t due a number of factors. I tend to pursue ‘active’ relaxation so running or playing football. As I’ve got older, I value sleep a hell of a lot more than I used to so these days I try to ensure that I get 7-8 hours by having early nights and keeping the booze at a minimum as it is known to mess with your sleep. 

Lizzie: What resources would you recommend for anyone who wants to find out more
about ACT?

Jason: I would recommend any of Russ Harris’ books particularly ‘The Happiness Trap’ or resources from his website or Facebook group. There are also some good TedTalks on YouTube by the founder of ACT, Steve Hayes. 

Lizzie:  Thank you Jason!

Follow Jason on social media …

FaceBook @cbtinblackpool

Twitter @cbtblackpool

Instagram @cbtblackpool