A Conversation with the Founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Dr. Steven C. Hayes – HPP 85
Dr. Steven C. Hayes founded Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) over 20 years ago, with the view in mind to increase psychological flexibility through mindfulness and the acceptance of life’s inevitable challenging experiences. Using the problem-solving mind to try to address life’s emotional challenges has its limitations. This was a very interesting conversation for us with a true pioneer in psychotherapy, and someone who himself has lived with panic disorder. We explore how the human tendency to not want to feel discomfort results in more severe and long lasting dysregulation.
In today’s episode, we are honored to be joined by the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), writer, speaker and scholar Dr. Steven C. Hayes, PhD. We deep dive into topics around psychological flexibility, values, acceptance and commitment therapy.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – 02:12
“It’s a combination at the level of what people do under that label typically of acceptance and mindfulness processes and commitment behavior change processes, but it has a specific goal, which is to change the degree of the person’s psychological flexibility”
Emotions Rooted In The Past – 07:58
“Every panic disorder person has the same history, all different routes in to the same history, they may have had a bad drug trip, they may have had an illness, they may have faced a potentially trauma inducing situation”
The Psychological and Biochemical Aspect – 12:49
“Let’s take something like chronic pain or something. You can show that connectivity is linked to these kinds of psychological things I’m talking about, of avoidance and evaluation, buying into the thoughts, etc. Sense of self you mentioned, well sense of self will harness parts of the brain that actively filter out sensory motor information in such a way that you’re not even living in the same world when you’re inside some narrative”
Understanding The Components – 17:37
“Acceptance or emotional openness, flipside, experiential avoidance, running away from thoughts, feelings, memories, bodily sensations. Cognitive fusions, flipside, cognitive defusion. Fusion, taking what words say they are to be literally what they are versus noticing that you’re having a thought right now. You’re having a symbolic categorical event occurring, a particular kind of learning that is pretty new on the planet”
The Acceptance Component – 21:24
“The root of acceptance is essentially saying yes to your own experience. Not that you like it, not that you want it, not that you’re missing it, but that it’s okay to be you. Now when you say yes to external things, that’s a different deal. Those are things that you have choices about in terms of having or not”
ACT: The Hierarchy Of Values – 29:02
“Take sweet moments, unpack them and inside that is something that you value. Look at your heroes and guides and just look at who they are and what they stand for. The people that move you or empower you and lift you up, the people you respect and look up to, you’re going to find your values there”
Aiming To Achieve – 37:24
“I think it’s to come into the present moment fully as a conscious human being as it is, and that is what it says it is, and to take steps that move you in the direction of your chosen values at all levels, socially, physical health, psychological health”
Keith Kurlander, Dr. Will Van Derveer, Dr. Steven C. Hayes
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 00:01
Commit to the present moment fully as a conscious human being as it is, and not as what it says it is. And to take steps that move you in the direction of your chosen values at all levels socially, physical health and psychological health.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 00:24
Thank you for joining us for The Higher Practice Podcast. I’m Dr. Will Van Derveer with Keith Kurlander. And this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. And speaking of optimal mental health, one important area, of course, is our psychology. And today we are joined by Dr. Steven C. Hayes, who is a name that probably almost all of you have already heard. Dr. Hayes is the founder and originator of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Act, which is a popular evidence based form of psychotherapy that uses mindfulness, acceptance and values-based methods. This is a highly efficient way to get people well. I’m a huge fan of ACT. Dr. Hayes has a massive output of productivity in the world of advancing the field of psychotherapy. He’s written 44 books, nearly 600 scientific articles, he’s one of the most highly cited scholars in any area of study living or dead, according to Google Scholar. He is a very impactful person who is incredibly sharp and wide ranging in his way of thinking about human well being. So it’s a huge honor and pleasure to welcome Dr. Steven C. Hayes to our program. Well, Dr. Steven C. Hayes, welcome to the show.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 01:56
I’m glad to be here with you both, it’s awesome.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 01:59
Wonderful to have you. I have followed your work for years. And it’s a real privilege to get to meet you and have this conversation today.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 02:05
Super. It’s nice to meet you. Through that, people you serve so thank you for the opportunity.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 02:12
So for those in our audience who are less familiar with your work, you are the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a popular and effective therapy. Can you tell our audience the basic premises for those who are listening who are unfamiliar?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 02:27
Sure, well, ACT has been on a 40 year journey. It’s a combination at the level of what people do under that label typically of acceptance and mindfulness processes and commitment behavior change processes, but it has a specific goal, which is to change the degree of the person’s psychological flexibility. And that is a little different, because while in the modern times, there’s a lot of different kinds of acceptance and mindfulness things out there. It’s other than just our lives, it’s in our cultures, it’s in our practices and so forth. Back when I was starting, it wasn’t quite like that. And so ACT has been on a developmental journey goes back to 1981, coming out of some of my own struggles. And we took, say we mean in my lab and increasing a large group, a larger group of folks now 10,000 people in the name society, about four or 5000 studies, 450 randomized trials, it’s huge. But back in the day, it was me and my five graduate students. And what we decided we needed to do is figure out why it’s so hard to be human. And so underneath it is this model of psychological flexibility, which is essentially what happens if you try and hack the human mind with a kind of evidence based process focus, where you want not just a theory, but you want processes that really work. In other words, you can see them, you can measure them, you can target and you can change them when you do things that are predictable. And so we kind of were invisible for almost 20 years, from the earliest days in the earliest randomised trials to the first book almost 20 years later. And it wasn’t because we weren’t working hard enough and figuring out what those processes were, and I can summarize those and just the semi long paragraph and see if I can shorten it. It’s basically if you can learn how to be more emotionally and cognitively open and flexible. And bring this more witnessing pure awareness, sense of self into the present moment, and allocate your attention in a flexible and voluntary way that allows you to focus on what’s really important to you, what are the features of your own life moments that you want to manifest to bring into the world and then build habits around that if you do that. Life opens up and everything that we push in these syndromal categories is more less likely to happen, less likely to be severe or chronic, less likely to build multiple problems and beyond that, all the behavior, health kinds of things, diet, exercise, sleep, etc. And beyond that all the social justice kinds of things, but everything from diet and exercise and all that to running your clinic or having a relationship that works or winning a gold medal to the Olympics, I mean, I know that sounds weird, but it’s just true. There’s actual randomized trials or controlled studies, that’s everywhere, showing that we just do a better job of being human. And living a life in a way that fits what you really want out of life. I don’t like thinking of that as sort of an overall, there’s a lot of methods out there that move psychological flexibility, including pretty traditional CBT, and other things like that. And certainly, more systems or Gestalt or psychoanalytic, I mean, we’ve been doing this work for a long time, or wisdom traditions. But I want to bring Western science to it, I want to really kind of hack it and figure out what it is that you can target, chamber and benefit from it. That allows you to not be quiet so be a good person to also use.
Keith Kurlander 06:03
What does the process, Steven, look like? Let’s say over the course of six months to a year just kind of highlights what’s actually happening in the therapy that’s causing this flexibility to happen?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 06:12
Well, if you got to apply this individually, I think it makes a mistake for evidence-based medicine for evidence-based practice to have been shoved into one size fits all protocols for syndrome space. When you understand the same thing, personalized medicine, and the rest of you really understand what the processes are that are involved in health, and that ameliorate some of the problems of ill health and disease and both those features. Well, then you need to look at the person’s strengths and weaknesses, what’s going on, you can’t just sort of say, Hey, everybody needs that’s not true. And that’s especially true psychologically, it’s true, biologically, true social, cultural. And we’re used to saying it has to fit the cultural background. Yeah, well, that same message, it has to fit the person as a physical system as a psychological system, part of the social group. But with that caveat, typically, people come in being rigid in a few areas, the most common ones are, they’ve overused the problem solving mind to look at their own thoughts, feelings, memories, bodily sensations. And they’ve brought this kind of judgmental analytic tool, which is great when you’re doing your taxes, you fix your car, but it’s a train wreck when you’re trying to find peace of mind with purpose. And when you do that, when you bring that analytic, judgmental thing, you get into the thing of I have too much of this, or I got to get rid of that, well, what are you talking about? Very often, it’s things that are part of your history, and they want to follow you. Plus, those very things are useful sometimes. And in a way, it’s really hard to say in this simple rule. I mean, can you name a human emotion that’s not useful? Can you name a human emotion that you’re gonna pay good money to produce yourself?
Keith Kurlander 07:58
I love human emotion, as long as it doesn’t stay around for hours.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 08:02
And yeah, exactly. But what makes it stick? We didn’t evolve to have emotions stick, but you can get it to stick, I’ll give you an easy way to do it. You’re talking about a panicked person in recovery, turn panic into an enemy that signals really bad outcomes about to happen. Now track the indications that it’s come and do whatever you can to avoid it so it doesn’t. You must not go put your finger on a wall socket over there. Every panic disorder person has the same history, all different routes into the same history, they may have had a bad drug trip, they may have had an illness, they may have faced a really traumatic, potentially trauma inducing situation. In my case, I’m sitting in a department meeting with full professors fighting in a way that has saved my TEDx talk in a way that only full professors and wild animals are capable of. I’m watching them fight like hell. And unbeknownst to me, I had a history of domestic violence as a kid. I could remember that and say that, but unbeknownst to me, and how deeply penetrated it was only on that journey that showed up how deep he had penetrated by hiding under my bed at eight years old, wondering whether or not I’m going to see blood on the floor when I came out from underneath the bed, and hearing my parents scream and throw things at each other. And then I’m sitting in the freakin psychology department meeting and I’m having my first panic attack. Well, under extraordinary circumstances, I’ll tell you, by the way, today, not today, yesterday was a really bad day for me. I mean, watching those folks storm the things I mean, I’m just like, quaking and shivering and crying and, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It isn’t just the horror of the politics of it. Some of that is echoing stuff that happened way back in your history. And your whole body’s going because that’s how we’re wired.
Keith Kurlander 09:57
Yeah, absolutely, and that obviously yesterday that right resonates not only with our personal history that resonates with hundreds of years of interactions. And yeah, reminding us of that.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 10:06
Absolutely. And your underlying neurobiology is set out to take advantage of your history. You want to be able to respond to things that are dangerous, etc. Yeah. But if you miss applying the logical problem solving mind, which is this evolutionary recent adaptation, it’s 1000 times more recent than the basic learning principles that are programming your underlying neurobiology. And that kind of process of operant and classical conditioning is half a billion years old. What you’re doing when you say, Oh, I don’t want to feel anxious, is a couple 100,000, a couple million years old. We know that because and this is part of the geeky stuff that’s underneath ACT, we have an entire active research program on language and cognition, where it comes from, we can take kids that don’t have a sense of self that can’t speak, etc. We can bring them forward in a way that’s faster and more successful in anything known in Western science. I’m sorry for the self-praise, and we just can’t. We know more about how to get language going. But we started with the dark side of it. And so this evolutionary recent adaptation of figuring out how to get rid of it and get rid of this problem-solving repertoire that evolved probably for cooperation initially as the social primates that we are. That’s another story. It’s misapplied. And now you’re questioning why we are stuck with anxiety? You want anxiety to come and go, you don’t want to I mean as a panic reserved personal recovery. You don’t want to live inside and it’s all of a sudden level. You can’t do the simplest freakin thing. Well, it’s torture us. Yeah. Of course, you’re going to say panic is my problem. No, actually, panic is a reflection. Of what well, anxiety is my problem now. Holding anxiety is the problem and trying deliberately not to have it. That is panic disorder. That’s what that is.
Keith Kurlander 12:03
So ACT is developed basically unhooking this problem solving mind is that what ACT is about?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 12:08
Exactly. Put the mind on a leash, use it when it’s useful and not. Learn how to make those discriminations not just in a verbal way, because that’s feeding the problem-solving mind again. It’s listening when you’re telling I’m going to put you on a leash, it doesn’t like that, because it’s a one trick pony and knows how to evaluate, predict, compare, and suggest strategies for avoiding and controlling. And it’ll tell you I mean, if I said you can only say good or bad and I said sad, you’d say bad. If I say happy, you’d say good to say anxious, you’d say bad. Yeah, but as they say, there’s no emotion that is not useful sometimes. If your mom’s on her deathbed, sad is what you want.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 12:49
When you talk about emotions being sticky or sticking around with this judging function, that you’re talking kind of prefrontal cortex function, through my lens, as an integrative psychiatrist, I think about all the ways that we can be sticky with our experience. And there’s the mind component that I think you’re talking about the psychology and developing the witnessing, and getting unhooked from that, from your story from the narrative from the emotion. But it’s also interesting, because there’s also the biochemical component of being sticky and getting stuck. And, for instance, when people stop, and just to give you an example, when people stop eating foods, like for instance, in my practice, it’s often the case that when somebody’s sensitive to gluten, and they’re inflamed, they have brain inflammation, from eating the wrong things. It’s much harder for them to overcome the panic you were just talking about. And you could also take a piece from any place on the map of all the different ways people can be sticky.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 13:49
I agree, and it’s a complex system that interacts, and there are multiple levels. So I’m a psychologist, I’m talking at a psychological level. But if you just look at the underlying neurobiology of what we’re talking about, let’s take something like chronic pain or something. You can show that connectivity is linked to these kinds of psychological things. I’m talking about avoidance and evaluation, buying into the thoughts, etc. The sense of self you mentioned, your sense of self will harness parts of the brain that actively filter out sensory motor information in such a way that you’re not even living in the same world when you’re inside some narrative. I mean, you literally don’t have access. It’s literally not making it to the parts of the brain where you could have access to the actual world you live in. By psychedelic therapy, or something can land well with people that opens up some of those gates, you have a clue as to what’s actually going on right now in your life because you’ve got these habits at a neurobiological level of filtering out as you buy into that narrative. So it’s at all levels and it’s an interactive, dynamical kind of system and these issues of diet, exercise, sleep. I’m doing workshops. I’d say, so how many people ask questions about that? Everybody raises their hands. I said, how many people are here old enough to answer this question 20 years ago? Did you ask those questions? And like, nobody raises their hand. So yeah, we’ve learned and I would really like to have the basic science that really digs into how. So for example, the example you use, my guess is there’s specific neurobiological systems that are being engaged, that are also engaged in, for example, just what you and I are doing right now that are closer to these sort of processes that can be moved around by language itself. Language penetrates and harnesses ancient systems. I mean, alligator brainstem level systems are being harnessed by stuff that’s 1000 times more recent evolutionarily, that’s how it works.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 15:49
Yeah, one of the things that I’m most excited about in that vein of kind of what’s underneath this overlinking that happens is the field of psycho neuro immunology and this over activation of the brain’s immune system and how we can modulate that. And the really fascinating, I mean, so many different studies coming out on how psychotherapy can modulate that and how diet can modulate that mindfulness, etc.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 16:16
Well, the Geek side of it, I mean, I stopped myself. I have a feeling I’ve been talking to a couple of geeks who are used to talking this week but they’re very weird things. When you start thinking, this is a complex system of dynamic systems, and so forth. Doing the good signs that one of the time allows us to pull these things apart is going to be damn hard. And let’s be honest, this is not critical. But I can find myself that there’s some things that happen inside integrative psychiatry that makes me worried. You really have to get down to science that’s a level above even what we usually think of to start looking at exactly how did that, for example, nutritional thing harness, for example, that part of your underlying neurobiology in such a way that it interacted with say that trauma experience such that this thing is harder because of that. That requires treating people as individuals, just look at how the brain is connected. If you’re not actually doing the work to look, person by person. And you’re just going by part by part. Yeah, but that’s such, that’s the average and averages and the person then you know what a train wreck that is, people can be angry. Connectivity it’s not even, that’s way off the normal maps, but they’re all you gotta do is look for it. If you are part of the scenery.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 17:37
Right, I mean, we have to be precise examples as individuals. I’m wondering about going back to this question about developing the witness. And if that forgive my ignorance of the ACT model, I’m wondering about how you would explain the acceptance component? Is that what that is? Is it the witness?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 17:54
Well, the witness component in the psychological flexibility model, that witness component, the acceptance component, all six processes are interrelated. If you try to do it with self reports and stuff, you’ll sometimes get too much of a little basic factor in the single factor, but they have six aspects and I usually say it’s like a box with six sides. You roll it over, it’s six sides. Yeah, but there’s only one box and if you take a couple sides out, it’s not a box anymore. So it’s kind of six that are one.
Keith Kurlander 18:22
Maybe it would be helpful, Steven, to actually hit what the six processes real quickly.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 18:26
Yeah, okay. So, acceptance or emotional openness, flipside, experiential avoidance running away from thoughts, feelings, memories, bodily sensations. Cognitive fusions, flipside, cognitive defusion. Fusion, taking what words say they are to be literally what they are versus noticing that you’re having a thought right now. You’re having a symbolic categorical event occurring, a particular kind of learning that is pretty new on the planet, relational learning, having a thought. This witnessing sets themselves, as opposed to what? Well, the conceptualized self the story itself, the narrative self, evaluates self, a person who fills in the blank. So as this witnessing self is the no thing self that’s why it’s really hard to name because it’s not like it’s nothing more than here. Now, from this awareness, not even awareness of anything. The Geek science underneath ACT has pulled that as joints we can say some things now but what that is. That’s why we can help kids who don’t have those who are severe on the spectrum kind of kids for example, and help establish that, which then will create problems for them. Because it leads to other things, but anyway, so that witnessing so then there’s the present moment contact, but I like thinking of it more in just in terms of flexible fluid and voluntary attentional control to past and future, not literal, past and future but thoughts of the past thoughts of the future, that are occurring in the now into broadening or narrowing, shifting or staying attentionally in the now, which is the nice place wherever you are. And here’s the values piece.
Keith Kurlander 19:18
The values piece. Is that one of the processes?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 20:07
Values are one of the processes. So far I’ve named for emotional openness or acceptance, cognitive open to diffusion and flexible fluid and voluntary attentional control versus disappearing into the past and future habitually, and witnessing self or acceptional self. The last two are the ones where the rubber meets the road, behaviourally values, what are the qualities of being in doing that by choice just between you and the person the year not because of a wagging finger or mama said so. Not because the holy book, you still have to make your choices. It’s great to have the holy books, but the books don’t do it. You have to do it. You have to choose what you’re up to. What do you care about? What do you want to manifest? What do you want to reveal? What does this next moment of your life want to be about is the level of an adjective or an adverb? lovingly, owl, not why you and I have not read the goals that can be fine on a journey. It’s phase based, but what is the journey about? That’s up to you? And then can you build habits of actual life? choices of behavior? Meaning little bee behavior, everything you do of action? Can you build habits that are organized around your values around love, contribution, justice, etc? And not just around running away from your fears? Yeah, that’s
Keith Kurlander 21:24
Yeah, that’s super helpful to hear. Just the outline. I’m curious, let’s dive into acceptance for a moment. So that term has a lot of meanings in a lot of places. Let’s tease this out a little bit, right? Because some people are going to take that, especially in spiritual communities, they’re going to take this term and say, yeah, I’m just going to accept everything for the way it is everything for the way it is, I’m going to set my behavior for the way it is. And I’m going to accept other people’s behavior the way they are.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 21:28
It’s a train wreck. Why? Because of cognitive confusion. Language will carry you. There’s a core of what acceptance is about. I wish we had a better term. Self-kindness is closer, maybe self-compassion, maybe. But those who have problems with any word, have problems. It really does anything. This is Becca Craddle, is the Greek philosopher whose lectures are wagging fingers. Because you can say a single word was to create a tool and he was trying to get to the one in other languages is a tricky horse to ride, but the root word of acceptance is a latin root, accipere that means to receive as if to receive a gift originally, it is there in English barely, here will you accept this? If you have some impression, will you accept this? You don’t mean but you tolerate this, would you resign yourself to this? Would you just give up? Is it? that doesn’t mean that, and acceptance of uses and empathy and chronic pain folks just look at what people around them are saying you just have to learn to step. In other words, shout out. Why because I don’t like feeling what I feel when I see you feel what you feel. So don’t talk about why you feel sad to feel what I feel, which is just bolshy. It’s an attack on the other person. But the root of acceptance is essentially saying yes, to your own experience. Not that you like it, not that you want it, not that you’re missing it, but that it’s okay to be you. Now when you say yes to external things, that’s a different deal. Those are things that you have choices about in terms of having it or not, if there’s dirt on the floor, I’m not sure I want to accept that. If my kid hasn’t taken a shower in a week, I’m not sure I want to accept that. But if I’m talking about my history, if I say no to my history, please explain to me how I can start from here and live a life.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 23:49
Well, it’s a really helpful distinction.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 23:51
Yeah, I’m gonna have to leave my history to go away before I can start. Good luck with that. Right. And that our science is doing.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 23:59
So it starts saying yes to our internal experience.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 24:04
Yeah, always. That yes doesn’t mean put up with it, that if you’re being abused by someone, for example, you need to be open to the experience of what it’s going to be like to stop the abuse and maybe leave that relationship. And we’ve shown the very first randomized trial in the modern era. We did a couple of three to know you’re on the right track in the early 80s. Shut down did all the basic process work, flashier science work measurement work, so forth, came back out. With one more two more randomized trials just had come out in 1999. Now there’s 450 at the time. But one of the earliest one of them we came out with was done in a call center by Frank Bond. Again, bonds, bonded bugs 2000. And they work on acceptance skills with these call center workers. And when the ACT then hit, a few years later was written up in time five page story Got your mind and your life beat Harry Potter for a glorious week and all that. Immediately I’m getting it Oh, you’re just trying to get people to accept their a lot, you’re just tired of the elite establishment or standard deserve it? Well, let me tell you what happened in the first study, when ACT was looked at. There’s a technology to teach people to take control of their work environment and eliminate stressors have been previously validated kind of a behavior where you go for a change in your work environment, okay. There was a control condition, I forget exactly what it was reading something in this call center, and there was an ACT, workshop, people stress and so forth plummets in the workshop, not in the other two. That’s a post at follow up. The ACT folks are demanding changes in their work environment at the same level as the folks who are encouraged to do that in the first place, which by the way, did not reduce their stress. Why? Because when people are more emotionally open, more cognitively flexible, more in this witnessing sense of self and focusing on their values, they start doing things like this. It is scary to go to my form and then say this, but this is not right. The way we’re doing things here is driving me nuts. I can’t do my job. It’s not fair. Like that. And we’ve since found out that if you have a flexible workplace, and flexible workers, you have all kinds of great, wonderful things happening in the world of business. People love working together, they actually start cooperating when things happen, stress goes down, productivity goes up. It doesn’t have to be you know, like the uberization of beat up on them. But you know, go go go go go kind of piecework craziness that we’re getting into. with what’s happening in our economy, you can empower people to create environments, better kind environments. I don’t wanna think too much about a study that was followed by a study that was done with stockbrokers. The same thing happened, but what did they then do? They started demanding things like we’re gonna have a family day, once a month and bring our kids to work. Could we humanize? But you’re not going to do it If you’re living inside fear. If you’re living inside pretense, if you’re living inside ego, you’re living inside narcissism, you’re not going to do it. Right?
Dr. Will Van Derveer 27:16
And you’re not going to do it if you’re bracing. Right? Here’s another piece, which you’ve spoken about a little bit, and I want to hear a little more about is the issue of values. Now, one of the things that Keith and I talk about a lot is that it seems like people who are empowered and on a path of empowerment have to encounter at some point or other what their values are. And is this a very specific protocol that an ACT therapist actually does with clients?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 27:41
Yes, well we have a number of them, and we were kind of on to it early. It sounds like it’s been absent in the deeper clinical traditions, it’s there. When mindfulness was sort of westernized and brought into the healthcare system, it was one of the ones that was left behind, because you can give your religious leader that sanction to talk about right action, talk about values, but when you’re putting it into a healthcare system, or something that seemed like you couldn’t do that, it’s a disaster not to do that. You don’t want mindfulness without price, you start getting stuff that only in the West, would we do, like, you take care of kids, I gotta go meditate. What, that’s not what that’s for. So we better have a way and we do there’s four basic pathways, and there’s maybe 40 different kinds of exercises, metaphors, etc, that are well elaborated measures, etc. in the ACT, it’s expanding all the time, because people are very creative. Once you know, the processes, you’re changing, you know, it’s like once you know what the underlying physiological issue is, you’re changing, and you can target it with different meds or different things. And but the same thing has happened in the act universe, we’ve kind of turned the researchers loose.
Keith Kurlander 28:55
What I’m hearing if this is right, there’s different paths to helping a person determine their values is out.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 29:01
Keith Kurlander 29:02
And in ACT, has the research found that people have a hierarchy of values or no?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 29:08
Well, kind of Yes, I mean, as you get deeper into it depends exactly what you mean by values. But we mean chosen qualities of being and doing that are intrinsic to behavior itself, intrinsic behavior, meaning small action itself. So we don’t mean goals. We don’t mean compliance with a set of standards or things like that. You can, by your choice, have religious faith commitments, so your values can line up with books and so forth. And with religious leaders, that’s all cool. But there’s an ownership piece. And the four ways in from ACT point of view are take your pain and flip it, you’ll find it places where you’re hurting, the places that you care. Take sweet moments, unpack them and inside that is something that you value. Look at your heroes and guides and just look at who they are and what they stand for. The people that move you or empower you and lift you up, the people You respect and look up to, you’re going to find your values there. And if you think of your own life as a matter of your authorship, that authentically, genuinely, you’re writing your life, and you can choose the theme of the chapters of the book, but not the characters or the challenges that showed up the themes that you’re picking those bags, so sweet, sad, guides your heroes or story. By story, I don’t mean your interpretation, I mean, the arc of the journey that you’re on, right? So those ones that I know of, and there’s like, scores of specific methods, exercises, and so forth. A lot are easy to get. So people are wanting to learn about these, you can easily go to the internet and stuff, or Steven c hayes.com, or not just that community, the Association for contextual behavioral science and find these things.
Keith Kurlander 30:52
Is it your philosophy, or the ACT philosophy that there’s some theorists that say that from a hierarchy of values, your highest values, your purpose is the thing that you’re most going to constellated around in your life, more of a single pointed value, and then other people say, actually, your purpose is an integration of a big set of values. I’m curious what your philosophical belief is about?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 31:14
Some of what’s being talked about there. And it’s in a new book called liberated minds, my shoulder, my latest kind of trade book that sells easily by the therapist. Human needs, human yearnings, hierarchy of needs, I mean, Maslow got into psychology originally, way back when some of that is talked about sometimes as kind of a hierarchy of values, where what we’re talking about with values is that kind of chosen purpose. And, but these other ones are also linked to things we yearn for. Like, for example, acceptance is linked to a yearning to feel we come out of the womb, ready to do that. And we’re reaching, licking, smelling, tasting, but nobody has to teach us that. Right, this kind of attentional process, we yearn to be oriented, we look around, we will work for information, and babies will work just to see outside the window. Brand new neonates, I want to see what’s going on, I want to see where I am, I wonder like that. This kind of sense of self, that we’re talking about this observer witnessing self, yeah, language builds that out. And we now know how it builds now, which is a cool story. It’s how you can reach kids on the spectrum and so forth. But it starts with something that’s into our basic biology as the social primates they are, which is the whites around our eyes, so we can see where Mama’s looking, we’re dumping natural opiates, when Mama’s eyes first contact us within hours of birth. And the only other creature on the planet that does that is dogs, and they’ve been around us for 10,000-12,000 years, they’ve evolved some of these things. And what does that reflect a yearning to belong, I believe, yearning for meaning values, yearning for competence is kind of the behavioral side of things. And babies will work for hours to do nothing more than be able to reach something. Nobody had to teach them to do that. There’s no m&m showing up. It’s just instrumentality, and a reader by birth, because you’ve got so much to me, you’re the one that doesn’t know how to walk, even how to reach you don’t have to do anything. So maybe you struggle in a few little act.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 32:52
yearning to grow a yearning to develop into yourself.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 33:29
Competence to be able to sort of interact with the world that’s increasingly better able to. The only one I’ve skipped of the six processes, I think, is the one that sends cognition, which is this yearning to understand I think it’s there even before human cognition, which is being able to sort of predict animals will work for information, including things like you’re about to be shocked, even if it’s unavoidable. Why would you want that information? Now? It’s because sort of understanding is something that is sort of built in once we get language going, boy, we put that on steroids. And so we’re fighting for trying to understand and have a good story of how it all fit together. I tell people, that’s a cool study that kids in preschool, their single most common fight is over who’s right? And if you don’t understand that, just have a staff meeting. Like they’re still doing it. So yeah, those that long kind of leathery answer to some of what’s being talked about in terms of hierarchy. I call myself earnings and I kind of liked the demand and quality of needs. And if you had to put them into a hierarchy, I’d say boy, belonging is first because you hop out of the womb, and you better be connected to the other social primates. They are going to die really fast. You ain’t cute. You don’t know how to connect. You’re a pain in the ass to be you better to have the tools Or you may die within days, these other things of feeling yearning to feel or to be competent, to understand to be oriented, to have meaning and purpose, those sort of unfold. And I think you can inside that put a whole bunch of other things. I mean, let’s say something like a chosen purpose, you might want to reveal beauty in the world, you might be an artist, just something that’s just really important. Well, that links to things like feelings and links to things like belonging, but it’s also just the chosen value. Beauty is something of importance for me, that might not be your thing. I mean, you may be really interested in understanding how the brain works and interacts with the gut biome with the psychological processes to be able to help people who are suffering, that’s probably much more modern, or probably more cognitive, in some ways, more linked to competence and being able to figure out rules for how to have good things happen for people.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 36:04
Yeah, you’re not much of an artist, that’s for sure.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 36:06
Yeah, there’s an art to doing it. But it’s probably not like looking at a sunset. Now, some people do like mathematicians, otherwise, sometimes they can talk about the beauty of the solution. And then if you’re in the work that you do, sometimes you come up with a beautiful diagnosis, probably, or beautiful intervention strategy. But it’s a bit of a metaphor, I think. I don’t know if it’s a good answer?
Keith Kurlander 36:29
That’s a good answer. Let’s tie it together now too, so you have these different processes. If you’re working with different aspects of the inner dimension, linking it to behavior, what’s the aim of ACT? So one thing you said is while you create this functionality, where there’s fluidity responsiveness is different aspects. What’s the aim in terms of the human experience that we could sort of hope for, from developing through ACT?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 36:55
Well, I want some guidance from the person as to what they really want, I can’t just ask that question upfront, because I make it, I want to be a rich model of money, my fingers, you dig through it, it ends up changing. So you really need all of the processes in order to really be fully elaborating on a process. We hurry care means if I really renewed my values, and not emotionally open, I’m having problems in myself. Because I know where I’m hurt and I know what to do about it.
Keith Kurlander 37:24
The aim like empowerment, internally and externally isn’t experiencing a baseline of joy. And like, what’s the sort of overall aim of what the human experience could achieve?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 37:36
I think it’s to come into the present moment fully as a conscious human being as it is, and that is what it says it is, and to take steps that move you in the direction of your chosen values, at all levels, socially, physical health, psychological health. And those processes will link to, I’ve been talking to six psychological processes, but you can scale them socially. Acceptance of scales to compassion, diffusion being out, notice your thoughts, scales to understanding and really wanting to hear the voice of others. competence steps into relational competence. At the social level, at the biological level, I think some of the same things kind of happen in terms of diet, exercise, etc. But not just that. I mean, we know for example, that something like what happens when people are more psychologically flexible, in terms of their basic underlying theory, basic biological systems. Well, for one thing, you start seeing epigenetic downregulation of stress related gene systems. You just don’t need them. You’re not in that same harsh environment anymore. You start seeing changes in brain connectivity, where you no longer kind of jerking over and pulling possible verses into the present moment. Why? Because you’re tracking it verbally. And you got that kind of default mode network, going on looking for non grabbing and pulling in things that could. So you’re activating this kind of problem solving part and you’re harnessing basic kinds of sensory motor systems to detect danger and all kinds of crazy stuff you don’t need to do. If you could simply learn to sort of be here. There’s no lions and tigers and bears where you are right now. I mean, you don’t not need the full kind of watch out for danger and run systems anymore. You’re not a kid, and you’re not in a Wild Animal Park. So how did you put yourself there psychologically? So we have a model that is published in a couple places. I’ve got a piece coming out world psychiatry, which you may know was the country’s highest impact psychiatric journal in the world, a target article myself and Stephen Hoffman, but we’ve been walking out several of these, we’ve got a specialist of clinical psychology review, where what we basically do is take an evolutionary model unexpended evolutionary synthesis model, and try to integrate the biological level cultural level on a psychological level by taking all the processes of change that we know about in these levels. And thinking about this simple way, how can we create healthy variation? How can we select those when we bump into them and healthy variation gives us a partial solution or step forward? How can we retain it, when we see that it needs to be selected, and how we can refit it to context so that it will be deployed when it’s needed? variation, selection, retention and context at the right dimension and level, that’s the extended evolutionary metamodel. And when you take a process focus, you don’t have to be thinking about ACT or something like that. Just think about how we as professionals get together? To what are the unhealthy processes? What are the healthy processes at a psychological and social culture and the bio physiological level? And how can we create healthy variation, selection, retention and context that feeds the purpose. And I know that’s kind of abstract in a way, but it’s not abstract when it plays out with an individual person. I should definitely I have a book, Stephan Hoffman, if you notice work for the major CBT guy have a book coming out on a process based therapy workbook, where we’re walking through how to use dynamical systems and complex systems, idiographic, high density measures, ecological momentary assessment measures, etc. To be able to track these processes, and to be able to sort of model how they interact with the individual enough to know how to intervene. That’s way geeky, I’m sorry for that, in a way, but I’m just saying, we can get on the page, where the kind of science that we need to be able to focus on processes that matter and change those for people is not very far away, we have the massive amount of data, and immigrants capture data, cool part of it.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 42:08
And it’s really exciting, actually, Steven, thanks for the hope that you think that we’re on our way with science, and I agree with you 100%, that it’s gonna be that science is the way to bring everything forward. It’s the same thing in the psychedelic medicine revolution, and we’ve got to have the science.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 42:25
Have you been a part of the psychedelic work?
Dr. Will Van Derveer 42:28
Yeah, I was part of a handful of MDMA psychotherapy trials with the organization MAPS. And it was a real eye opener for me, as a psychiatrist in a nutshell, to see how much faster people could get well and stay well.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 42:41
Now we look at the processes of change. And what is that oceanic awareness? What happens in terms of acceptance, what about the value of species, you just look at it, and there’s an underlying neurobiological reason for it. But you may know that act is being used as a model for pre prep, especially the ones that are more limited number of doses, I’m not down yet with the chipping for months on end, kind of secondary, obviously, the data on that, but I’m absolutely down with them kind of helping to support and work with. And that community is very active as well, especially on psychotherapy, in part because the psychological flexibility processes move with psychedelic therapy. And that’s fixed, this is just a move. The next is courts, they mediate the outcome. So that means they’re functionally important. So when I know that, it helps to orient people towards it, and I think we’ve been doing that with indigenous peoples forever. If we’re going to take it in the West and put it in without all those, without the rituals, without the symbols, without, well, we better have something in there. Don’t be throwing chemicals at people. I am a child of the 60s. It is not free. Yeah. addicts on the sidewalk with needles in the gutter. I am not interested in doing that.
Keith Kurlander 43:59
Will you like this as a kid Steven in terms of like your passion for knowledge and synthesizing and creating information or this was more in your adulthood where you got? I mean, obviously, you got a lot of books behind you, you probably very well read. So I’m just curious, like, have you always had this kind of intensity?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 44:18
Yes, all the time, always have been. some of it comes out of just this kind of mission. I tell the story in my TEDx talk, being underneath that bed with Jay and Sam, I’m going to do something meaning I’m going to get out and stop the fighting between my parents, which I really thought about thoughtfully forums that is scoot farther out behind the bed because it would have been physically dangerous to my health. I saw my brother get hit by my dad when he tried to stop fighting. So I just put to me, there’s something deeply moving about Being able to alleviate human suffering that just makes sense of my life. So I just do it. And this kind of energy is around. I’m not very interested in sort of trademarking, and having it be about me I’m really more interested in leading from behind, empowering us as a community, to focus on what’s important and get it into people’s hands with tools they can use. And Western science is the best way of doing that ever invented at its best.
Keith Kurlander 45:35
Well, everything’s got benefits and drawbacks, right? So Steven, you want to highlight anything you’re up to right now anything you want people to know about a book or anything?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 45:44
Well, I suppose what I’m most working on right now is how to really create an integration of these different levels using evolutionary model to do it, in terms of orienting clinicians towards what’s important, so that we can ideographically use a process based focus. So we’ve got functioning important pathways of change, focusing on which means that it probably has some treatment utility. There, we’re not going to come up with categories of syndrome or categories of a quarter million different ways that you can get that category. It’s just nonsense. I mean, in the history of medicine, just stuff like that, that only works if there’s a few processes that can produce those manifestations. As soon as there’s a bunch of different processes, or the same process can produce a bunch of different manifestations. Were in the cancer situation, and botanizing, cancer did not work, stop botanizing, human suffering, start looking at what the processes get down to the basic lab, but play nice with, you know, people who are on the frontlines. And so that’s one thing that excites me. But another one is, I’m working hard at trying to put these tools into apps, websites, things like that, that will land with Joe sixpack, I look up the political situation we’re in and so forth. And I’m saying one reason why people are so subject now to crazy kinds of conspiracy theories, and so forth, as the world feels completely out of control. You just look at it looks nuts, because you’re exposed with that computer in your pocket, to levels of horror, that your grandfather was never exposed to unless they went to war, two levels of comparison that you’d have to be living inside a newsroom to be able to produce and a constant flow of judgment. And comparison judgment and pain is a toxic triangle. So we look at our young people and see what the hell’s going on what the hell’s going on, as we’re putting stuff into their lives and giving them healthy tools other than commercial stuff, including Big Pharma being way too aggressive about categorizing and then way over medicating my opinion, higher doses longer term that the body ever evolved handle. So I’m in a project right now. And if you have the minutes, could I take two minutes to talk about.
Keith Kurlander 48:09
Yeah, take a couple of minutes. Sure.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 48:11
So one is to try to create a clinic that will take us from mental health problems, to human prosperity, social and physical prosperity. So yeah, get treatment for as funded by a guy in South Carolina, big financier and so forth. I don’t think I should have mentioned his name, but the clinical is called Modern Minds. And Robanna a well known CBT personism. What we’re going to do is a process based act, yes, for anxiety, depression, etc. But once we get traction there, what about diet and exercise? What about the social things you want to do? How do you get involved with other people? What do you want to volunteer on? Can you go back to work? And then another one is that exciting thing that I’m into just starting with how do we put apps, websites, etc, into basically critical workers’ lives? largely minority, very much over burdened folks, can we get out of this Whoo, talk, and you got to go find a wonderful therapist, you never could find any way and you couldn’t afford it if you could, and put tools into people’s hands that would empower them and people don’t have much money and they don’t even have the laptop, they frequently go to the website, you know, just get it onto their phone. So it’s another great
Keith Kurlander 49:32
Well, this transitions to the last question we asked everybody. Basically, we asked everyone the same question. If you had a billboard that every human being would see once in their life that had a paragraph on it. What do you want to tell people in that paragraph?
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 49:46
I don’t know if this probably would be a foolish thing, because it may not land well, but if you get an email from me, at the bottom of the email, it’ll say, love isn’t everything. That’s the only thing. If I had a way to actually reach the person reading the billboard With what I think that means, which is I think you can treat yourself in a more loving way. And out of that, you can manifest what you really want to. I have worked in the prisons, I’ve worked with murderers and rapists, and that was where I started. Gather your mind in your life. My big success story was written for prisoners. And then a tragedy happened and I wasn’t allowed to test it in the prison because the new director came in and said, we just locked feet and counted. We’re zookeepers. Right, and I was never able to test it there. But they can put enough love in the world. Even people who have found themselves in that crazy cold a sack of violence, and they could find a way to be what they really want to be because when I dig down into people who are suffering and people who are criminals, and people have done horrible things, what I found is honorable people, I mean, people who yearn for, we could look at the guy probably shouldn’t say a picture. Look at Donald Trump, let’s say. And you say that a person had a tough life. It may have looked like the golden life, but no, no, not that level of disturbance, that level, somewhere in there. I want to make the bet as a human being yearning to be more loving to themselves and to others. I’ll go with what’s in the bottom of my email. So it’s love love isn’t everything.
Keith Kurlander 51:26
Thanks, Steven, that’s beautiful. Well, Steven, thanks so much for being on the show.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 51:27
It’s been a pleasure.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes 51:33
That’s awesome. Thank you for the opportunity.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 51:40
Wow, what a great conversation with Dr. Hayes. We really appreciate his work and it’s a little hard to keep up with the way his mind works in such a good way. So we want to thank Dr. Hayes for being on the show. And we look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of the higher practice podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.