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How to help your clients avoid avoiding what they feel and move towards psychological acceptance and their valued life

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based approach that encourages clients to recognize avoidance patterns that paradoxically exacerbate, rather than reduce, suffering; and to accept their experience as it is in the here and now.

ACT’s central goal is to increase psychological flexibility. ACT targets experiential avoidance, which includes emotional avoidance as well as other interrelated processes that interfere with flexible, adaptive thinking and action. ACT uses acceptance and mindfulness-based processes, commitment, and behavior change processes, to help clients author their own personal life values, and pursue these values even when they are experiencing difficult, evocative or compelling thoughts and feelings. Its premise is that by letting go of attempts to modify or escape from difficult or uncomfortable emotions, and instead, experiencing these emotions, clients are better able to engage in valued and meaningful behaviors.

Studies have shown that ACT is helpful for individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, chronic stress, substance abuse, psychosis, eating disorders, terminal cancer, chronic pain, and diabetes. Research also suggests that effects may occur by unique processes different than those hypothesized in more traditional CBT (e.g., enhanced acceptance).

Resources:  ACT Workshop Materials for printing

To learn more about this adaptable model check out the ACBS website at

2 Day Intensive ACT training – with an emphasis on emotional experiencing

Tate-Turner-Kuralt Building, Room 500, 325 Pittsboro Street, UNC School of Social Work, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Day 1: Intensive Introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (3.5 hours) – Friday, April 17, 2015, 1:00 – 4:45 pm

In this intensive introduction, Dr. Merwin will provide a comprehensive overview of the ACT model of psychopathology and  behavior change. This will include a description of how ACT fits within the broader context of CBT, and underlying theory and empirical basis of the intervention. She will describe the six core processes of ACT and how therapists can use them to formulate cases and develop powerful, individualized treatment interventions. Participants will be introduced to the principles of ACT, and more broadly, to functional contextualism, which will allow them to innovate.  Dr. Merwin will elucidate this with samples of typical interventions that illustrate core processes. Learning strategies will include experiential exercises and “real” play. Participants are invited to bring in de-identified case material, and a willingness to explore how these processes present for the therapist in the therapy room.

Learning Objectives. Participants will gain knowledge and skills to:

  1. Describe the ACT model with a focus on how it is situated within CBT and based on functional contextualism
  2. Describe the 6 core processes that comprise psychological flexibility
  3. Practice at least 1 strategies for ACT-based case formulation
  4. Describe at least 1 way in which the ACT model applies to the therapeutic relationship
  5. Identify signs of experiential avoidance and cognitive fusion in clients
  6. Practice at least 1 intervention to helps individuals be open to experience

Day 2: ACT in Practice with a Focus on Emotional Experiencing (5.5 hours) – Saturday, April 18, 2015, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm 

In this workshop, participants will learn the ACT approach to avoid avoidance while moving toward desired life values. A common message is that psychological health is the absence of painful thoughts and feelings, or that the way to a “good” life is through “good” emotions. Yet, life can be painful; and because learning is cumulative and we have the capacity to think and remember, painful experiences can stay with us. ACT emphasizes that when life becomes about avoiding painful private experiences, life can become less vital and meaningful. Working to feel well rather than live well interferes with life quality and increases the painful emotions we seek to avoid.

This workshop will demonstrate how to work with clients to embrace painful emotions as a way to stop waging war against their private lives, which increasing suffering. This includes sadness, fear, jealousy, guilt, shame, or any other painful emotions that may be considered “unacceptable” or even “pathological.” Participants will learn how to build client willingness to experience difficult private events and to recontextualize clients’ emotions in a way that transforms their meaning without changing their form. Participants will learn strategies to support clients in this work, such as with “creative hopelessness” and “values clarification,” and have opportunities to engage with case material and “real” play.

Learning Objectives. Participants will gain knowledge and skills to:

  1. Describe the 6 core processes that comprise psychological flexibility
  2. Practice at least 2 strategies for ACT-based case formulation
  3. Describe at least 2 way in which the ACT model applies to the therapeutic relationship
  4. Identify signs of experiential avoidance and cognitive fusion in clients
  5. Practice at least 1 intervention to helps individuals be open to experience
  6. Practice at least 1 intervention to helps individuals be centered in the present moment
  7. Practice at least 1 intervention that helps clients author values and engage in meaningful activity
  8. Practice at least 1 strategy to create a foundation for emotional acceptance, particularly in the context of powerful emotions like shame
  9. Practice/Observe recontextualizing painful feelings
  10. Identify and address at least 2 therapist barriers to helping clients accept painful emotions
  11. Identify at least 2 common pitfalls in building emotional acceptance

Trainer: Rhonda Merwin, Ph.D.


Rhonda M. Merwin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Duke University Medical Center. She is recognized as an ACT trainer by the Association of Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) and has presented on ACT nationally and internationally including at annual meetings for the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, the Association for Contextual and Behavioral Sciences, the International Conference for Eating Disorders, among others. Dr. Merwin has expertise in ACT and ACT-related processes (acceptance, mindfulness) and Relational Frame Theory, and currently works with individuals whose distress is connected to the body, including work with chronic pain, diabetes, body image, and eating disorders. She has received funding for her research from the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute for Diabetes, and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Her forthcoming book (2015) will address how to use ACT in treating anorexia nervosa across the lifespan.

Target Audience: 

Intermediate Workshop. This workshop is appropriate for students and behavioral health professionals at all levels of expertise and working with any population in any treatment setting. Clinicians using ACT and 3rd wave CBT models will be particularly interested, but no prior knowledge of ACT or RFT is required. While targeted to those without a lot of experience with ACT, more experienced ACT practitioners will be able to use these principles to move beyond protocols and formal exercises to increase their flexibility and clinical effectiveness. The experience is personally challenging at times but your privacy will always be protected.

CREDITS: Program will provide 9.0 Contact Hours from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Social Work.

9.0 Contact Hours from UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work.

9.0 Contact Hours NBCC (provider #6642) The UNC School of Social Work is an NBCC-Approved Continuing Education Provider (ACEPTM) and may offer NBCC-approved clock hours for events that meet NBCC requirements. The ACEP solely is responsible for all aspects of the program.  

These programs are co-sponsored by the North Carolina Psychological Association and the UNC School of Social Work. The North Carolina Psychological Association is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The North Carolina Psychological Association maintains responsibility for this program and its content. This program is offered for 3.5 hours on Friday, April 17, 2015 and 5.5 hours on Saturday, April 18, 2015 of continuing education credit.


(by Feb 20) Early Bird discounts           after Feb 20
Friday only (3.5 ceu) $70 general; $50 SSW Discount  $95 general; $75 SSW Discount
Saturday workshop (5.5 ceu) $140 general; $120 SSW Discount  $165 general; $145 SSW Discount
Entire workshop (9 ceu) $175 general; $155 SSW Discount  $200 general; $180 SSW Discount

* eligible for SSW Discount = current UNC School of Social Work students, faculty, field instructors, and task supervisors

** Category A credit is available for additional $6.


Register here

Transportation/Directions: The most reliable place to park is in the UNC Hospital lot on Manning Drive. Parking fee is $1.50/ hour. There are also numerous “park & ride” locations in Chapel Hill, with free bus service to (or near) the School of Social Work. Directions.

Payment and refund policies A refund of 70% of the paid registration fee will be available for written cancellation request is received 48 hours prior to the program date. You may send a substitute in your place.  

Attendance Policy  – To receive credit, you must be present for the entire session, and must sign the sign-in and sign-out sheets. No credit will be given to participants who are more than 15 minutes late at the beginning of any session. No credit will be given to participants who leave before the close of a session. 

Address any questions to Deborah Barrett.