Parents with ACT
In this ACT-based approach, you’ll learn how to:
How to Support Parents and Their Families
A Letter from Dr. Lisa Coyne and Dr. Evelyn R. Gould
There is nothing more rewarding than helping children become more self-reliant, discover who they want to be, and live full and vital lives.
When a child does need our help, we have behavioral interventions that we know are effective when applied consistently.
When things go well, our interventions foster behavior changes that make them more flexible, resilient, and confident, and we set the stage for them to continue to thrive.
But children come with parents, too.
And many times, fully supporting children requires reshaping the family context.
As clinicians, we know the important role that parents and caregivers play in the success of their children.
Caregivers who model emotional well-being and parent effectively empower their children to navigate life’s challenges.
Parenting, like a child’s growth, is developmental and dynamic. It has to change over time as children’s needs change.
But even though clinicians understand the importance of parental involvement, getting parents and caregivers on board is much easier said than done.
Parents who are inflexible and disconnected from their emotions can’t engage in skills that are foundational to effective parenting — like being present, taking perspective, and persevering in courses of action that are uncomfortable but necessary.
Instead, they often fall back on whatever feels easy or expedient, and remain stuck in the well-worn patterns of behavior that brought them to treatment in the first place.
Supporting parents to develop long-term, sensitive, responsive, and effective parenting practices can be extremely challenging and frustrating.
And at times, it can seem nearly impossible.
When Providing Tools Isn’t Enough
The unfortunate reality is that many things can be getting in the way of effective parenting when families come to see us.
Even when we’ve given caregivers clear instructions on how to implement interventions at home — often repeatedly — they may still struggle to put them into practice.
There are a wide variety of barriers to effective caregiver engagement that clinicians might encounter when they work with parents who:
- Fail to implement interventions consistently, or at all
- Are not emotionally and/or physically present
- Struggle with shame, guilt, grief, and other emotions around their child’s difficulties, in addition to lacking self-compassion
- Take a “please fix my kid” stance and resist exploring their powerful role in treatment
- Resist the clinician’s suggestions and recommendations (for example, by saying “We already tried that”)
For a clinician working hard to support a child or their family, this can be discouraging.
When parents are stuck, clinicians often get stuck too.
They may experience frustration or guilt and wonder why treatment isn’t working.
They may feel defeated and think, “I don’t know how to help them,” or “I can’t do this.”
Or they might wonder, “Is there something I’m missing?”
The Missing Piece of the Parent Puzzle
Many things can get in the way of a parent’s ability to follow through with a prescribed intervention or treatment plan.
Often, these include rules such as “my child needs me,” “I can’t handle this,” or “they are doing this on purpose,” along with emotions like shame, guilt, or fear.
Take, for example, a parent attempting to implement a plan to reduce accommodation with their anxious child.
As the child becomes distressed, difficult thoughts and emotions show up for the parent (including rigid rules about themselves and their child).
They respond by “rescuing” and accommodating the child’s behavior as a means of eliminating or avoiding the discomfort they’re feeling.
When a parent’s rescuing behavior becomes their go-to response to their child’s distress, it can become challenging for them to follow through with alternative strategies or interventions — even when they know their current strategies aren’t working or are adding to their child’s difficulties over time.
In an effort to escape their own, and their child’s, discomfort in the moment, they respond in knee-jerk ways and lose sight of what really matters to them in the long run. In this case, a more independent and resilient child.
From a contextual behavioral perspective, this pattern of rigid responding focused on avoiding or escaping difficult emotions or thoughts involves psychological inflexibility — rigid, inflexible patterns of verbal behavior (such as rule-following and rule-deriving) that are insensitive to context.
Psychological inflexibility plays an important role in the development of maladaptive patterns of parenting.
For many clinicians getting stuck with parents, this is vital because:
Fully considering parental context is the key to engaging caregivers
When we include all the layers of parenting context in our functional analysis or case conceptualization, we’re able to better understand why the parent is stuck, identify target behaviors for change, and develop more effective interventions.
From there, we can use a variety of strategies from ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy or training) to help a parent respond more flexibly in the context of difficult thoughts and emotions, while implementing more effective behavioral interventions with their child.
We can help them be more present and willing so they can better track the outcomes of their behavior over time, and make more effective, values-based choices.
We can help them defuse from “sticky” private experiences and challenge inflexible rules that are getting in the way.
And we can help them take action based on what really matters to them rather than just trying to avoid momentary discomfort.
Knowing that we need to consider the full context of parenting, it’s important to add:
You, the clinician, are part of the parent’s context.
When you work with a parent, it’s a relational, dynamic process.
You are a part of the parent’s context in the same way that a parent is part of their child’s context.
They are responding to what you say and do — and they are shaping your behavior, too!
And that means what’s showing up for you as the clinician and what you are bringing to your interactions with them matters — your thoughts, feelings, and history are present too.
By building your own ACT skills and increasing your awareness of your own inflexibilities and how they might show up in the room with clients, you can stay sensitive to the caregiver in front of you and better support them to practice flexibility in the moment.
And in the process, you model key processes for your client, while your work becomes truly collaborative — you’re no longer doing an intervention to a parent, you’re partnering with them.
Adding an ACT-based approach to other evidence-based approaches provides a humanizing, empathetic, and collaborative way to transform and supercharge your work with parents and children.
Supercharge Your Work with Parents and Children
Once you understand the principles, ACT can be implemented through a variety of teaching modalities and in any context, including those where only very brief interactions or communications with parents might be possible.
When you help parents build powerful ACT-based skills, you’ll equip them not only to better navigate current parenting challenges, but also to respond with flexibility and resilience to parenting challenges throughout their child’s development.
Here are some principles to help you collaborate with caregivers and support them to parent in a more present, engaged, and effective way.
1. Build a Therapeutic Alliance
Despite having an effective, evidence-based parenting toolbox, it will be difficult to get a parent engaged without effective collaboration.
Research on the therapeutic alliance shows that it is a strong predictor of best outcomes across modalities and approaches.
We can begin to build a strong therapeutic bond by taking the stance that parents are stuck, not broken — that their behavior makes sense given their context, and that they have what they need to do the work.
From that compassionate and functional contextual stance, we can appreciate each family’s strengths and uniqueness and adapt our language and strategies to fit their needs, goals, culture, and history.
By praising effort and not outcome, and fostering self-compassion, we can create a space for taking risks and making mistakes — things that can be scary for caregivers but are a necessary part of learning.
We can also model and shape willingness and curiosity — and in turn, a parent will be more able to model that for their child.
To know whether you’ve created a successful working alliance, look for subtle and more easily observed signs of flexibility, such as more consistent engagement and presence in sessions, more varied and flexible verbal behavior, and increased vulnerability and willingness.
You’ll also see more variability in affect. We look for signs that we have created a space for difficult emotions, as well as sweetness and joy.
By establishing a strong working alliance, you’ll be setting the stage for caregivers to more effectively engage in the task of parenting, and supporting their child to thrive.
Collaborate with caregivers
Develop flexible attention
2. Make Space for Choice
When your case conceptualization or functional analysis considers the full context of parenting, it’s common to find that it is helpful to shape parents’ present-moment awareness and acceptance-based skills from the beginning.
This can be helpful when a caregiver is stuck on autopilot and their behavior is dominated by rigid rules, stories, and efforts to avoid discomfort (i.e., experiential avoidance).
When this happens, they are likely “stuck in their head” and they lose contact with the present moment and what is actually happening around them — including being insensitive to the signals their child is giving them.
They are not tracking how their behavior or strategies are working, are unaware of what is organizing their behavior in the moment, and tend to respond to situations in a knee-jerk manner.
They also lose access to potential alternative reinforcers available to them (other than escape and avoidance) such as noticing and appreciating moments when their child does engage in desired behaviors or when they are engaged in a values-aligned way.
By building present-moment awareness, we cultivate broad, purposeful attention that is sensitive to what’s needed and effective in the moment.
This allows parents to be aware of all of the courses of action available to them in the moment, increases sensitivity to child signals and behavior, and helps them better track the consequences of their own behavior.
By fostering acceptance and willingness, we can help a parent make space for difficult private experiences and stay present, instead of trying to escape, in the service of what matters most to them.
Equipped with flexible attention skills, parents are better able to choose the most effective ways of responding — even in the most challenging moments.
3. Increase Vitality
Once caregivers are aware of what’s going on around them and the options available, how do we encourage them to consistently choose more effective strategies?
By building their skills in valuing and committed action, we can help parents orient to what matters most and establish the motivation to stay engaged and keep moving forward even in difficult moments with their child.
Values help parents connect with powerful sources of reinforcement that outweigh the immediate struggles they’re facing and motivate more effective parenting strategies.
Examples of parenting values could include supporting their child’s self-sufficiency or fostering a more loving relationship with their child.
Important values may also include things that go beyond the child and their parenting role, like the parent’s sense of what they want to stand for and the kind of person they themselves want to be in various areas of their life.
We can help parents identify, capture, and embody their values by noticing what they gravitate towards in conversation, or where we see strong emotion or struggle show up.
Do they light up when talking about a particular thing?
Where and when do you see strong emotion, or feel moved and connected?
We don’t feel big emotions about things we don’t care about.
When we see signs of values showing up in conversations, we have a chance to slow down and give meaning and mattering a chance to emerge.
When we support parents in connecting with their values, we offer them the opportunity to contact the powerful motivators they need to persist in the face of adversity…
So they can take actions that foster a life of vitality and expansiveness — for themselves as well as their child.
Foster values and committed action
Encourage a broad, flexible sense of self
4. Foster Perspective Taking
Perspective taking is an important skill for parents and caregivers.
It supports empathy and compassion, including self-compassion.
It encourages a broader, more flexible sense of self and supports the development of more varied responses essential to undermine entrenched, rigid patterns of behavior.
And it encourages sensitivity to changing needs across contexts and over time.
When parents have limited perspective-taking skills, they can get stuck in the ways they relate to themselves and their child or in the content of their thoughts and stories about how they “should be” or “are.”
They may rigidly follow rules that at some point may have been helpful, even though their child has moved into a new stage of development or other circumstances change.
Or they may rigidly apply strategies that worked with one child to another, or that worked in one situation to another.
We can help shape perspective-taking skills best by demonstrating and inviting parents to practice with us rather than explaining.
We can guide parents to take not just another person’s perspective, but to explore different perspectives across time, place, and situation.
We might ask them to think about themselves in the past or future, think about their best self and their worst self, or ask them to observe their experience rather than being in the experience.
When we foster a parent’s perspective-taking skills, we help them to notice their behavior and how it’s working in the current context.
This allows them to see new possibilities and identify opportunities to take a new path — and become a more flexible and effective parent.
5. Shape Self-Compassion in Parents (and Yourself)
Self-compassion involves perspective taking with respect to how we relate to ourselves and our own experiences.
Self-compassion helps caregivers better weather challenges by creating a nurturing environment that fosters curiosity and flexibility, and makes space for imperfection and vulnerability in the face of difficulty.
The things we ask parents to do aren’t easy. Change can be difficult. And there is no magic wand or how-to manual for flexible, responsive, and effective parenting.
This means caregivers will struggle sometimes and make mistakes. They will experience guilt, shame, frustration, worry, and self-criticism.
And without self-compassion, choosing to repeatedly engage in new flexible parenting responses will be much more difficult.
Practicing self-compassion involves all of the ACT skills we’ve been discussing.
We want to help parents notice when they’re getting stuck in self-criticism rather than self-compassion so they can choose a different way of caring for themselves when that’s helpful.
We can do this by helping them notice how they talk to themselves during times of difficulty and inviting them to practice new ways of responding.
And as parents model and actively practice self-compassion, their children can learn to use those same skills as they face their own challenges.
For this reason, it is important that clinicians also model self-compassion and create a context in which parents will be more likely to practice it for themselves.
And of course, as they do so, clinicians create a nurturing environment for themselves, allowing for humility, curiosity, and flexibility as they meet challenges in their work.
Just as self-compassion helps parents and caregivers, it allows clinicians to make space for mistakes while continuing to learn and grow with their clients.
Model and shape self-compassion
The ACT-based skills we’ve discussed can be applied whether you have entire sessions with parents or just a few minutes with them. They can even be used in a phone call or email.
You’ll be able to use your skills whether you have years of experience working with caregivers, or you’re just starting out.
You can also customize the way you build these skills to whatever works best for each parent and family.
This can include modeling, exercises, conversations, metaphors, psychoeducation, take-home practice, and more.
Clinicians can practice and model these principles for caregivers which will in turn support them in modeling the same skills for their children.
Our journey to empower parents began when we realized we needed more than standard parenting programs or behavioral interventions.
We needed something that would help struggling parents consistently engage and collaborate to support their child to adapt and thrive.
Over time, it became apparent that an ACT-based approach to working with caregivers was the missing piece — and it has transformed the way we work.
It has given us the tools we need to meet parents where they’re at and create a nurturing and compassionate environment that supports growth, change, and self-determination.
It allows us to consider rich layers of context, including caregiver thoughts, feelings, relationships, history, as well as our own context as clinicians.
It gives parents the ability to be present, engaged, and flexible when things get tough — and in turn, model and support flexibility in their child.
And it equips them with the lifelong, flexible, problem-solving skills they’ll need to meet the changing needs of their child and their family over time.
There are a lot of options regarding evidence-based parent programs and approaches, but there isn’t yet much out there to teach you how to support parents more effectively from this perspective.
That’s why we’ve developed a training to do just that.
We want to teach you an incredibly powerful ACT-based approach to supporting caregivers.
Inside the course, you’ll learn how to form a strong working alliance.
You’ll gain an understanding of ineffective parenting through the lens of psychological flexibility.
And you’ll learn how to use ACT-based interventions to target inflexible behavior in caregivers.
Along the way, we’ll show you how to use, model, and benefit from these skills as a clinician, even in the simplest of interventions.
We’ll also explain how ACT can be integrated with many other treatment approaches you may already be using.
With this ACT-based approach, you’ll have everything you need to take your work with caregivers to the next level.
We hope you’ll join us inside the course and learn how to support parents and their kids to live with vitality and meaning.
About the Trainers
Lisa Coyne, PhD, (she/her) is a licensed psychologist, founder of the McLean OCD Institute for Children and Adolescents at McLean Hospital, and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. She is also the CEO of the New England Center for OCD and Anxiety (NECOA) and is on the Clinical and Scientific Advisory Board as well as part of the Behavior Therapy Training Institute (BTTI) faculty of the International OCD Foundation. In addition, Lisa is an internationally recognized trainer and has written extensively about applying acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) with children and adolescents. Her titles include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Clinician’s Guide to Supporting Parents, The Joy of Parenting, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Adolescent Anxiety and OCD: A Family-Based Approach, and Stuff That’s Loud: A Teen’s Guide to Unspiralling When OCD Gets Noisy.
Evelyn R. Gould, PhD, BCBA-D, (she/they) is a clinical behavior analyst and licensed psychologist from Northern Ireland who has provided clinical services to families for two decades in addition to engaging in applied research and scholarship. They are also a trainer and supervisor at The New England Center for OCD and Anxiety, an assistant clinical professor at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and a research associate in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Evelyn is passionate about the dissemination of contextual behavioral science and addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion within and outside of behavior analysis. She is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and her work reflects personal and professional values of authenticity, compassion, collaboration, humility, and social justice. They currently reside in Los Angeles, California, with their partner and three cats.
Parents with ACT
This course includes a collection of powerful resources to help you confidently navigate any intervention with parents and caregivers:
Sample Video Lesson
Here is a sample video with two excerpts from the course.
In the first part of the video, Dr. Gould discusses how parents get stuck in rigid, ineffective parenting strategies and how to help them respond more flexibly using ACT.
In the second part of the video, Dr. Coyne conducts a role play demonstrating how you might use ACT in conversation with a parent.
In addition to the following content, all modules contain role-play videos so you can see key concepts in action.
Module 8: Self-Compassion
In addition to the 8 core modules, this course also includes supplementary learning materials to help support you in your journey.
Bonus #1: Caregiver Case Consultations
These bonus videos provide a valuable opportunity to see additional case examples involving caregivers.
In these case consultations, you’ll see Dr. Coyne and Dr. Gould meet remotely with two clinicians to discuss challenging cases and share their thoughts about each one. You’ll then hear their suggestions regarding possible next steps for working with the caregivers in each case.
As they discuss the cases, you’ll see how the trainers apply concepts such as perspective taking, values, self-compassion, and more.
Bonus #1: Caregiver Case Consultations
Dr. Coyne and Dr. Gould consult on cases with caregivers
Bonus #2: Applying ACT in Family Sessions
Considerations for ACT with families
Bonus #2: Applying ACT in Family Sessions
Everything you learn in Empowering Parents with ACT can be incorporated into family sessions.
In this bonus video, Dr. Coyne and Dr. Gould discuss what you should keep in mind as you take an ACT-based approach into sessions with a caregiver and their child or with two caregivers.
The discussion includes challenges commonly seen in this setting such as when family members’ values are at odds, a parent is engaging in treatment-interfering behaviors, or a member of the party doesn’t want to participate in joint sessions, and more — and what you might consider working on in those contexts.
Bonus #3: Private Facebook Group for Course Members
At in-person trainings, the built-in sense of support and community with your fellow attendees can notably enhance the learning experience.
To help recreate that environment inside this course, we’ve created a private Facebook Group for course participants. This is a space where you can share thoughts and resources, network, and participate in an ongoing discussion about how an ACT-based approach to empowering parents can shape your work and change your clients’ lives.
(Note: Participation in the Facebook Group is entirely optional and not required for course completion.)
Bonus #3: Private Facebook Group for Course Members
Join our private members’ group
Upon completion of the core course content and required supplemental materials, plus evaluations and post-test as required, participants will be eligible for 16 CE hours approved for the following professionals:
Substance Abuse Counselors
Before registering, please review complete CE information by clicking here: CE Details
Parents with ACT
When you enroll in the course, you get lifetime access to all course materials.
14-Day Money-Back Guarantee
In order to make course enrollment risk-free, all enrollees will be fully covered by a 14-day refund policy:
If you decide for any reason the course isn’t right for you, email our support team at firstname.lastname@example.org within 14 days of enrolling, and we will be happy to refund your entire course fee, unconditionally.
Members Are Saying
“This is definitively one of the best trainings that I’ve completed. The structure was super thoughtful and the delivery of the ACT model made sense and was free from too much jargon. Lisa and Evie’s demonstrations of the model were beautiful. Their words and style are wonderful examples to work from and internalize. The care they show parents is so critical and so needed right now, especially in light of the struggles we have faced as parents over the past few years. I’m already teaching and consulting using ideas from the training. Thank you!”
Susan W., Clinical Psychologist
“This course has been great! I am halfway through and loving the content. As a Clinical Director of a centre that offers ABA therapy and psychotherapy, this has been really eye-opening for me. It’s important to me that I find a way to integrate ACT into our organization at all levels, and that our service model is truly collaborative between fields (not just working in parallel). I would highly recommend this course for anyone working in a multidisciplinary role, supporting parents and working closely with families, or who is interested in ABA and mental health.”
Sophia C., Behavior Analyst (Clinical Director)
“This course is well suited to professionals supporting parents who struggle with parenting children with developmental disabilities. The ACT framework in the course helps practitioners support parents with getting unstuck with their thoughts and feelings, sitting with discomfort, and moving away from controlling their child’s behaviours to noticing their own actions and moving towards valued ways of parenting. I enjoyed watching the videos and listening to the audio debriefs with Lisa and Evelyn. The online format and self-directed learning meant I could take my time with absorbing all the clinical nuggets Lisa and Evelyn shared.”
Voon P., Speech Language Therapist
“This course is best for any therapy professionals working with children with a variety of different mental health and/or behavioral issues and their caregivers. This course provides direct examples of new ways to approach working with caregivers, especially those who have had a hard time with parenting success in the past. I love the video examples as well as the debrief audio of the videos. The experiential exercises and handouts make the course comprehensive as well. I have already started implementing so many different strategies!”
Janay P., LCSW
“I wholeheartedly recommend Empowering Parents with ACT for all mental health workers interested in improving their skills and self-confidence while working with parents and caregivers. Dr. Gould and Dr. Coyne are engaging, supportive, and empowering as they both provide vital information as well as teach ways to become a better on-the-spot collaborator with parents. I especially appreciate their vast technical knowledge and competence as well as their acknowledgment of the challenges that they and everyone working with parents must face. They offer so much valuable information that I found it most helpful to view the sessions at my own pace so that it was easy to repeat sections that were especially useful.”
David G., Clinical Psychologist
Questions and Answers
Yes! We provide a discount for groups through our Group License.
This license allows you to purchase as many memberships as you need through one transaction and gives each individual access to their own account and the ability to earn CE credit. It’s designed for groups in which each person should have their own login with the ability to go through the entire course on their own. There’s a 10% discount off the total price for 5–9 accounts and a 20% discount off the total price for 10+ logins.
Our Group License also allows you to purchase access to a course in advance.
This means that if you would like your current clinicians to get started on a course but know there will be a few more individuals added to your team in the near future, you could purchase all the memberships you need now and once the new clinicians are ready to get started, you can simply send us their names and email addresses and we will get them enrolled.
To purchase a group license and take advantage of group rates, email us at: email@example.com
(Group rates cannot be purchased using the standard checkout on this page.)
Who Should Consider
Parents with ACT
When you enroll in the course, you get lifetime access to all course materials.
Closing Thoughts from the Trainers
Parenting is a challenge — and often a journey that is quite different than expected.
Parents can start out anticipating a fulfilling and joyful experience, only to find it fraught with negative emotions and difficulty.
What’s more, caregivers of children struggling with mental health, developmental differences, or other challenges can face unique and chronic stressors that impact their ability to parent effectively.
As they navigate these challenges, parents may experience a variety of difficult emotions from anger, frustration, and exhaustion to shame, guilt, and grief.
They may also experience painful and difficult thoughts like “I don’t deserve this,” “It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” or “I never should have become a parent.”
Over time, the way they experience their child may become very narrow — as though they are viewing them through a keyhole.
All they can see is the worry, pain, fear, and difficulty.
We can’t control or remove all of the challenges caregivers face.
But what if we can help caregivers see their child not through a keyhole, but instead through a picture window?
What if we can broaden their view to include not only the adversity but also the richness and the joy?
By meeting parents where they are and supporting them with ACT-based skills, you can help them expand their experience of their child, their parenting, and their view of what’s possible for them and their family.
You can equip them to be present, flexible, resilient, and guided by their values.
And when you do, they’ll carry these skills with them throughout the course of their child’s development, modeling and sharing those skills with their child along the way.
ACT may just be what you’ve been missing — an evidence-based, behavioral approach that brings a responsive, powerful, compassionate element to your work with caregivers.
We hope you’ll join us and learn how ACT can empower parents — and their children — to live with vitality and thrive.