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Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for clinically distressed health care workers: Waitlist‐controlled evaluation of an ACT workshop in a routine practice setting


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Objectives: To examine the effects of a 1-day acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) workshop on the mental health of clinically distressed health care employees, and to explore ACT's processes of change in a routine practice setting. Design: A quasi-controlled design, with participants block allocated to an ACT intervention or waiting list control group based on self-referral date. Methods: Participants were 35 health care workers who had self-referred for the ACT workshop via a clinical support service for staff. Measures were completed by ACT and control group participants at pre-intervention and 3 months post-intervention. Participants allocated to the waitlist condition went on to receive the ACT intervention and were also assessed 3 months later. Results: At 3 months post-intervention, participants in the ACT group reported a significantly lower level of psychological distress compared to the control group (d = 1.41). Across the 3-month evaluation period, clinically significant change was exhibited by 50% of ACT participants, compared to 0% in the control group. When the control group received the same ACT intervention, 69% went on to exhibit clinically significant change. The ACT intervention also resulted in significant improvements in psychological flexibility, defusion, and mindfulness skills, but did not significantly reduce the frequency of negative cognitions. Bootstrapped mediation analyses indicated that the reduction in distress in the ACT condition was primarily associated with an increase in mindfulness skills, especially observing and non-reactivity. Conclusions: These findings provide preliminary support for providing brief ACT interventions as part of routine clinical support services for distressed workers. Practitioner points: A 1-day ACT workshop delivered in the context of a routine staff support service was effective for reducing psychological distress among health care workers. The brief nature of this group intervention means it may be particularly suitable for staff support and primary care mental health service settings. The findings indicate that the beneficial effects of an ACT workshop on distressed employees' mental health were linked to improvements in specific mindfulness skills. Study limitations include non-random allocation of participants to the ACT and control groups, and measurement of mediators and outcome at the same time point (3 months post-intervention).
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British Journal of Clinical Psychology (2017)
©2017 The British Psychological Society
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for
clinically distressed health care workers:
Waitlist-controlled evaluation of an ACT
workshop in a routine practice setting
Cerith S. Waters
* , Neil Frude
, Paul E. Flaxman
Jane Boyd
School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Wales, UK
Psychology and Counselling, Whitchurch Hospital, Cardiff University, Wales, UK
Department of Psychology, City University London, UK
Objectives. To examine the effects of a 1-day acceptance and commitment therapy
(ACT) workshop on the mental health of clinically distressed health care employees, and
to explore ACT’s processes of change in a routine practice setting.
Design. A quasi-controlled design, with participants block allocated to an ACT
intervention or waiting list control group based on self-referral date.
Methods. Participants were 35 health care workers who had self-referred for the ACT
workshop via a clinical support service for staff. Measures were completed by ACT and
control group participants at pre-intervention and 3 months post-intervention. Partic-
ipants allocated to the waitlist condition went on to receive the ACT intervention and
were also assessed 3 months later.
Results. At 3 months post-intervention, participants in the ACT group reported a
significantly lower level of psychological distress compared to the control group
(d=1.41). Across the 3-month evaluation period, clinically significant change was
exhibited by 50% of ACT participants, compared to 0% in the control group. When
the control group received the same ACT intervention, 69% went on to exhibit
clinically significant change. The ACT intervention also resulted in significant
improvements in psychological flexibility, defusion, and mindfulness skills, but did
not significantly reduce the frequency of negative cognitions. Bootstrapped mediation
analyses indicated that the reduction in distress in the ACT condition was primarily
associated with an increase in mindfulness skills, especially observing and
Conclusions. These findings provide preliminary support for providing brief ACT
interventions as part of routine clinical support services for distressed workers.
*Corresponding should be addressed to Cerith S. Waters, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Tower Building, Park Place,
Wales CF10 3AT, UK (email:
Practitioner points
A1-day ACT workshop delivered in the context of a routine staff support service was effective for
reducing psychological distress among health care workers.
The brief nature of this group intervention means it may be particularly suitable for staff support and
primary care mental health service settings.
The findings indicate that the beneficial effects of an ACT workshop on distressed employees’ mental
health were linked to improvements in specific mindfulness skills.
Study limitations include non-random allocation of participants to the ACT and control groups, and
measurement of mediators and outcome at the same time point (3 months post-intervention).
There has been widespread concern about the individual, organizational, and societal
impact of common mental health difficulties among working populations (Hardy, Woods,
& Wall, 2003; Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 2016; Kerr, McHugh, & McCrory, 2009;
Kessler, Merikangas, & Wang, 2008). In the United Kingdom alone, it is estimated that
some 25% of the general working population is experiencing a common mental health
problem at any one time, resulting in approximately 10 million lost working days per
annum (Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 2016; Stride, Wall, & Catley, 2007). Across
different occupations, health care (e.g., nursing) staff have been consistently identified as
experiencing above average rates of stress, anxiety, and depression (Clegg, 2001; HSE,
2016). However, a surprisingly small proportion of clinically distressed workers are
thought to gain access to evidence-based psychotherapeutic interventions (Hilton et al.,
2008; Seymour & Grove, 2005).
In response to this challenge, there has been long-standing interest in applying
developments in clinical psychology theory and practice to help improve mental health in
workplace settings (e.g., Bunce, 1997; Meichenbaum, 1985; Murphy, 1996; Richardson &
Rothstein, 2008; van der Klink, Blonk, Schene, & van Dijk, 2001). One intervention model
that has been attracting recent interest from occupational health researchers and
practitioners is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Commonly referred to as a
‘contextual’ or mindfulness-based behaviour therapy, ACT places particular emphasis on
the function (rather than the form or frequency) of psychological events such as
thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behavioural impulses (Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, &
Lillis, 2006). Unlike more traditional CBT approaches, which tend to focus on modifying
psychological events directly (e.g., by challenging the validity of negative automatic
thoughts), ACT seeks to alter the behavioural influence of those events through a
combination of mindfulness and values-based behavioural activation strategies (Hayes,
Villatte, Levin, & Hildebrandt, 2011; Hayes et al., 2006).
The stated aim of ACT is to enhance psychological flexibility, which is technically
defined as the ability to contact the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and
to persist or change behaviour in the service of chosen values (Hayes, Strosahl, Bunting,
Twohig, & Wilson, 2004). In simpler terms, ACT seeks to help people pursue and expand
personally valued patterns of behaviour, even while experiencing difficult or unhelpful
thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges. To enhance psychological flexibility, ACT
interventions target six interrelated therapeutic processes: contact with the present
moment, acceptance, cognitive defusion, self-as-context, values clarification, and
committed action (Hayes et al., 2006).
A large body of research supports the utility of ACT as a treatment for various clinical
presentations (for reviews see A-Tjak et al., 2015; Graham, Gouick, Krahe, & Gillanders,
2016; Hayes et al., 2006;
Ost, 2008, 2014; Powers, V
ording, & Emmelkamp, 2009; Pull,
2008; Ruiz, 2010; Swain, Hancock, Hainsworth, & Bowman, 2013; Veehof, Oskam,
2Cerith S. Waters et al.
Schreurs, & Bohlmeijer, 2011; Vøllestad, Nielsen, & Nielsen, 2012). In the workplace
context, ACT has been translated into brief, skills-based, and group format training
programmes that can be delivered to general working populations (e.g., Brinkborg,
Michanek, Hesser, & Berglund, 2011; Flaxman & Bond, 2006, 2010a; Flaxman, Bond, &
Livheim, 2013). Several previous workplace studies have demonstrated that brief ACT-
based training programmes can elicit significant improvements in employees’ general
mental health and reductions in work-related burnout (e.g., Bond & Bunce, 2000;
Brinkborg et al., 2011; Flaxman & Bond, 2010b; Fr
eli, Djordjevic, Rudman, Livheim, &
Gustavsson, 2015; Lloyd, Bond, & Flaxman, 2013; McConachie, McKenzie, Morris, &
Walley, 2014).
The present study seeks to contribute to this emergent strand of intervention research
and practice in two ways. First, most previous evaluations of ACT-based training in the
workplace have been efficacy studies (i.e., RCTs) that were initiated and orchestrated by
research teams external to the participating organizations. This means that (1) the ACT
interventions being evaluated were typically delivered by external practitioners, who had
been specifically trained to deliver the study’s intervention protocol, and (2) the
workplace ACT interventions that have been evaluated thus far were (as far as we are
aware) not routinely available to the participating organizations’ employees before or
after the research studies were completed. Notwithstanding the strengths and influence
of this type of intervention efficacy research, it is important to gather supplementary
evidence of an intervention’s effectiveness within more routine practice settings (e.g.,
Barkham & Margison, 2007; Barkham & Mellor-Clark, 2000, 2003; Barkham et al., 2008;
Borkovec, Echemendia, Ragusea, & Ruiz, 2001; Cahill, Barkham, & Stiles, 2010; Shadish,
Navarro, Matt, & Phillips, 2000).
Accordingly, the first aim of this study was to adopt a practice-based approach, by
evaluating a full-day ACT workshop being offered as a routine and integral part of an
organization’s clinical support provision for psychologically distressed staff. This practice-
based approach may help to address calls for research that exhibits greatest relevance to
how therapeutic interventions are likely to be delivered in routine practice settings
(Barkham & Margison, 2007). In addition, by evaluating an ACT programme offered by an
established clinical service for staff, we anticipated attracting a sample of employees with
a clinical level of psychological distress, thereby avoiding the ‘dilution’ effect encountered
in previous studies of ACT in the workplace that have attracted heterogeneous groups of
workers (Bond & Bunce, 2000; Flaxman & Bond, 2010b; see also Bunce, 1997; Bunce &
Stephenson, 2000).
The second aim of this study was to assess the specificity of ACT’s putative processes of
change within this clinical practice setting. In particular, we test a central theoretical
assumption of the ACT approach that ACT interventions operate primarily by altering the
function rather than the form or frequency of negative or difficult psychological
content (Hayes et al., 2006). To this end, we explore the degree to which beneficial
effects of an ACT workshop on employees’ mental health are related to: (1) a reduced
influence of difficult psychological content over behaviour (i.e., increased psychological
flexibility); (2) a change in employees’ relationship with their negative or difficult
cognitive and emotional experiences (i.e., reduced cognitive fusion and enhanced
mindfulness skills); or (3) a reduction in the frequency of negative cognitions. Evidence
that an ACT intervention’s beneficial effects are being transmitted through changes in (1)
and/or (2) and not (3) would be congruent with ACT theory (Hayes et al., 2006).
We utilized a quasi-controlled design in which health care employees were
allocated in blocks, according to self-referral date, to a 1-day ACT workshop or to a
ACT for distressed health care workers 3
waiting list control group. We predicted that the ACT workshop would lead to
significant improvements in the mental health of clinically distressed employees over a
3-month evaluation period. We further hypothesized that the anticipated beneficial
effects of ACT on employees’ mental health would be mediated through improvements
in ‘ACT-consistent’ therapeutic processes (i.e., enhanced psychological flexibility,
cognitive defusion, and/or mindfulness skills), and not via a reduction in the frequency
of negative automatic thoughts.
Participants and procedure
Participants were employees of a large health care organization in Wales, UK. An
advertisement for the ACT intervention was posted on an intranet page by the staff
support service and circulated by email. At the point of self-referral, employees were
placed on a waiting list and received a provisional booking for the ACT workshop, along
with an invitation to participate in the research study. The initial pack sent to interested
employees contained information about the intervention (e.g., basic aims, dates, and
venue), and the research study (e.g., how to provide consent), pre-intervention (baseline)
surveys, and a prepaid envelope for returning completed surveys.There were no
inclusion or exclusion criteria for attending the ACT intervention or participating in the
During the period of the study, a total of 50 employees were booked in to attend the
ACT workshop. Of these 50 employees, 35 (70%) consented to participate in the research,
completed pre-intervention measures, and were allocated to the ACT workshop or to a
waiting list control group. There were no significant differences between those who did/
did not consent to participate in level of psychological distress or on any of the collected
demographic variables (i.e., gender, age, job role, job tenure, marital status, or educational
The staff support service’s management committee expressed concern about holding
distressed members of staff on a waiting list for evaluation purposes. In consultation with
this committee, the organization’s research and development (R&D) department, and a
local ethics review panel, it was agreed that allocation to study condition could be
conducted in blocks according to self-referral date. Thus, the first eight employees who
had referred themselves for the intervention were allocated to the next batch of ACT
workshops, the next eight were allocated to the waiting list, and so on, until 17
participants had been allocated to the ACT workshop and 18 to the waiting list control
group (see Figure 1 for participant flow through the study). There were no significant
differences found on any study or demographic variable between the ACT and control
groups (see Table 1 for more detailed sample characteristics). All study procedures were
approved by the local research ethics committee.
To assess the degree of psychological distress in the sample, each participant’s
baseline caseness score was calculated on the general health questionnaire (GHQ-12).
Using the caseness scoring method, a score of 4 or more on the GHQ-12 indicates a
probable case of minor psychiatric disorder (typically anxiety and/ or depression) in a
working population (e.g., Stride et al., 2007; Wall et al., 1997). Of the 15 participants in
the ACT group who went on to receive the intervention, 14 (93%) had a pre-intervention
GHQ-12 caseness score of 4 or above. Similarly, 13 of the 18 (72%) control group
participants had a baseline GHQ-12 score 4. Thus, as anticipated, offering ACT within a
4Cerith S. Waters et al.
clinical service for staff attracted a sample of employees with an above average and
clinically relevant level of psychological distress.
General health questionnaire-12 (GHQ-12; Goldberg & Williams, 1988)
This 12-item scale is one of the most widely used and validated measures of general
psychological distress, defined in terms of cognitions (e.g., worry), emotions (e.g., feeling
constantly under strain), and day-to-day functioning (e.g., feeling able to play a useful part
in things). The Likert scoring method was used for all main analyses (Goldberg et al.,
1997). This method assigns values of 0, 1, 2, and 3 to the GHQ’s four response options.
Higher scores indicate greater psychological distress. The GHQ-12 exhibited high internal
Self-referrals for ACT workshop
during study period (n=50)
Declined to participate (n = 15)
Completer sample (n=14)
ITT sample (n=17)
Lost to follow-up (did not return 3 month
post-intervention measures; n = 3)
Allocated to ACT intervention (n= 17)
Received intervention (n=15)
Did not receive intervention (no reasons
given; n= 2)
Lost to follow-up (did not return 3 month
post-intervention measures; n = 2)
Allocated to waiting list control group (n=18)
Completer sample (n=16)
ITT sample (n=18)
Non-random allocation
Received intervention (n=16)
Did not receive intervention (no reasons
given; n= 2)
Figure 1. Participant flow.
ACT for distressed health care workers 5
consistency in this study: Cronbach alphas (a) were .91 at pre-intervention and a=.92 at
3 months post-intervention.
Acceptance and action questionnaireII (AAQ-II; Bond et al., 2011)
The 7-item AAQ-II is a widely used measure of psychological flexibility in the ACT
literature. The scale captures a person’s (lack of) willingness to experience undesirable
psychological content (e.g., ‘I worry about not being able to control my worries and
feelings’) and the extent to which difficult thoughts and feelings are having an unhelpful
influence over behaviour (e.g., ‘Worries get in the way of my success’). In this study, the
scale was reverse-scored, so that higher scores indicated greater psychological flexibility.
Alpha coefficients were a=.84 at pre-intervention and a=.88 at 3 months
Five facet mindfulness questionnaire (FFMQ; Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, & Toney, 2006)
This 39-item scale measures a combination of five mindfulness skill facets: observing (e.g.,
‘When I’m walking, I deliberately notice the sensations of my body moving’); describing
(labelling with words; e.g., ‘I’m good at finding the words to describe my feelings’); acting
with awareness (e.g., ‘I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the
present’); non-judging of experience (e.g., ‘I make judgments about whether my
thoughts are good or bad’); and non-reactivity to difficult inner experience (e.g., ‘When I
have distressing thoughts or images, I am able just to notice them without reacting’). In the
this study, Cronbach alphas for FFMQ total score were a=.89 at pre-intervention and
a=.94 at 3 months post-intervention. A higher score indicates a greater degree of
Automatic thoughts questionnaire (ATQ;Hollon & Kendall, 1980)
The ATQ is a 30-item scale of negative (depressogenic) cognitive content (e.g., ‘I can’t get
things together’; ‘I’m a failure’). In its original form, the ATQ measures the frequency
(ATQ-F) of such thoughts, with a response scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (all the
time). ACT researchers extended the original scale to create a measure of believability in
negative thought content (ATQ-B; Zettle & Hayes, 1986). The ATQ-B uses the same set of
Table 1. Completer sample baseline (Pre-intervention) characteristics
Age (Myears/SD) 38.2 (10.4) 40.9 (9.0) 39.7 (9.6)
Gender (% female) 80 88 84
Married/Partner (%) 60 75 68
University degree (%) 80 56 68
Nursing (%) 60 63 61
Allied health professional (%) 27 6 16
Non-clinical job role (%) 13 31 23
Role Banding (median/range) 5 (47) 5 (28) 5 (28)
Years worked for org (Myears/SD) 10.6 (10.8) 14.6 (9.1) 12.7 (10.0)
6Cerith S. Waters et al.
30 negative automatic thoughts, but respondents are asked to rate how strongly, if at all,
they believe the listed thoughts, when they occur (with a response scale ranging from 1
not at all to 5 totally). The ATQ-B is used as a proxy measure of cognitive fusion (Hayes
et al., 2006). In the current sample, reliability coefficients for the ATQ-F were a=.95 at
pre-intervention and a=.98 at 3 months post-intervention; ATQ-B a=.94 at
pre-intervention and a=.97 at 3 months post-intervention.
ACT intervention
The 1-day ACT workshop was already being routinely delivered by the organization’s in-
house staff support service on frequent occasions, between 9 am and 5 pm, to groups of
between 8 and 12 participants. All of the workshops evaluated in this study were delivered
by the same in-house counsellor/ ACT therapist, who had extensive experience of
delivering individual and group psychotherapy. The therapist had previously attended
training in an ACT for the workplace by one of the programme’s originators and received
regular clinical supervision throughout the study.
The content of the workshop was based on an ACT for the workplace training
approach described by Flaxman and Bond (2006; see also Flaxman & Bond, 2010a;
Flaxman et al., 2013). The workshop sought to offer participants an integration of
mindfulness and values-based action skills. Participants were introduced to various
techniques that were designed to: (1) raise awareness of psychological barriers (such as
‘unhelpful’ thoughts) to engagement in personally valued action; (2) undermine the use of
internal control efforts as a way of managing unwanted thoughts and emotions; (3) raise
awareness of the distinction between strategies that work inside the skin/ outside the
skin; (4) cultivate defusion through mindfulness practices that involve noticing the
process of thinking; and (5) help participants clarify personal values that could be used as a
meaningful guide to daily action. The trainer made use of two of ACT’s well-known
metaphors passengers on the bus and the polygraph metaphor (Hayes, Strosahl, &
Wilson, 1999) to help convey key messages and summarize the approach. Towards the
end of the workshop, participants were invited to reflect and share within the group how
they might transfer the learning and further cultivate mindfulness and valuing skills, in
their daily lives.
Data analyses
Data were analysed in two stages. First, we examined the effects of the ACT
intervention on employees’ general mental health (i.e., GHQ-12), psychological
flexibility (AAQ-II), mindfulness skills (FFMQ), and on the frequency (ATQ-F) and
believability (ATQ-B) of negative automatic thoughts across the 3-month evaluation
period. These outcome analyses were performed on an intent-to-treat (ITT) basis,
following multiple imputation (MI) of missing data (using SPSS version 22 multiple
imputation procedure). All 35 participants who had been allocated to condition were
included in the ITT analyses. Results were pooled across five imputations for each
variable. Because SPSS reports pooled MI results for linear regression but not ANCOVA,
we present unstandardized regression coefficients for each between-group comparison
at 3 months post-intervention, controlling for the relevant pre-intervention scores.
Second, we computed a series of bootstrapped multiple mediation models using the
PROCESS macro and syntax for SPSS (Hayes, 2013; Preacher & Hayes, 2008). This
bootstrapped analysis was based on 5000 iterations and was utilized to test for indirect
ACT for distressed health care workers 7
effects of the ACT intervention on employees’ mental health via ACT-consistent processes
of change (i.e., psychological flexibility, defusion, and/or mindfulness skills), above and
beyond any change in the frequency of negative automatic thinking.
Participant attrition
As indicated in Figure 1, two participants allocated to the ACT group did not attend the
intervention. One other participant in the ACT group attended the workshop but failed to
return post-intervention measures. In the control group, two participants did not return
post-intervention measures. As a result, the completer sample comprised of 30
ITT outcome analyses
Effect of ACT on employees’ mental health (GHQ-12)
Table 2 displays pooled descriptive statistics for the ITT sample (N=35), along with
between-group effects evident at 3 months post-intervention (after controlling for pre-
intervention scores on the variable of interest). Consistent with our first hypothesis, the
ACT group reported a significantly lower level of psychological distress at 3 months post-
intervention compared to the control group: B =9.39, p<.001, d=1.41.
Table 2. Intention-to-treat (ITT) sample means, standard deviations, and between-group effects at
3 months post-intervention
(n=18) Between-group effects
Psychological distress
Pre-intervention 21.71 5.29 20.28 6.94
Post-intervention 11.29 5.10 19.87 6.92 9.39 1.82 5.16***
Psychological flexibility
Pre-intervention 26.41 6.86 25.67 9.41
Post-intervention 32.58 9.0 25.73 8.99 6.40 2.90 2.20*
Pre-intervention 111.06 21.21 113.72 13.24
Post-intervention 124.70 19.23 111.74 13.45 14.62 4.43 3.30**
Cognitive fusion
Pre-intervention 79.53 24.97 81.28 25.81
Post-intervention 61.18 30.42 79.51 31.78 16.54 7.72 2.14*
Negative cognitions
Pre-intervention 76.35 26.26 79.44 23.69
Post-intervention 68.87 31.42 80.32 32.61 8.81 9.02 .98
Notes.N=35. Means and SDs were pooled across five imputations.
*p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
Pooled (unstandardized) regression coefficients (B) testing differences between the ACT and control
group at 3 months post-intervention, while controlling for pre-intervention scores.
8Cerith S. Waters et al.
Clinical significance
The clinical relevance of this improvement on the GHQ-12 was assessed using Jacobson
et al.’s two criteria for establishing clinically significant change (e.g., Jacobson, Roberts,
Berns, & McGlinchey, 1999; Jacobson & Truax, 1991). At 3 months post-intervention,
50% (7 of 14) of the initially distressed participants who had attended the ACT
intervention met the criteria for reliable and clinically meaningful change and were
therefore defined as ‘recovered’. The remaining 50% of ACT participants were classified as
the ‘same
. In contrast, none of the initially distressed control group participants exhibited
clinically significant improvement across the same 3-month assessment period. One
participant in the control group reported a significant increase on the GHQ-12 across the
study period and was classified as ‘reliably deteriorated’.
The control group participants subsequently received the intervention following
3 months on the waiting list. Three months after receiving the same ACT intervention,
nine of the 13 initially distressed participants (69%) who had been on the waiting list met
the criteria for clinically significant change on the GHQ-12 and were classified as
recovered. The remaining four participants were classified as the same.
Effects of ACT on psychological flexibility (AAQ-II), mindfulness (FFMQ), defusion (ATQ-B), and
frequency of negative automatic thoughts (ATQ-F)
The effects of ACT on the potential process of change variables were assessed in the ITT
sample. As shown in Table 2, at 3 months post-intervention, participants in the ACT
condition had significantly higher levels of psychological flexibility (B =6.40, p=.03),
mindfulness skills (B =14.62, p=.001) and exhibited less fusion with negative
cognitions (B =16.54, p=.04). In contrast, the ACT workshop did not result in a
statistically significant reduction in the frequency of negative automatic thoughts
(B =8.81, ns). The same pattern of results was found in the ITT and the completer data,
suggesting that participant drop-out had little impact on study findings. Table 3 displays
the correlations between the study variables.
Bootstrapped mediation analyses
To test the hypothesis that ACT operates primarily by altering the function of difficult
thoughts and feelings, and not by altering their form or frequency, we constructed three
bootstrapped multiple mediator models. In these models, we tested for indirect effects of
the ACT workshop on employees’ mental health (i.e., pre- to post-change on the GHQ-12)
through each of the ACT-consistent processes, while controlling for any change in the
frequency of negative cognitions (i.e., the ATQ-F).
Table 4 summarizes the results. Only one of the three models showed statistically
significant total and specific indirect effects. There was a specific indirect effect of the ACT
intervention on the GHQ-12 via an increase in employees’ mindfulness skills from pre- to
post-intervention: estimate =2.42, BCa 95% [CI .42, 7.21]. In addition, there was a
significant contrast comparing the relative influence of change in mindfulness skills and
change in the frequency of negative cognitions: estimate =2.54, BCa 95% [CI .17, 9.89].
This latter finding suggests that ACT’s effect on employees’ mental health via an increase
in mindfulness was significantly larger than the effect occurring through a reduction in the
frequency of negative thoughts.
Given that mindfulness was found to be the most influential mediator of GHQ-12
change, we explored whether the ACT workshop was having a particularly strong effect
ACT for distressed health care workers 9
on a subset of the FFMQ’s facets. We found significant group by time interaction effects
only for the FFMQ’s observing and non-reactivity subscales. In addition, at 3 months
post-intervention (while controlling for pre-intervention scores on each facet), the ACT
group had significantly higher scores than the control group on observing (B =3.53,
SE =1.60, t=2.21, p=.04) and non-reactivity (B =3.05, SE =1.01, t=3.01,
Table 3. Bivariate correlations between study variables
Variable 12345678910
1. Distress pre-intervention
2. Distress post .39
3. Flexibility pre-intervention .61 .39
4. Flexibility post-intervention .26 .59 .54
5. Mindfulness pre-intervention .44 .29 .43 .49
6. Mindfulness post-intervention .24 .57 .29 .65 .58
7. Fusion pre-intervention .25 .40 .67 .64 .43 .33
8. Fusion post-intervention .21 .51 .54 .77 .47 .58 .81
9. Cognitions pre-intervention .27 .37 .62 .54 .38 .28 .93 .77
10. Cognitions post-intervention .31 .43 .45 .70 .51 .62 .66 .86 .67
Note. Based on ITT data (N=35). Correlations were pooled across five imputations. Distress =psy-
chological distress (GHQ-12); flexibility =psychological flexibility (AAQ-II); mindfulness (FFMQ total
score); fusion =cognitive fusion (ATQ-B); cognitions =frequency of negative cognitions (ATQ-F).
Coefficients .37 in the ITT data set were statistically significant.
Table 4. Bootstrapped multiple mediator models testing indirect effects of ACT on employees’ mental
health (GHQ-12)
Bootstrap estimate BCa 95% CI
Estimate SE Lower Upper
Model 1
Psychological flexibility (AAQ-II) 3.0 2.19 0.91 6.58
Negative cognitions (ATQ-F) 0.40 0.88 2.95 0.72
Total indirect effect 2.60 1.78 1.56 5.06
Contrast (AAQ-II vs. ATQ-F) 3.39 2.83 1.65 8.64
Model 2
Mindfulness (FFMQ) 2.42 1.55 0.42 7.21
Negative cognitions (ATQ-F) 0.12 0.93 5.57 0.56
Total indirect effect 2.30 1.46 0.02 5.75
Contrast (FFMQ vs. ATQ-F) 2.54 2.10 0.17 9.89
Model 3
Cognitive fusion (ATQ-B) 2.67 3.44 9.86 3.27
Negative cognitions (ATQ-F) 1.77 2.97 1.89 9.15
Total indirect effect 0.90 1.39 3.76 2.02
Contrast (ATQ-B vs. ATQ-F) 4.43 6.28 18.50 4.51
Note. Pre-intervention scores on each variable were entered as covariates in each model. BCa =bias-
corrected and accelerated confidence intervals. Results based on 5,000 bootstrap samples. Rows in bold
indicate significant indirect effects or contrasts.
10 Cerith S. Waters et al.
p=.006). We therefore entered the observing and non-reactivity facets together in a
multiple mediator model alongside the ATQ-F (see Table 5). This model’s total indirect
effect was statistically significant. There were also significant specific indirect effects of
ACT on employees’ mental health via the increase in observing (estimate =1.72, BCa 95%
CI .07, 5.09) and via the increase in non-reactivity (estimate =2.52, BCa 95% CI .12, 6.45).
The specific indirect effect of ACT on the GHQ-12 via change in the frequency of negative
thinking was not significant.
The aims of this study were to: (1) assess the effects a 1-day ACT workshop being delivered
in a routine practice setting for clinically distressed health care employees and (2) explore
the specificity of ACT’s processes of change. Our results indicate that ACT was effective in
improving the general mental health of a sample of self-referred employees across a
3-month evaluation period. Moreover, and despite the brevity of the intervention,
between one-half and two-thirds of initially distressed employees who attended the ACT
workshop exhibited clinically significant improvement on the GHQ-12. This is an
encouraging finding, given the prevalence (and costs) of common mental health
problems, and poor access-to-treatment rates, being found among working populations
(Hardy et al., 2003; Hilton et al., 2008).
Our outcome findings are consistent with previous studies of ACT in workplace
settings, which have also reported moderate to large improvements in mental health
(including on the GHQ-12) following similarly brief ACT-based training programmes (e.g.,
Brinkborg et al., 2011; Flaxman & Bond, 2010b,c). Our findings make a novel
contribution to this strand of research, by showing that similar effects are found when
ACT is delivered within a routine staff support setting, and not just when ACT is being
offered to organizations as part of standalone and externally orchestrated RCTs.
It is worth noting how our practice-based evaluation approach differs from previous
studies of ACT in the workplace. By offering ACT via a clinical support service for staff, we
attracted a sample of employees with a significantly higher average level of psychological
distress than has been observed in previous studies (Bond & Bunce, 2000; Brinkborg
et al., 2011). Flaxman and Bond (2010b) noted that around 50% of employees recruited to
Table 5. Bootstrapped multiple mediator model testing indirect effects of ACT on employees’ mental
health (GHQ-12) via observing and non-reactivity
Bootstrap estimate BCa 95% CI
Estimate SE Lower Upper
Observing 1.72 1.18 0.07 5.09
Non-reactivity 2.52 1.58 0.12 6.45
Negative cognitions (ATQ-F) 0.20 0.95 2.52 1.41
Total indirect effect 4.44 2.0 .66 8.27
Contrast (observe vs. ATQ-F) 1.52 1.60 –.49 6.35
Contrast (non-react vs. ATQ-F) 2.32 1.81 7.75 .10
Note. Pre-intervention scores on each variable were entered as covariates in each model. BCa =bias-
corrected and accelerated confidence intervals. Results based on 5,000 bootstrap samples. Rows in bold
indicate significant indirect effects or contrasts.
ACT for distressed health care workers 11
a similar ACT worksite intervention offered as part of an RCT were presenting with
clinically relevant levels of psychological distress (compared to 90% in the present study).
Thus, we believe that offering this type of ACT programme within a workplace clinical
service is a useful way of attracting those employees who are most in need of
psychotherapeutic assistance.
A second contribution of this study stems from our assessment of various potential
psychological processes of change when a 1-day ACT workshop is offered in a staff
support setting. Consistent with ACT’s underlying theory, we found that the ACT
workshop resulted in significant improvements in psychological flexibility, defusion, and
mindfulness, but had less impact on the frequency with which distressed employees were
experiencing negative automatic thoughts. Moreover, when we allowed each of the ACT-
consistent processes to ‘compete’ with change in the frequency of negative thinking in
multiple mediator models, ACT was found to be improving mental health primarily by
strengthening employees’ mindfulness skills (i.e., via pre- to post-change on the FFMQ).
This finding suggests that ACT, similar to other mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs),
works in part by modifying people’s relationship with negative or difficult psychological
The significant indirect effect through mindfulness also lends some support to those
who argue that the various MBI approaches (such as ACT, MBCT, and MBSR) though
underpinned by different theories and characterized by different techniques are
targeting some fundamentally similar psychological processes (e.g., Baer, 2010; Hayes
et al., 2011). In terms of practicality, it is noteworthy that workplace ACT programmes
are typically briefer than some other workplace MBIs (e.g., the 8-week MBSR programme)
and involve less formal meditation practice. Thus, we tentatively suggest that ACT may
offer an alternative for some distressed employees who may benefit from enhancing their
mindfulness skills but are unlikely (or unable) to engage in more lengthy meditation-based
interventions. One useful avenue for future research in this area would be to directly
compare the effects of brief ACT programmes with more elaborate MBIs in a workplace
Further analyses revealed that two specific mindfulness skills seemed to be operating
as especially influential processes of change in the present study: an increased ability to
notice bodily sensations and sensory input across the five senses (i.e., the FFMQ’s
observing skill facet), and the development of a less reactive stance towards difficult
thoughts and feelings (i.e., the FFMQ’s non-reactivity skill facet). At a theoretical level, it is
not difficult to see the congruence between these two mindful skill facets and the set of
mindfulness/acceptance processes in ACT’s model of psychological flexibility (Hayes
et al., 2004, 2006). Specifically, the capacity to observe one’s direct, present-moment
experience mirrors ACT’s ‘aware’ processes (i.e., present-moment awareness and self-as-
context), while the non-reactivity facet aligns with ACT’s ‘open’ processes (i.e., defusion
and acceptance; Hayes et al., 2011; see also Baer et al., 2006).
From a more practical perspective, the finding that the ACT workshop was influencing
these two mindful skills supports the use of techniques that raise people’s awareness of
present-moment physical sensations (e.g., by learning to shift one’s attention into the
body), as well as the various strategies ACT employs to help people notice that they do not
have to react to, get caught up in, or be overly controlled by unhelpful cognitions, urges,
or emotions, which can instead come to be viewed as a natural part of the human
condition (Flaxman et al., 2013).
When interpreting these findings, it is important to note several limitations in the
design of the current study. Our sample size is relatively small, and our study provides only
12 Cerith S. Waters et al.
a pilot and snapshot evaluation of an ACT programme that was being delivered to larger
numbers of employees within the host organization. Although we were able to make use
of a waiting list comparison group, participants were not randomly allocated to condition.
This may detract from the study’s internal validity. However, we found no significant
differences between the ACT and control groups on any of the study variables. Our
method of recruitment bore a close resemblance to how the staff support service
operated, with employees being allocated to ACT workshops until they were full, and
others placed on a waiting list and given dates for the next round of training in a few
months’ time. Thus, while the non-randomized design may reduce the study’s internal
validity, we believe the study exhibits strong external validity. By nesting the research
within the routine clinical service, we hope to have addressed calls for evaluations of
psychological interventions under usual service conditions (Barkham & Margison, 2007;
Shadish et al., 2000).
The study design is further limited by the lack of an active control condition. As a
result, any non-specific intervention effects were not controlled for. It is possible that
the improvement in mental health in the ACT condition was partly attributable to
feelings of group support, the interpersonal warmth of the therapist, or participants’
own individual characteristics (e.g., motivation to change). In addition, the same
therapist delivered all the ACT workshops being evaluated; thus, we cannot rule out
the possibility that the therapist had particular skills or characteristics that may have
influenced the outcomes.
Because the study focuses on only two assessment occasions, mediator and outcome
variables were measured at the same point in time. A stronger demonstration of mediation
would need to show that hypothesized mediating variables are changing prior to change
in the outcome. Thus, future studies of ACT in the workplace would benefit from having
additional and repeated measurement occasions in the first few weeks following the
workshop (cf. Arch, Wolitsky-Taylor, Eifert, & Craske, 2012; Gloster et al., 2017; Hayes,
Orsillo, & Roemer, 2010).
Another limitation is that we focused primarily on ACT’s mindfulness and acceptance
processes and not on the values and committed action elements of the ACT model.
Although we included a general measure of psychological flexibility, we did not examine
whether the ACT workshop resulted in an increase in employees’ capacity to engage in
values-based behaviour. Recent research has demonstrated that values-based action can
function as an influential process of change during longer ACT treatments (Gloster et al.,
2017). Hence, future studies of ACT in the workplace may benefit from including
measures of values-based behavioural activation. Finally, we used a ‘proxy’ measure to
capture cognitive defusion (operationalized as degree of belief in negative thought
content). Although other ACT researchers have used the ATQ-B for the same purpose (see
Hayes et al., 2006 for a review), it would be useful to assess the impact of this type of ACT-
based training on more recently developed measures of defusion (e.g., Gillanders et al.,
Despite these methodological limitations, the present study provides some prelim-
inary practice-based evidence that a brief ACT intervention can be effective in improving
the mental health of distressed health care employees. It is encouraging that, when
evaluated within a more routine clinical (staff support) service, ACT’s beneficial influence
on employees’ mental health was found to be equivalent to that reported in previous
worksite RCTs. In addition, we found some support for the notion that ACT’s effects on
mental health are transmitted (at least in part) via mindfulness and acceptance processes,
and not via change in the form or frequency of negative cognitions. We hope that these
ACT for distressed health care workers 13
promising findings encourage other researchers to conduct evaluations of ACT-based
interventions as they are being delivered in real-world practice settings.
We extend our thanks to the staff at the Employee Wellbeing Service for supporting this
research study and our gratitude to the participants who so generously gave up their time
during a stressful period in their lives.
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ACT for distressed health care workers 17
... In order to target the private events as well as the covert and overt behaviors associated with burnout and stress, one behavior analytic approach to addressing staff burnout in the workplace may be to use Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT; Brinkborg et al., 2011;Moran, 2015;Pingo et al., 2020;Waters et al., 2018). ACT is a model of clinical behavior analysis and therapy, which addresses the relation between private events and socially significant observable behaviors. ...
... Together, these processes aim to reduce escape-maintained behaviors in favor of values-based action. Waters et al. (2018) described this more simply as using ACT to guide people to engage in reinforcing patterns of behavior while recognizing and accepting unpleasant private events. ACT is best applied and taught using experiential exercises as opposed to didactic learning. ...
... While they did not measure observable behaviors as part of their dependent variable, they reported a reduction in the participants' self-reported levels of burnout and stress. Similarly, Waters et al. (2018) conducted a between groups comparison of the use of ACT with clinically distressed health care workers. Their results suggested that an ACT intervention may be effective in supporting distressed health care employees. ...
Behavioral technicians (BT) within the field of applied behavior analysis may be at greater risk for experiencing burnout and stress due to the nature of their clients, job demands, and work environments. Burnout and stress may negatively impact BT’s work performances, more specifically, their treatment integrity. Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) may be a useful tool to address the private events as well as the covert and overt behaviors associated with burnout and stress. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of an ACT intervention on improving treatment integrity and reducing work-related burnout and stress amongst BTs. Four BTs participated in an ACT workshop, and their treatment integrity as well as their burnout and stress levels were measured prior to and following the ACT workshop. Treatment integrity increased for all participants, suggesting that ACT-based interventions may be an effective approach to improving work performance (i.e., treatment integrity) amongst BTs who may experience workplace burnout and stress.
... 직장 스트레스 등에서 수용전념치료를 도입한 연구가 수행되 었다.[9][10][11]13) 물질사용장애와 만성 통증의 경우 소수의 연구를 대상으로 하였다는 제한점은 존재하나, 메타분석을 통하여 수 용전념치료가 각 환자군에서 대조군에 비해 더 나은 효과가 확인되어 추가 연구를 통해 적용 가능성을 검토할 필요가 있 을 것으로 여겨진다. 9,10) 또한 외상후스트레스장애와 알코올사 용장애 (alcohol use disorder) 공존질환군에서 수용전념치료를 적용하였을 때 두 증상 모두에서 호전이 확인되어, 기존 치료 로 접근하기 어려웠던 질환에도 수용전념치료가 대안으로 시 도될 수 있을 것으로 전망된다. ...
... The efficacy of mindfulness as it relates to psychological flexibility can loosen relational frames by promoting mindful attitudes (Ramaci et al., 2019) to increase the initiatives attached to prosocial values (Bond & Bunce, 2000) and reduce staff burnout (Lloyd et al., 2013;Waters et al., 2018). Other meaningful research has included intuitive eating (e.g., Sairanen et al., 2015), and other weight management investigations (Forman et al., 2009;Forman et al., 2013;Gregg et al., 2007;Lillis et al., 2009;Tapper et al., 2009) suggesting a connection between mindfulness practices and increase psychological flexibility with one's own stigmatizing thoughts towards the self and others. ...
Full-text available
The present investigation explored the effects of Lovingkindness mediation on psychological flexibility and participants’ perceptions of people with disabilities (PWDs). Participants were categorized into one of three groups: people with disability, people with direct contact with people with disability, or people with no direct contact with people with disability. Participants viewed video stimuli (i.e., a video about disability stigma, a video about self-management, or a video about brief lovingkindness meditation practice), then they viewed case vignettes, self- report assessments, and recorded their free-write responses. Self-report scores on the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire-2 (AAQ-2), and the Toronto Mindfulness Scale (TMS) were measured. Data were examined using quantitative and qualitative analyses. Quantitative data were examined using a group design that compared self-reports (i.e., AAQ-2 & TMS) in pretest, posttest, and generalization experimental phases. An embedded single-subject multiple baseline design that identified emerging higher-order free-write themes across a smaller sample of pulled- out participants was also conducted. Quantitative data were examined using one-way analysis of variance (ANOVAs) and paired t-tests. Statistically significant differences were found across the treatment conditions. Qualitative analyses were examined using a six-step coding sequence using NVivo software. The single-subject data showed increases and decreases in self-report scores across participants. Future research should continue to explore the role of mindfulness as it relates to disability stigma.
... ACT makes use of metaphors and exercises to help clients decrease their use of psychologically inflexible responses and instead promoting their increased use of psychologically flexible responses when confronted with difficult thoughts, feelings, and experiences (Hayes et al., 2011). Consistent with that approach, studies of ACT treatment mechanisms (e.g., Fledderus et al., 2013;Forman et al., 2007;Waters et al., 2018) and experiments manipulating individual flexibility processes (see Levin et al., 2012 for a review) have highlighted the different components of psychological flexibility as essential skills toward developing and supporting well-being (for a review, see Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010). Extending those findings, a recent meta-analysis of 174 studies highlighted that higher levels of various forms of parental flexibility were linked to: higher family cohesion, lower family conflict, greater romantic relationship satisfaction, more cooperative co-parenting relationships, lower parental stress, more frequent use of authoritative parenting strategies, lower use of permissive and harsh parenting strategies, and lower child internalizing and externalizing symptoms . ...
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Background Health risks associated with contracting COVID-19, stay-at-home orders, and pandemic-related economic and social hardships created unique challenges for individuals throughout the pandemic, and in particular for families whose daily routines were disrupted at the start of the pandemic. This study applied a contextual behavioral science lens to Family Systems Theory to examine the impact of COVID-19 stressors on family and individual functioning. Methods A sample of 742 coparents (86% married/engaged; 84% Caucasian; 71% female; M = 40.7 years old, SD = 8.1; Mincome = $82,435, SDincome = $27,604) of school-aged children (5–18 years old) completed a baseline survey from late March to late April 2020. Of the initial sample, 556 coparents completed weekly diaries for 8 weeks. Results Mediation models were tested within a multilevel path modeling framework to evaluate both the stable, between-family differences (i.e., at level 2) and the within-family changes from week to week (i.e., at level 1). Across both levels of the model, parent psychological inflexibility was robustly linked to poorer functioning across all levels of the family system, showing direct links to a majority of the processes assessed. The results further supported a top-down spillover cascade in which parent inflexibility was proximally linked to greater COVID-19 related stress and parent depressive symptoms, which were proximally linked to poorer romantic functioning (greater negative conflict, lower satisfaction), which were proximally linked to poorer family functioning (greater coparent discord and family chaos), which were proximally linked to poorer parenting (greater angry/reactive parenting), which was proximally linked to greater child distress. Multi-group models suggested that the results were largely stable across (1) parent race (white vs non-white), (2) family size (1 child vs 2 or more), (3) child age (less than 10 years old vs 10 or older), (4) parent age (under 40 vs. 40 or older), (5) perceived COVID-19 risk, (6) parent gender (mothers vs fathers), (7) household income groups (less than $100k vs $100k or more), and (8) perceived economic stress/uncertainty (low vs high). However, a handful of moderated effects emerged from those multi-group models suggesting that fathers might be slightly more prone to negative spillover effects across the family systems and that wealthier families might have experienced the stress of new demands (e.g., homeschooling, remote working) as more disruptive. Conclusions Results highlight the crucial role parental psychological flexibility and inflexibility play in families managing the stress of COVID-19, as well as key mechanisms for how those stressors may either reverberate or become dampened throughout the family system.
Background Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a promising intervention for improving mental health. However, there is limited evidence on its effectiveness for nurses, particularly in web- and mobile-based intervention forms, in mitigating anxiety and depression symptoms. Objective In this study, we aimed to examine the effect and underlying psychological mechanisms of a web- and mobile-based ACT intervention on nurses’ anxiety and depression symptoms. Methods In this fully decentralized randomized controlled trial, nurses were recruited nationwide across China through advertisements and posters. They were randomly assigned to either the 5-week fully automated intervention or the waiting group. Primary outcomes (anxiety and depression symptoms); secondary outcomes (sleep quality, burnout, and work performance); and mediators (psychological flexibility, cognitive defusion, mindfulness, and values) were assessed using the Wenjuanxing platform. Data collectors were blinded to the group assignments throughout the study period. Results A total of 145 nurses with anxiety or depression symptoms were randomly assigned to either the intervention group (n=72, 49.7%) or the control group (n=73, 50.3%); 97.2% (n=141) were female. During the study, 36 (24.8%) nurses were lost to follow-up, and 53 (73.6%) completed the entire intervention. Nurses in the intervention group showed significant improvement in anxiety (d=0.67, 95% CI 0.33-1.00) and depression symptoms (d=0.58, 95% CI 0.25-0.91), and the effects were sustained for 3 months after the intervention (anxiety: d=0.55, 95% CI 0.22-0.89; depression: d=0.66, 95% CI 0.33-1.00). Changes in psychological flexibility, cognitive defusion, and values mediated the effect of the intervention on anxiety and depression symptoms, while mindfulness did not have a mediating effect. Conclusions The web- and mobile-based ACT intervention used in this study significantly improved nurses’ anxiety and depression symptoms by improving psychological flexibility, cognitive defusion, and values. The results provide new ideas for hospital administrators to prevent and intervene in nurses’ psychological issues. Trial Registration Chinese Clinical Trial Register ChiCTR2200059218;
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Many terminally ill cancer patients grapple with a range of physical, psychological, and social challenges. Therefore, it is critical to offer effective psychological interventions to assist them in managing these issues and enhancing their quality of life. This brief communication provides a concise overview of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), along with empirical evidence of its application for patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals in hospice and palliative care settings and an overview of future directions of ACT interventions in South Korea. ACT, a third-wave type of cognitive behavioral therapy, is a model of psychological flexibility that promotes personal growth and empowerment across all life areas. Currently, there is substantial evidence from overseas supporting the effectiveness of ACT on health-related outcomes among patients with various diseases, caregivers, and healthcare professionals. The necessity and significance of conducting ACT-based empirical research in hospice and palliative care settings in South Korea are discussed.
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Background: Palliative care staff commonly experience workplace stress and distress. General stressors include unmanageable workloads and staff shortages. Stressors specific to palliative care include regular exposure to death, loss and grief. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated exhaustion and burnout across the healthcare system, including for those providing palliative care. Evidence based psychological support interventions, tailored to the needs and context of palliative care staff, are needed. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an established form of cognitive behavioural therapy which uses behavioural psychology, values, acceptance, and mindfulness techniques to improve mental health and wellbeing. ACT is effective in improving workplace wellbeing in many occupational settings. Our study examines the acceptability and feasibility of an online ACT-based intervention to improve mental health and wellbeing in staff caring for people with an advanced progressive illness. Methods: A single-arm feasibility trial. We will seek to recruit 30 participants to take part in an 8- week online ACT-based intervention, consisting of three synchronous facilitated group sessions and five asynchronous self-directed learning modules. We will use convergent mixed methods to evaluate the feasibility of the intervention. Quantitative feasibility outcomes will include participant recruitment and retention rates, alongside completion rates of measures assessing stress, quality of life, wellbeing, and psychological flexibility. Focus groups and interviews will explore participant perspectives on the intervention. We will run a stakeholder workshop to further refine the intervention and identify outcomes for use in a future evaluation. Results: We will describe participant perspectives on intervention acceptability, format, content, and perceived impact, alongside rates of intervention recruitment, retention, and outcome measure completion. Conclusion: We will show whether a brief, online ACT intervention is acceptable to, and feasible for palliative care staff. Findings will be used to further refine the intervention and provide essential information on outcome assessment prior to a full-scale evaluation.
Nurses are considered to have one of the most demanding professions and are at risk of developing stress-related outcomes. As a result, many stress management interventions (SMIs) have been published in the literature, but there is a lack of a systematic quantitative approach to assess their effectiveness. The present study uses meta-analytic techniques to evaluate their overall effectiveness and potential moderators related to greater intervention success. Databases were searched for articles published between 2007 and 2020, measuring stress-related outcomes before and after the SMI and including a control group. Based on 85 publications (83 SMIs), a combined medium effect (Hedges’ g = 0.42) was found. Person-directed interventions yielded larger effects than organization-directed or multilevel interventions, but this could only be concluded regarding their short-term effectiveness. For person-directed interventions, higher exposure and a homogeneous sample of nurses were related to greater effectiveness, whereas the type (cognitive behavioral, relaxation, work skills, or a mix), the length of the intervention, target group (primary or secondary), and type of control group used were not. In addition, person-directed interventions were more effective on current stress levels (e.g., work-related stress) than on outcomes indicating strain (e.g., burnout). As all organization-directed interventions used a participatory approach, this process variable could not be examined as potential moderator. To conclude, SMIs can effectively prevent and reduce stress-related outcomes in nurses. To further evaluate factors contributing to their effectiveness, more detailed reporting in publications is necessary. Furthermore, especially for person-directed interventions, long-term measurements are needed to determine the longevity of their effects.
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Background The mental health of doctors is an ongoing concern, both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study aimed to: i) assess the prevalence of symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and burnout in UK doctors and final year medical students during the pandemic, and ii) analyse the hypothesised relationships between psychological flexibility, intolerance of uncertainty and resilience with these mental health outcomes. Methods A cross-sectional online study of UK-based doctors and final year medical students was conducted between 27/09/2020 and 31/01/2021. Outcomes were measured using the PHQ9, GAD7, PCL-5, and aMBI. Independent variables included the CompACT-SF, IUS-12, and CD-RISC-10. Descriptive statistics, between-group analyses, and multiple regression were performed. Results Prevalence of anxiety symptoms was 26.3%, depression 21.9%, PTSD 11.8%, and burnout 10.8%. Psychological flexibility negatively predicted all outcomes, apart from low personal achievement. Intolerance of uncertainty positively predicted anxiety and PTSD scores. Resilience negatively predicted scores on burnout subscales. Limitations Cross-sectional design and non-probability sampling method means that assumptions about causality cannot be made and may have implications for bias and generalisability of results. Conclusion Doctors and medical students in the UK reported high levels of mental health symptoms during the pandemic, between September 2020 and January 2021. All three independent variables explained significant variance in mental health outcomes. Psychological flexibility was the most consistent predictor, over and above sociodemographic variables and other psychological predictors. These findings have implications for interventions to improve retention of our essential medical workforce, and for providing support at future times of national crisis.
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This article summarizes and scrutinizes the growth of the development of clinically relevant and psychometrically sound approaches for determining the clinical significance of treatment effects in mental health research by tracing its evolution, by examining modifications in the method, and by discussing representative applications. Future directions for this methodology are proposed.
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Levels of stress and burnout increase during nursing education. This development has consequences for nursing students' health, learning, competence, and interest in quality issues in health care. In a randomized controlled pilot trial with a sample of 113 nursing students the effect of an intervention using techniques from Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) to prevent the development of stress and burnout was evaluated. The 6 × 2-hour program was compared to standard treatment (reflection seminars) post-intervention and at a 3-month follow-up using longitudinal analysis of mean response profiles. Mechanisms of change were investigated using a baseline-post intervention two-mediator model. The intervention resulted in increased mindful awareness and decreased experiential avoidance, as well as decreased perceived stress and burnout. Levels of mindful awareness and perceived stress were sustained at follow-up. The proposed mechanisms of change were partly supported by the data. This study shows that techniques from ACT might have the potential to contribute to preventing the development of stress and burnout during nursing education. However, additional studies are needed to validate these results.
Background: Psychological flexibility theory (PFT) suggests three key processes of change: increases in value-directed behaviors, reduction in struggle with symptoms, and reduction in suffering. We hypothesized that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) would change these processes and that increases in valued action and decreases in struggle would precede change in suffering. Method: Data were derived from a randomized clinical trial testing ACT (vs. waitlist) for treatment-resistant patients with primary panic disorder with/without agoraphobia (n = 41). Valued behavior, struggle, and suffering were assessed at each of eight sessions. Results: Valued actions, struggle, and suffering all changed over the course of therapy. Overall changes in struggle and suffering were interdependent whereas changes in valued behavior were largely independent. Levels of valued behaviors influenced subsequent suffering, but the other two variables did not influence subsequent levels of valued action. Discussion: This finding supports a central tenet of PFT that increased (re-)engagement in valued behaviors precedes reductions in suffering. Possible implications for a better understanding of response and non-response to psychotherapy are discussed.
Many have proposed that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) may be particularly effective for improving outcomes in chronic disease/long-term conditions, and ACT techniques are now being used clinically. However, reviews of ACT in this context are lacking, and the state of evidence is unclear. This systematic review aimed to: collate all ACT interventions with chronic disease/long-term conditions, evaluate their quality, and comment on efficacy. Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE and Psych Info were searched. Studies with solely mental health or chronic pain populations were excluded. Study quality was then rated, with a proportion re-rated by a second researcher. Eighteen studies were included: eight were randomised controlled trials (RCTs), four used pre-post designs, and six were case studies. A broad range of applications was observed (e.g. improving quality of life and symptom control, reducing distress) across many diseases/conditions (e.g. HIV, cancer, epilepsy). However, study quality was generally low, and many interventions were of low intensity. The small number of RCTs per application and lower study quality emphasise that ACT is not yet a well-established intervention for chronic disease/long-term conditions. However, there was some promising data supporting certain applications: parenting of children with long-term conditions, seizure-control in epilepsy, psychological flexibility, and possibly disease self-management.
Stress inoculation training originally referred to a relatively specific set of operations (Meichenbaum & Cameron, 1972). In order to evaluate the efficacy of a skills training approach to anxiety management, a study was conducted using phobia as a target problem. Treatment involved three phases. It began with an educational phase that clarified the cognitive, affective, and physiological concomitants of the client’s avoidant behavior. The Schachter (1966) model of emotion was presented to the client, who was encouraged to view anxiety as a reaction involving negative self-statements and images and physiological arousal. It was suggested that acquisition of two skills, namely, coping self-statements and self-directed relaxation, would help ameliorate the problem. This initial phase was followed by a skills training phase: specific types of coping self-statements and relaxation skills were learned and rehearsed. Finally, during an application phase, the client actually tested out the skills in a stressful laboratory situation (unpredictable electric shock was administered). This treatment was found to be more effective than imaginal systematic desensitization, then the standard treatment for phobia.
This chapter describes the application of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and the mindfulness skills in work-related stress. The chapter focuses on an individual-oriented worksite intervention-that is, ACT, and does not underestimate the importance of organization focused approach to work stress. ACT protocol can also be used in training programs for other populations that have to cope with demanding situations such as test-anxious students, caregivers, etc. The content of the protocol includes many techniques that are core components of most ACT interventions. ACT encourages the healthy acceptance of undesirable internal states that may stem from unalterable work demands, such as difficult customers, and that might otherwise interfere with effective work-related behaviors. The values component of ACT can readily be used to help individuals to identify work-related goals and actions that enhance their work motivation and performance.