Autism Spectrum Disorder

The growing need for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in India

Recently I heard two young people having a conversation over coffee. One of them was evidently on anti-depressants and had probably mentioned this to her friend. And his response was that the brain is a body part too and if that needs medication, why not? This refreshing approach to mental health is new and sadly very rare.

According to a 2017 WHO report on Depression in India, roughly about 4% of women suffer from depression. About 150 million people are seen as needing mental health support. Another WHO report quantifies the number of mental health workers in India. We have 0.3 psychiatrists and 0.07 social workers per 1,00,000 population. The gap between the need for and availability of services is alarming. If all of the 150 million people decided to seek help, that would be a challenge. On the other hand, isn’t it imperative that these 150 million should rightfully seek help? Isn’t it imperative that their families/friends encourage them to do so, rather than live in fear of society?

Given this huge need for counselors and mental health professionals, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), can play a relevant role in bridging this gap. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ACT is a form of counseling and a branch of clinical behavior analysis, developed by Stephen C. Hayes, ACT now has widespread acceptance and application for various mental health concerns. It is a branch of clinical behavior analysis that is based on Relational Frame Theory (RFT), a theory of language and cognition. As humans, we have the ability to find relations between unconnected, and unrelated events, words and actions. This cognition fusion often converts into judgements, emotions and thoughts about ourselves based on random experiences.

Additionally, ACT is unique in that it can address a lot of issues that children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder face. It is not unknown that people with autism have comorbid conditions such as anxiety, depression and sometimes express a feeling of being misunderstood.

When these feelings are not addressed, it can and is known to lead to lower self esteem,prolonged episodes of depression and sometimes even suicide. ACT as a form of therapy provides the individual a platform where he can express himself and find his own value system and work towards the kind of life he wishes to lead.

ACT is “a psychological intervention based on modern behavioral psychology, including Relational Frame Theory, that applies mindfulness and acceptance processes, and commitment and behavior change processes, to the creation of psychological flexibility” (Hayes, “The Six Core Processes of ACT”). Psychological flexibility in itself is the ability to be in contact with the moment that is now, very consciously.  Relational Frame Theory, on which ACT is based off has over a 100 scientifically conducted published studies, while holding strong roots in behavior analysis, ACT is now considered a form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

The core processes of ACT that work towards the development of psychological flexibility are:
1.    Acceptance- being aware of life experiences and not avoiding them or trying to change them, because they are unpleasant.
2.    Cognitive Defusion- using defusion techniques to change how the person reacts or responds to adverse events, thoughts and feelings. Simply put, it is about noticing the thoughts and not fixating on them.
3.    Being Present- consciously in the present moment and the ongoing experience, without trying to change or making judgements of the same4.    Self as Context- being aware that experiences are external of the person and do not define who he/she is.
5.    Values- the qualities or goals that each person believes in or wants for themselves, consciously or otherwise. ACT works on enabling the individual to move closer to his/her values.
6.    Commit to Actions- enabling the person to move towards their goals and values using positive behavior change

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ACT as a form of therapy focuses on reducing struggles and finding what provides value to one’s life in a scientifically validated and compassionate approach.  ACT is now used to help people
who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, Relationship struggles, mid life crisis, Grief, Substance Abuse, and PTSD.

If you happen to be going through some suffering or some adverse life event, don’t shy away from getting professional help, if you’ve gone through a difficult time in the past, but face negative emotions as a result of it, don’t shy away from seeking professional help!

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ACT can assist you in letting go of painful emotions, be more mindful and getting clarity on what you want in life!

Gita Srikanth, (BCBA and ACT Therapist) and Swati Narayan, (RBT and ACT Therapist)

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