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July 15, 2010
By Noah McKay
The University of Nevada, Reno recently played host to more than 600 international psychologists and others as the Nevada campus hosted The Association for Contextual Behavioral Science’s (ACBS) World Conference VIII. The June 19- 24 conference provided psychologists, social workers, counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, behavior analysts, students and others with up-to-date knowledge on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a treatment founded by University of Nevada Psychology Professor Steven Hayes.
ACT focuses on getting “people to be less entangled with their self-criticisms, not being less self-critical in the sense that one would still have those thoughts,” said Hayes. “It helps you back out of the world bombarded by media and step into the present as a whole human being, giving you the skills to focus on your values. It’s a little counter-intuitive. I think most people would think self-criticism would help you do hard things and help with your self-control. It turns out though, that the exact opposite is true.”
Hayes is an author of 32 books and over 400 scientific articles, and his work was the focus of a 2006 Time Magazine article, “The Third Wave of Therapy.” His research has shown how language and thought lead to human suffering and how ACT is a powerful method that is useful in a wide variety of areas.
Hayes was a catalyst for the creation of ACBS and served as the association’s president and past president. Founded in 2005, the organization provides a resource of audio, video, publication downloads and teaching materials to professionals and interested parties for third-wave therapies. The association’s annual conference brings together researchers and trainers to present cutting-edge research in ACT.
“The most exciting developments on ACT show that these principles apply both to an understanding of why we get in trouble, but also doing something about it. In areas like diabetes management, weight control, being able to exercise, being able to learn new things or being able to be there for your kids. The most interesting things are how it is spreading out,” said Hayes.
Hayes attributes much of the accomplishments in the area of ACT to his colleagues and his students. With their combined effort, what started as a new, unknown theory has grown into an international movement with an organization of close to 3,000 members. At this year’s international conference, every continent except Antarctica was represented, with about 30 percent of the 650 attendees being from outside the United States. Before coming to Reno, the international conference had been held in Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and next year it will be in Parma, Italy.
“The purpose of the conference is to support each other in creating a community of professionals, who will not just apply what’s known about ACT, but develop more areas around it so that we can do a better job of helping people who are suffering,” Hayes said.