The Experience of ACT BootCamp: An Interview with Emily Sandoz, PhD

Editor’s note: The following is an interview with Emily Sandoz, PhD, international peer-reviewed ACT trainer, professor in the psychology department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and clinical psychologist. She is director of the Louisiana Contextual Science Research Group, editor of the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, and co-author of three books on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, including Living with Your Body and Other Things You Hate. Emily has led more than 40 professional training workshops around the world, serves as a peer-reviewed ACT trainer. 

Praxis: Tell us a bit about your background, and your initiation into the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) community.

ES: I was actually a charter member of ACBS, but I suppose the community was fairly well-established at that point. I had begun my PhD in clinical psychology with Kelly Wilson at Ole Miss, and after being introduced to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)  during my masters program, I was intent to situate my work in this contextual branch of contemporary behavior analysis.

ACT seemed like the natural extension of the behavior analytic work I had been doing, and I was thrilled to find an approach to human suffering that felt like something I could genuinely employ in my own life. I found the training I received at Ole Miss and at the early ACT summer institutes both challenging and invigorating. It has been truly thrilling to watch the community grow.

Praxis: In your opinion, what is unique and special about the ACBS community, and ACT BootCamp events?

ES: I am totally enamored of the shared values that guide every interaction in the ACBS community. It’s not easy for me to put into words, but it’s something like the assumption that everyone is there on purpose, that everyone has something deeply important they’re working for.

You find yourself making room for experiences of yourself and of others that, in most contexts, would make you crazy. At ACT BootCamp, the commitment to supporting one another through whatever piece of growth and learning is ahead, is tangible. I have truly seen beautiful things emerge in folks’ repertoires – in my own, in my fellow trainers’, and in fellow participants’.

Praxis: Who should attend ACT BootCamp? Is it good for all levels, and for those working with a range of demographics?

ES: ACT is not an approach that is defined by topography or limited by population or setting.

The ACT BootCamp gives participants an opportunity to learn the model functionally, such that they can apply it boldly in their own work settings and in their own lives, in ways that feel authentic and values-consistent to them. In this way, I think BootCamp is for anyone with an interest in ‘trying ACT on’ all the way, not as new tools for the toolbox, but as a new way of seeing and interacting with what all these tools are even for.

Praxis: What can people expect to get out of BootCamp?

ES: People can expect to leave BootCamp with a solid foundation from which they can branch out and make their ACT practice their own. Attendees, some with years of clinical practice behind them, have shared with me a sense of new purpose to their work, new compassion for themselves and their clients, and new courage around the most difficult parts of their work.

Praxis: How has BootCamp evolved, and what are some of the kinds of things being added into the programming to better address clinician’s needs?

ES: BootCamp has evolved in such a way as to be more responsive to the learning trajectory of attendees. The BootCamp development team has carefully considered the feedback of attendees over the years, gradually building an agenda that begins with the most foundational ACT principles and guides attendees to exercises that allows for more flexible and creative engagement with the model.

Our evening sessions have also been quite successful in helping attendees to integrate different sources of knowledge; to apply the day’s work to specific populations, formats, or settings; or to dig deeper into a piece of the model that they find particularly compelling or challenging.

Praxis: Can you recall a particularly special BootCamp moment that has stuck with you?

ES: It’s hard to pick just one! Several of my favorite BootCamp moments have been in exercises with my fellow trainer and friend, Matt Boone. In one evening session, we took turns serving as the therapist in a continuous role-play, sort of tapping in every few moments. Matt and I have pretty different styles in the room, so it was great for attendees to see the range of topographies that are still “ACT.” 

For me, though, I also felt a deep appreciation for the vulnerability that was apparent in the room. The gentleman playing his client was clearly in touch with some real suffering and totally willing to put that in front of the group. The audience was openly moved by the piece of work we were all doing together, and engaging it from simultaneously intellectual and compassionate stances. And Matt and I were both just so impressed by it all; by each other’s work, by the attendees…It was all pretty amazing to watch.

Praxis: What do you most look forward to at this fall’s BootCamp in Tampa?

ES: Every BootCamp is a little different. Trainers are constantly evolving, and I love seeing what new pieces of work they’re bringing to the table. The same is true of the attendees. Every person in the room brings a little piece of some suffering and some value that makes them willing to engage it. I can’t wait to see it all come together!

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn more about integrating ACT into your practice with Emily at the upcoming ACT BootCamp, November 3 – 6 in Tampa, FL. This four-day event is a distillation of everything that’s so exciting about acceptance and commitment therapy. Participants learn the basics of the model from some of the most experienced and respected trainers in the community, and gain deep experiential knowledge of ACT from the inside, out. For more information or to register, click here.

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