I Attended an ACT Workshop for Behavior Analysts… Now What?

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Author: Alyssa N. Wilson, PhD., BCBA-D, LBA

Since I first started doing acceptance and commitment training (ACT) workshops back in graduate school, attendees always seem to ask similar questions: 

  • Now what? 
  • How do I bring what I learned into my clinical practice? 
  • What if I mess up and don’t use ACT correctly? 
  • How do I know when to start ACT and when to return to other clinical tools? 

Questions of the sort have become part and parcel for conducting most skills-based workshops, but specifically for ACT workshops, regardless of the learning modalities used during the workshops.

Helping to ensure learners go out and use the skills learned during the workshop is a perpetual problem, even for the most seasoned and well-versed ACT presenter. Researchers have also explored the “now what” issue and have found practicing the skills help to increase use of skills in clinical practice, but it doesn’t guarantee attendees will use them.

Here, I will  identify quick tips for attendees to use, when they find themselves questioning how to use the skills discussed during the workshop. These tips have been tested at various ACT and non-ACT related skills-based workshops on countless attendees from around the world.  All have been identified as helpful from the attendee perspective, and it is hoped they will be helpful to the next attendee who might consider what to do after attending a workshop.

1. Be present throughout the entire workshop. 

In order to know what to do after the workshop, one must be fully immersed and actively present to:

 a) Gain knowledge about new skills

b) Practice new skills

c) Reflect on how to connect the knowledge and practice skills into clinical practice. 

When attendees are fully present, the workshop is that much more engaging, active, and thought-provoking for all involved (not just the attendee!). Further, it allows the space for attendees to actively seek and reflect upon the MAGIC of the workshop.

2. Actively seek and reflect upon the MAGIC of the workshop. 

The MAGIC of the workshop can be thought of as follows:

Moments to reflect and connect content with current knowledge and skills

Acknowledge ACT repertoire including gaps and progression in skills

Generalize examples given to current clients

Initiate new contacts and resources for ongoing supervision and support

Commit to implementation strategies 

MAGIC moments in workshops are something fleeting, and other times are explicitly targeted by the presenter. 

For instance, some presenters may embed time for reflection on attendee current ACT repertoires and skills or gaps. Other presenters may not use examples relatable to attendee’s current clientele, so additional time may be needed to generalize examples.

MAGIC moments are not the same for all attendees, but all attendees get something out of the MAGIC of their own experience in the workshop. Seek out the MAGIC in the next workshop you attend and see what happens. 

3. Before leaving the workshop setting, reflect on your experience and list out any thoughts, feelings, and other relevant barriers to using ACT in clinical practice. 

Many attendees report feeling excited and energized at the beginning of a workshop; but by the end, may feel worried, anxious, and overwhelmed with using ACT. Attendees who leave with aversive private events associated with ACT may be less likely to use the modality, not because of a skill deficit, but due to the aversive stimulus functions associated with the treatment modality. 

However, by reflecting on potential barriers during the workshop, attendees will create space to reframe a potentially aversive function with a more neutral or even appetitive function (wait, this sounds like an ACT move…!).

4. Never give up. 

If you bomb or completely tank when doing your first ACT session, find a way to learn from it and try again (differently) the following session. 

See also: Adding ACT To Your Toolkit as a Behavior Analyst

Create a supportive environment including ACT mentors or supervisors, or other ACT learners like yourself, to continue to move towards your values and implementing a treatment modality that can help your clients. 

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