Story – Committed to ACTion: Changing the way therapy looks at West 5th

The Community Psychiatry Clinic (CPC) at West 5th is one year into a new therapy program called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT. Over the last twelve months, they have led upwards of 100 patients through the 8-week program and are seeing fantastic results.

Developed by Dr. Russ Harris, medical doctor, psychotherapist, and World Health Organization consultant, ACT is the practice of changing our relationship to experiences, rather than trying to change the experiences themselves. You can’t change what has happened, but you can change how you choose to react. Avoiding or fighting negative feelings uses up a lot of energy and takes away from experiences you want to have. Through ACT, patients and practitioners are encouraged to practice psychological flexibility by giving their feelings space and recognizing that emotions come and go.

James Long started accessing services at West 5th Campus after experiencing a mental health crisis in August 2018. His diagnosis of PTSD led to him participating in the ACT session beginning in November.

“ACT is accessible, specific curriculum,” James says, adding that “the skills that I learned and practiced in ACT have helped me cope with day-to-day life, and they’ve also helped me cope with the challenges associated with CPT,” the program he is currently participating in.

ACT participants practice acknowledging feelings and experiences, becoming “unhooked” by consciously recognizing negative or untrue thoughts as passing emotions rather than reality, and using mindfulness practices to isolate and process those thoughts.

James considers the mindfulness practice one of the most valuable for him personally. Rationalizing thoughts and acknowledging that your own thoughts can be your own worst enemy in respect to unwanted or unpleasant emotions is an intentional routine. “It takes a lot of practice, but I think it’s making a difference day-to-day in my ability to cope with my PTSD. Hopefully it’s laying the foundation for a much richer, sustainable life moving forward,” he says.

Another major focus of ACT is leading a values-driven life, identifying what is most important and working to pursue it. For James, that means that means being helpful, curious, respecting others and maintaining physical fitness. Having something to work toward while on an emotional and healing journey keeps you focused.

“I honestly believe that almost everyone could benefit from going through the program. Whether they’ve experience d a crisis or not, I think there’s valuable wisdom to be found in the program for anyone.”

The ACT program continues to grow, with nurses and practitioners receiving continual training.

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