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Understanding Depression: Acceptance & Commitment Therapy

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WebMD describes depression as "a serious illness - just like diabetes or heart disease. Expecting positive thinking to cure depression is like expecting a person with diabetes to lower his blood sugar level by thinking happy thoughts. Most people need treatment to beat depression." On Sounds Good, we continue our conversation about depression with Murray State University assistant professor of psychology, Dr. Michael Bordieri, with an exploration of acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT.

In the previous conversation, Dr. Bordieri explained treating depression through mindfulness, the area he personally specializes in. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is an extension of mindfulness. To date, there have been over 100 clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of ACT interventions across a broad variety of psychological disorders, from depression, anxiety, substance abuse, problems in living like diabetes management and others. He says there are many more tests to run in this area of study, but that so far the method shown effectiveness.

ACT is a behavior intervention designed to get people up and moving by helping clients identify things that are important in their lives and to get moving in that area. The three components are:

  • Showing Up - Noticing experiences, cultivating a greater awareness and appreciating what's happening in the 'here and now'
  • Opening Up - Where the "Acceptance" part of ACT comes in. Accepting that one doesn't have to struggle with their thoughts and that it's okay to have them. This step is achieved through practice. Dr. Bordieri uses the example of a "monster in the house." When it shows up, what do you do with it? He says when you can "invite the monster in for tea" you can free up space to move in life
  • Getting Moving - Getting out and doing things in one's life that matters. After acceptance, this is reclaiming one's ability to build the life one wants, by moving in the desired direction, accomplishing goals, cultivating quality relationships

Dr. Bordieri says research may never find a brain "switch" for ACT, but are moving in the direction of being able to demonstrate that practicing mindfulness changes fundamentally who we are. He says, "There's some suggestion, for example with interventions like mindfulness where practicing mindfulness changes the resting brain alpha waves, resting brain waves. Changes them in a way that suggests a reduced risk for depression and future psychological difficulties." He adds that training in mindfulness may also change immune responses, providing greater antibodies than those who don't have the training, like getting a flu shot that injects antibodies which can stave off infection.
This is the fifth in a series of conversations about depression with Dr. Michael Bordieri, assistant professor of psychology at Murray State. Dr. Bordieri's contributions to this series are strictly informational, and should not be construed as any form of psychotherapy, counseling, diagnosis or treatment. Any health condition, including depression, should be evaluated and treated by a qualified professional in the context of an established professional relationship.

On Tuesday, November 18, listen for a discussion about the biology of depression.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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