Can a psychology that aims to change cognition and emotion be effective in such an overwhelming world? A psychologist explains the case for an acceptance-based approached to therapy.
Question: Why don’t some psychologists believe in the effectiveness of ACT?
Steven Hayes: It's an argument about theory and processes, but the processes, and the ones we've been talking about, inform what we think of ourselves and what we should encourage in our children and what we should try to put into the culture. And I think really we've been through a time when we thought we could think our way out of this, and kind of think clearly and that would solve the problem, and detect logical errors and that would solve the problem. We thought of suffering as a problem of sort of dysfunctional cognitions. I think we're coming into a time instead where it has to do with how you stand in relationship to your own world within and in relationship to those around you in the world without. And I believe these are the things that we need to put into our schools, education, into our psychotherapy and into our culture more, finding a way to not be so harsh and judgmental, so objectifying and dehumanizing, constantly focused within and trying to get these difficult thoughts and feelings to go away; or focused without and objectifying and dehumanizing others. So the core of the controversy is, is it more powerful to take an acceptance and mindfulness-based approach compared to a cognitive and emotional change approach when we're dealing with these problems? I think the evidence is more in our favor, especially the process evidence.
And I think if you look at where the culture is going, there's a reason why Eckhart Tolle is on Oprah. There's a reason why The Purpose-Driven Life is a best seller, quite apart from appealing to evangelicals and the Christianity that's in it. It's also -- there's a yearning for meaning, for values and for mindfulness and acceptance, because we've created a modern world where our children are exposed to 10, 20, 30 times the number of words that our great-grandfathers were exposed to. And we're exposed in a single day or two to more horror on our Internet Web pages than our great-grandfathers were exposed to in decades of living. And we have not created modern minds for that modern world. Science and technology has just dumped it on us. And I think people yearn for it. I think you see it in what's popular. And why are people wanting to learn about meditation, and why are they going on mindfulness retreats? And why are they talking about a purpose-driven life? It's because they know more is needed in the modern world.
And that's the core of the controversy. I think it's pretty clear in how things are moving in empirically supported treatments that we're going to be speaking to the culture in a different voice. It's not going to be the loosey-goosey voice of the '60s, but it's going to have some echoes of some of the deeper clinical and spiritual and religious traditions that had wisdom in it. If we're not going to get there through religious means and things of that kind, which greatly has weakened in the West, we're going to have to find a way to put it in the culture in a different way, because we need something right now other than yet another cable shoutcast or yet another Internet Web page showing us the cellulite on the actress's rear end. I mean, the amount of sort of judgment and harshness that's in our culture -- we need something that's prophylactic for that, and I think that's what's inside these new methods.