Besides my usual clinical work, I deliver introductory ACT workshops to many hundred participants each year. I always wonder what happens with these people afterwards. How many of them include ACT in their clinical work on a regular basis? How many of them become real ACT therapists?
Some of participants say that they have already attended a couple of workshops delivered by other ACT trainers prior to mine, and sometimes also some online courses. And all of these “workshop-veterans” say that they have learned new things from me. It’s nice to hear, and yeah, to some extent it may be true as all trainers have their own unique styles and usually focus on different aspects of ACT.
However, each time I talk to the attendees I wonder in what special way my workshop will influence their work. What am I uniquely contributing to their professional development beyond what they have already learned from other trainers? Whether and how my workshop might additionally impact their clinical outcomes? Does “learning new things” necessarily mean “progress”?
A famous Swedish academic K. A. Ericsson, who studied top performers in various areas of human activity, used to say: “It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert”. This applies to everything that is skills-based, including sport, music, computer programming, mathematics and business. Ericsson found that one thing set top performers apart from their peers: the amount of practice they had engaged in. However, it’s not only the amount of time used on learning that matters but first of all how and on what it is used. (Ericsson et al., 2006)
Research findings show that the therapist’s education, experience and time spent on conducting therapy are unrelated to clinical outcomes and to the therapist’s effectiveness. (Anderson et al., 2009; Wampold & Brown, 2005) So, it is not the number of ACT books on your bookshelf, neither the number of hours spent on watching the work of others and certainly not the number of attended workshops that makes you an effective ACT therapist. It is the number of hours spent on deliberate practice.
Term “deliberate practice” refers to a specific form of intentional learning, which consists of three core ingredients:
- Systematic and regular practice of chosen skills/techniques in order to achieve a specific goal;
- Working with a coach/ mentor;
- Getting continuous feedback on your performance and your outcomes.
Finding a personal mentor with expertise in ACT is not always easy. So, I have created a Facebook-group “Practice Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”, with an intention to bring together people committed to enhancing their therapeutic skills in ACT through collaboration and deliberate practice. If serving your clients with superior effectiveness is something that fits your values, consider joining our group.
Anderson, T., Ogles,, B. M., Patterson, C. L., Lambert, M. J. and Vermeersch, D. A. (2009), Therapist effects: facilitative interpersonal skills as a predictor of therapist success. J. Clin. Psychol., 65: 755-768.
Wampold, B. E., & Brown, G. S. (2005). Estimating variability in out- comes attributable to therapists: A naturalistic study of outcomes in managed care. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 914 –923.
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