ACBS Highlights with President-Elect D.J. Moran

ACBS Highlights with President-Elect D.J. Moran

Daniel “D.J.” Moran, PhD, is a psychologist, international consultant, and the president-elect of the Association of Contextual Behavioral Sciences. On the Monday after the 14th annual ACBS World Convention, held in Seattle, WA, we caught up with him to get his take on the week’s events.

Praxis: What were you most looking forward to seeing this year at the conference?

DM: Well, this might sound corny, but I was really excited to see everyone at the conference. It’s just really awesome to see such a robust conference with so many people there. And that’s what I like most about all of our World Cons and ACT Summer Institutes; there’s a lot of people there that care about the same things that I’ve cared about for twenty years. So that’s what i was excited to do.

I was really excited to know that Marsha Linehan was coming to ACBS. She’s truly a giant in the field, and I imagine an overwhelming majority of ACT clinicians are familiar with her work, but I don’t think she’s ever been to an ACT conference before. So we came to her hometown of Seattle, to make it easier for her to join us.

Praxis: What did you think of her presentation?

I’ve been studying DBT since my internship in 1996, and so it was neat to hear how far DBT has come. It’s become more complex, but at the same time its complexity is effective and worthwhile. I liked her presentation a lot.

Praxis: Did any other presentations stand out to you?

Lisa Diamond made a great presentation. She actually changed up her talk given the horrible events in Orlando. She was planning to talk about gender fluidity, but instead she chose to speak about the debate around whether you’re born with a proclivity toward sexual identity, or it’s chosen. She highlighted that a person can be influenced by lots of things that lead to their sexual identity. More importantly, it’s not a matter of how one gets an identity. Either way, it doesn’t have to be viewed as wrong or problematic. I wish that kind of idea could get out to the public a little bit more.

Fredrik Livheim really rocked it with his workshop on ACT in the group format. That’s what I do for a living most of the time, working inside organizations for leadership and safety. It really brought me back to the basics, and let us see the way that Fredrik does things. It was inspiring to see his flexible style and use of the model.

The other standout was Francisco Ruiz and Carmen Luciano. They did some pretty neat stuff, speaking as relational frame theory (RFT) experts about how to accelerate the effectiveness of ACT. What I really like about their work is that they’re RFT people, and they’re showing that there’s a link between getting a good perspective on what RFT is all about, and applying it to ACT. So, I liked that. I thought they did a great job.

Praxis: There seemed to be a lot of presentations about RFT. Thoughts?

DM: I think the fact that there were more RFT presentations at ACBS has been influenced by a combination of things. Clinicians are seeing the merits of learning RFT and having it become a part of their applied work.

As president, one of the things I’m interested in is making sure we look at ACBS as a place for the so-called basic scientists to come and talk about their work. I really want ACBS to be a home for folks to just talk to us about their science. This is the home for their science, and it would be up to people who do translational research, or to an intrepid clinician, to go to those RFT talks and say, “What can we do with this now?” I really want ACBS to be a home for contextual behavioral scientists of all stripes.

Praxis: Did you notice any emerging trends?

ACBS is growing in many different directions. In our community, we want to be able to predict and influence behavior with precision, scope, and depth. And the neat thing is that ACBS embodies this as an organization. Some of our presentations are very precise, and we have great RFT researchers who have really precise control over their work. In terms of scope, what Fredrik Livheim is doing, for example, is taking those ACT principles and bringing them to areas that really haven’t been investigated yet. We’re very pioneering. And in terms of depth, our community is full of people who are really interested in a deep understanding of how context and behavior are wedded, and in understanding people and how they suffer.

So to answer your question, there are so many trends. We’re getting more precise, deeper, and we have a broader scope.

I’m the chair of the ACT for Health special interest group, and when I asked the people in the room to talk about what they were doing with ACT, there were about thirty folks there who are doing ACT in so many different health domains. So that was really edifying, and so impressive that people are using this stuff in so many different ways.

The whole trend is that we’re growing in many different directions.

I’m also noticing a trend in the idea of compassion. Paging through the conference guide, every other page has something about compassion. I’ve specialized in working with organizations in safety and leadership, so as far as research is concerned I don’t know that much about compassion, but I’m interested in it and I’m seeing it grow. So that’s neat stuff.

How do we broaden the scope without losing the precision and depth?

This is probably not going to be great for my reputation, but if I’m going to broaden the scope of what I’m doing, I’m probably going to have to give up a little precision and depth. I just have to. When I’m teaching people who wear hard hats everyday about being able to accept their private events while they’re working, I do imagine that if an RFT researcher were listening to the way I talked to them, I wouldn’t have a lot of precision in my language to them. You know? But I have to make it so that it’s embraceable by my clients. So, to cover all three? That’s a difficult feat. I imagine if you broaden the scope, it’s not going to be as precise as if you had a narrow scope where you’re just doing something in a research scenario.

So do you think that ultimately precision must be compromised in order to broaden the reach of the work?

I’d rather say that the jury is out on that. As far as applications are concerned, the scope of what ACBS does is still very pioneering; a lot of us are just trying to make it work in new scenarios.

It’s going to require a certain degree of inductive work; like, let’s just see how this is going to work and then once we get the data back, we see what we can tweak from there. It’s a pioneering thing that we’re doing, broadening the scope. So we may not be able to be precise or deep right up front, but as long as we follow the data over a period of time, we might be able to have that triumvirate, that ideal.

How has the ACBS community changed most notably over the years?

I’ve been with ACBS since the beginning and we’re a sizable organization given how long we’ve been around. Ten years ago, we had less than 900 members. Now we have about 8000. When we had an ACT Summer Institute in 2009, there were about 400 people there. This year, we had over 1000.

So, that is the change that I’m psyched about. There are more people. I’m not surprised, because it’s an awesome organization. We’re growing fast, and this community really is filled with great people. The science is amazing and the applications are effective, so I’m not surprised that we’ve achieved such great growth. To see things come to fruition like this makes me take pause and say, wow this is really turning out the way we’d hoped. I’m really just thrilled and honored to be a part of it.

We remain a community beyond the four or five days that we’re together at World Con. It feels like it’s over, but the community lives on. We’re already having discussions on the list serv.