Jason A. Nieuwsma, Robyn D. Walser, Steven C. Hayes, and Siang-Yang Tan, eds. ACT for Clergy and Pastoral Counselors: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Bridge Psychological and Spiritual Care. Context Press, Oakland CA, 2016.
By Dan McGill
Acceptance and commitment therapy is a particularly effective form of cognitive behavior therapy that is coming to be seen as a helpful bridge between spiritual and psychological care. Unlike other forms of cognitive behavior therapy, it does not attempt to change the content of a person’s thinking. Rather, it trains people to simply accept the content of their thoughts and emotions nonjudgmentally, while at the same time making commitments to live by the values one chooses, regardless of the content of thoughts and emotions.
Simply stated, ACT is very similar to the meditative practices of many religious and spiritual traditions, both Eastern and Western. Practitioners of Zen Buddhism, as well as Christian centering prayer, can easily recognize very familiar patterns of spiritual practice in the basic structure of ACT. However, ACT focuses minimally on the particular content of any spiritual or religious tradition, making it amenable to incorporation with a wide range of traditions. Rather than attempting to resolve all conflicting emotions or spiritualties, ACT helps a person simply allow differences to be present.
Though the editors and authors of this book make no such claim, the basic willingness to simply hold differences makes ACT a profoundly helpful approach to interfaith dialogue. However, it is also very practical and has been demonstrated to greatly help many people resolve significant spiritual and psychological problems.
An essential insight presented in this book is the difference between our selves. The self that we develop over time within the world of language is useful but also can prove problematic, since language sees things as good or bad, leading people to see their own souls as bad because they either did or suffered something considered bad. A deeper self exists, however, one present from the beginning of our life, which might simply be called the observing self. This self, our more essential self, is always present as an observer watching our life. We move across our lifetime from youth to old age, but this observing self never grows old. Nor, perhaps, is it ever young. It just is. ACT recognizes that this more essential self is often called the soul or spirit of a person in religious traditions, and it does not discourage this insight. ACT is very willing to work with the religious or spiritual life of an individual.
This book introduces ACT surprisingly well before turning to its possible application within the various religious traditions, as well as in the various fields of ministry, including chaplaincy. It serves very well the Integration of Theory and Practice Competencies (ITP) 1, 2, 3 & 6. It is an excellent integration of theory and practice, spirituality and psychology.
Dan McGill, BCC, is a Dignity Health chaplain at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, CA.