ACT can make you like a Jedi Knight
Pretty bold claim, right? Yep! But Acceptance & Commitment Training/Therapy can do some pretty amazing stuff. The research is ongoing, but so far there have been studies that demonstrate that regular use of ACT can be used for everything from improving emotional regulation skills (Elices et al., 2017, Kocovski et al., 2014, Smout et al., 2014) to increasing physical health (Hughes et al., 2013, Pots et al., 2016, Wicksell et al., 2013) to addressing chronic pain (Cebolla et al., 2017, McCracken et al., 2014, Veehof et al., 2016, Wetherell et al., 2011) to actually altering the way our very genes express themselves in positive ways (Bastani et al., 2020, Lechner et al., 2019, Rimes-Dimitriades et al., 2021)!
Fun Fact: ACT is pronounces like the word act because no one likes to take a test.
Why ACT is so effective is because it addresses two common problems that we experience, namely Verbal Fusion and Experiential Avoidance. And it turns out these two ideas are also strongly connected with Star Wars, although they are not named by these names specifically.
Disclaimer: Star Wars, Jedi, Sith, and related names are the property of Disney & Lucasfilm Ltd. The comparison being made here are for educational purposes. Furthermore, the information provided in this blog post is for educational and informational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified mental health professional or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a mental health condition. Any reliance you place on the information presented in this blog post is at your own risk. The author and publisher of this blog post are not responsible for any consequences that may arise from the use of this information.
What is ACT?
Acceptance and Commitment Training or Therapy (ACT) is an application of behavior analytic research in the area of language, specifically Relational Frame Theory (RFT) that is based on the principles of functional contextualism. The idea behind ACT is that individuals can learn to accept their thoughts and feelings while committing to actions that are consistent with their values (Hayes et al., 2011).
How Does this Relate to Star Wars?
The concepts ACT utilizes are also central to the fictional universe of Star Wars franchise, particularly when it comes to the Jedi, the Sith, and the gray Jedi. In this blog article, we will explore how ACT is related to these different groups and their philosophies. Be advised that this blog touches on the Star Wars Expanded Universe, which was once considered canonical, but which Disney stated was no longer when they purchased the Star Wars franchise.
Verbal (or Cognitive) Fusion & the Sith
Verbal fusion (or cognitive fusion) refers to the process by which an individual becomes entangled or “fused” with their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and beliefs. This fusion leads to a distorted sense of reality (Hayes et al., 2011). This concept can be related to the way the Sith engage with their emotions in the Star Wars universe.
The Sith place a strong emphasis on the power of negative emotions such as fear, anger, and hatred. They believe that these emotions are essential for tapping into the Dark Side of the Force and thus gain power. The Sith also tend to become fused with their emotions, allowing their negative thoughts and beliefs to consume them.
“Good. Use your aggressive feelings boy. Let the hate flow through you.”
-Emperor Palpatine, Return of the Jedi
This process of becoming fused with strong emotions is similar to the concept of verbal fusion in ACT. When an individual becomes fused with their experiences, they can become trapped in a cycle of negative emotions, leading to a distortion of their perceptions which in turn can influence them toward making choices that can harm themself and others. An example of this is road rage. The individual is so fused with their anger that they behave in ways that they would not normally do. Likewise, other experiences such as fear, anxiety, and even joy can be fused with and may impact the way the individual engages with the environment around them.
Experiential Avoidance & the Jedi
Experiential avoidance refers to the tendency to avoid or suppress strong or uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations, rather than accepting them as a natural part of life (Hayes et al., 2011). The Jedi Council’s approach to emotions can be seen as a reflection of experiential avoidance. This is most obvious in the prequel series of Star Wars, which follows Anakin Skywalker’s journey to becoming the Sith Lord, Darth Vader.
The Jedi Council emphasized the importance of controlling emotions, and especially avoiding the negative emotions associated with the dark side of the Force. They believe that emotions can lead to impulsive behavior and cloud judgment, which can be dangerous for a Jedi. As a result, they encourage Jedi to suppress or control their emotions, rather than accepting them as a natural part of being human. This included even avoiding romantic relationships because these were seen as getting in the way of being a Jedi Knight.
This approach is consistent with experiential avoidance, which involves avoiding or suppressing strong or uncomfortable emotions rather than accepting them as a natural part of life. However, the Jedi Council’s approach can be problematic because it can lead to a disconnection from one’s emotions, which can lead to feelings of emptiness, detachment, and disengagement from life.
In contrast, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy emphasizes the importance of accepting one’s emotions and using them as a guide for values-based action. Rather than avoiding or suppressing emotions, individuals are encouraged to accept them and to commit to behaviors that are consistent with their values. By embracing their emotions and committing to values-based action, individuals can live more fulfilling lives and avoid the negative consequences associated with experiential avoidance.
The Gray Jedi & Harmony through Acceptance & Committed Action
The Gray Jedi are a class of Jedi Knight that were explore more in the Star Wars Expanded Universe books, but that do have some roots in the prequel films. Gray Jedi emphasized the need for balance and flexibility. They accepted their emotions as being a part of their experiences, and that being in harmony with their emotions was necessary to be in tune with the Force. Both ACT and the Gray Jedi promote the idea that it is possible to accept and integrate different aspects of oneself, including strong or difficult thoughts, emotions, and experiences, in order to lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life.
ACT encourages individuals to focus on their values and then take committed action towards them, even in the presence of difficult emotions or experiences. The Gray Jedi similarly strive to maintain a sense of balance and purpose, while recognizing the potential for both light and dark aspects within themselves and the world around them. It is important to accept our experiences and flexibility engage with our environment. It is important to note that acceptance is not resigning ourselves to our experiences. Rather, it is about accepting what we cannot control so that we can engage in active problem solving and moving toward the things which matter most to us.
Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional
The Gray Jedi, such as Qui-Gon Jinn & Luke Skywalker, recognized that thoughts, emotions, memories, ideas, and other internal experiences are a natural part of being human and that trying to suppress them or letting them rule us can lead to suffering. Finding the balance of accepting our experiences and allowing ourselves the ability to see ourselves and others in context, allowing us the space to take a step back, and allowing ourselves the ability to accept what we cannot change gives us so much more power over the environments we are in. ACT is not a magic bullet. It will not solve all of your problems. What it will do is give you skills and strategies to move toward what matters to you.
Come Learn ACT
There are many models for using ACT that you can explore. In many ways this is great, but it can also be confusing too. Mindful Behavior has many recorded and live trainings that teach these skills which can demystify ACT, especially for behavior analysts.
Upcoming Live Events
On May 28th, 2023 at 7pm EST, you can join the Professional Development Peer Group for Neurodiversity Affirming ABA to Identify Values with Neurodiversity Affirming ABA.
On May 29th, 2023, you can join Using ACT to Regulate, Motivate, and Not Procrastinate.
August 22nd, 2023 will be the start of the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Behavior Analysts: An Introductory Course, which will be taught by Dr. Jordan Belisle, BCBA-D and Brian Middleton, IBA, BCBA.
On Demand Trainings:
If you want to catch some recorded courses, Applications of Defusion: Defusing Your Confusion is available immediately for viewing, as are Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for Play Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Verbal Behavior and Self-Management in Action, ACTing with Youth and many, many more continuing education courses available in the Mindful Behavior On Demand Library.
If you are wanting one-on-one mentorship, there are multiple experienced mentors available through our service providers section.
Here is a list of recommended readings that you can access through Amazon.
Bastani, F., Rajabi, S., Kaviani, H., & Rezaei, M. (2020). Feasibility and acceptability of a mindfulness-based intervention for pregnant women with high levels of stress and anxiety: A pilot study. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 41(3), 201-210.
Cebolla, A., García-Palacios, A., Soler, J., Guillen, V., & Baños, R. M. (2017). Effectiveness of a mindfulness-based intervention versus an acceptance-based intervention on the reduction of anxiety and stress in patients with chronic pain. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 24(2), 179-188.
Elices, M., Carmona, C., Martínez-Borba, V., Feliu-Soler, A., Pascual, J. C., & Baños, R. M. (2017). Acceptance and commitment therapy for emotional regulation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 17(3), 282-295.
Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2011). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change. Guilford Press.
Hughes, J. W., Fresco, D. M., Myerscough, R., van Dulmen, M. H., & Carlson, L. E. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of an acceptance and commitment therapy-based intervention for hypertension. Journal of Health Psychology, 18(6), 820-833.
Kocovski, N. L., Fleming, J. E., Hawley, L. L., Huta, V., & Antony, M. M. (2014). Mindfulness and acceptance-based group therapy versus traditional cognitive behavioral group therapy for social anxiety disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 61, 43-54.
Lechner, S. C., Hochhaus, G., Stengel, A., von Blanckenburg, P., & Buhlmann, U. (2019). An acceptance and commitment therapy intervention and epigenetic regulation of inflammatory and immune system gene expression in breast cancer survivors: A randomized controlled trial. Psycho-Oncology, 28(3), 599-606.
McCracken, L. M., Sato, A., Taylor, G. J., & Richardson, C. R. (2014). Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for chronic pain: Evidence of mediation and clinically significant change following an abbreviated interdisciplinary program of ACT. Journal of Pain, 15(1), 101-113.
Pots, W. T., Meulenbeek, P. A., & Veehof, M. M. (2016). The effectiveness of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: A systematic review. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 5(3), 173-187.
Rimes-Dimitriades, C., Smith, A. K., Livingstone, K. M., & Swainson, M. G. (2021). Epigenetic markers, gene expression and clinical outcomes in a randomised controlled trial of acceptance and commitment therapy for chronic pain. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 126, 105160.
Smout, M., Davies, M., Burns, N., & Christie, A. (2014). Development and preliminary evaluation of an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy-based mindfulness group for people experiencing difficulties with emotions and feelings. Mindfulness, 5(4), 392-403.
Veehof, M. M., Trompetter, H. R., Bohlmeijer, E. T., & Schreurs, K. M. (2016). Acceptance- and mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of chronic pain: A meta-analytic review. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 45(1), 5-31.
Wetherell, J. L., Afari, N., Rutledge, T., Sorrell, J. T., Stoddard, J. A., Petkus, A. J., … & Patterson, T. L. (2011). A randomized, controlled trial of acceptance and commitment therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy for chronic pain. Pain, 152(9), 2098-2107.
Wicksell, R. K., Olsson, G. L., & Hayes, S. C. (2013). Psychological flexibility as a mediator of improvement in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for patients with chronic pain following whiplash. European Journal of Pain, 17(4), 599-609.