10 years of ACT

Ten years ago, I was training to become a CBT therapist. I had a strong interest in mindfulness. When my life was chaotic, back in 1994, a friend had taken me to a Zen dojo in a small Paris backstreet. There, in a small and badly lit room I was introduced to meditation. Though I only meditated on and off over the next 13 years, it had been one of the few things that had truly helped. However, despite countless attempts, I had never managed to build a daily mindfulness practice for more than a week. I had experienced the benefits of mindfulness, and research data was starting to suggest it could help others too. Although interested by Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, I felt uncomfortable prescribing to my clients do something I myself couldn’t do — build a daily mindfulness practice.

Then, in February 2007, as I was taking part in an email debate on a mindfulness discussion board, I received a private email from a Steven Hayes. His email thanked me for a post I had written in support of his promoting a scientific approach to the study of mindfulness processes. What Steve didn’t know was that, after having read his ACT and Third wave of Behavior Therapy article a few days earlier, he had instantly become one of my clinical psychology hero.

As excited as if Neil Young had emailed me, I responded and Steve invited me to attend his workshop at the world congress of CBT in Barcelona that July. I registered that very day, and also to the ACT Summer Institute in Houston, right after the Barcelona conference. It was a 7 days long affair that would later give way to ACBS World Conferences. In his emails Steve had written: “Join us, it will be fun!”

Ten years later, having made ACT and ACBS my therapeutic and scientific home, I can vouch for the fact that Steve hadn’t lied. It has indeed been lots of fun. Working to help people more easily choose to do what’s important to them turns out to be a lot of fun! Deeply meaningful fun. Heartbreaking fun at times. The beauty was discovering that the most effective way to do that was to practicing choosing to do what’s important to me, even in presence of obstacles. That too has been deeply meaningful fun, even if painful at times. Along the way I’ve had to meet some demons, offer them a nice cup of team, and invite them along for the ride. I’ve discovered that however much they could churn my insides, they could not make me do what they told me to. Turns out they’ve become friendlier over time, though they’ll still churn, especially the boss of my demons, fear of rejection.

These days I have made it my life’s mission to turn values into action. It goes deeper than I ever could have imagined. It’s not just about helping people face up to suffering, it’s also about helping communities and organization move toward what’s important to them, even in the presence of obstacles. Lately, we’ve realized it’s also about how we organize as a business, with our adoption of the teal model of a self-managed business for the Contextual Psychology Institute.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Steve Hayes for the gift of ACT. And thank you to the hundreds of kindred souls in the ACT and ACBS clinical and scientific communities. I know of nothing more meaningful to my professional and personal life than what we are all doing together. Our work is about transformation and helping the smart apes we are move toward transformation and the realization of our fullest and most meaningful potential.

Oh and by the way, for the first time ever, I’ve been nurturing a daily sitting practice for close to three months.