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An Interview with Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D. on Acceptance and Committment Therapy

David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

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Steven Hayes, Ph.D.The things that separate people from other animals on planet earth are our ability to use language; to create mental symbols that represent aspects of reality, to assemble these symbols into a complex map of reality, and to communicate about relationships between symbols with other people. Our symbolic language abilities allow us to be very efficient problem solvers, but also mediate or influence our experience of the world. Where animals live in the now, experiencing everything in front of them directly, we tend to live in the past and the future. Our use of symbols means that reality and fantasy are hard for us to distinguish between even under the best of situations. We form beliefs about experience, some of which are staggeringly inaccurate, and those beliefs end up restricting what we do and experience. We become prisoners of our own fears.

Dr. Steven C. Hayes' Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a relatively new variety of psychotherapy that puts cognitive behavioral techniques into the service of helping people escape their symbolic prisons by teaching them how to become more conscious of and less embedded in their symbolic prisons. When painful experience is not avoided anymore people become more able to connect with what they value and then to act (commit) to actions that are consistent with their values (rather than consistent with avoiding what they fear). Though experiential in orientation and practice, ACT is firmly based in science, and is supported by multiple clinical trials that provide evidence for it's efficacy.

As an ACT patient, your job is to be open to being with your pain; not avoiding it, but also not buying into it either. When you become free to not avoid painful memories and feared experiences, you become free to not let your pain and fear determine what your life will be about. You can then connect with your values, and take seriously the techniques that will help you realize your goals.

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About Steven Hayes, Ph.D.

Steven Hayes, Ph.D.Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D. is author, researcher, and founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). He is also Nevada Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. An author of 30 books and nearly 400 scientific articles, his career has focused on an analysis of the nature of human language and cognition and the application of this to the understanding and alleviation of human suffering. In 1992 he was listed by the Institute for Scientific Information as the 30th "highest impact" psychologist in the world during 1986-1990. Dr. Hayes has been President of Division 25 (Experimental Behavior Analysis) of the American Psychological Association, of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology and of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy. He was the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Association for Psychological Science, which he helped form. He has received the Don F. Hake Award for Exemplary Contributions to Basic Behavioral Research and Its Applications from Division 25, and the Impact of Science on Application award from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis. He also served a 5 year term on the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse in the National Institutes of Health. For a while, his popular book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life was the number one self-help book, reaching #20 overall on Amazon and briefly outselling Harry Potter for several days.