What happens in the first session?

The first session involves discussion about what issues have brought you, or your child/adolescent to seek assistance from Tamar. This also includes discussion about your, or your child’s/adolescent’s coping strategies, and whether you (or your child, if they are the one seeing Tamar) have sought assistance from any other health professionals for this issue. We will talk about what strategies have been tried, and what has been helpful, and what hasn’t. We will talk about the impact the issue is having on your life (or on your child’s life if they are the client), and what the issue is stopping you from doing or achieving. We will set goals for what your are wanting to achieve, and Tamar will start to formulate a plan for how she will assist you (or your child) to achieve those goals.

If you or your child have had a previous psychological assessment and you have a report, please either email it to Tamar before the first session, or bring a copy with you.

Where your child/adolescent is the client

Tamar recommends that a parent comes into the consulting room for the first appointment, at least for the few minutes. This is so that everyone is clear about what the child/adolescent requires assistance for, and so Tamar can obtain a thorough history and background to the problem and obtain both the parent and child’s perspective. Sometimes the child/adolescent asks their parent to leave the room after the background information is discussed, others are happy for their parent to remain in the room for the entire session. It can be best to wait until the appointment and see how the young person is feeling during the first session. Tamar prefers to let the child/adolescent decide whether their parent is in the room for additional sessions, it is dependant on the child’s/adolescent’s wishes and what they feel most comfortable with. As every child/adolescent is an individual, Tamar does not have set rules about who is/isn’t in the room during sessions.

If the parent does not attend the subsequent sessions, where appropriate, Tamar’s approach is to provide feedback to parents towards the end of the session with the child/adolescent present about what skills have been taught in the session, and recommend strategies for parents and the child/adolescent to use at home. In this way the parents are aware of what is being worked towards. By working with parents as a team to support the child/adolescent, and where appropriate, by giving parents training in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Tamar finds that there is greater likelihood of consistency between her and the parents’ approaches. This helps the child/adolescent to practice the skills and thereby make regular progress, and reinforces what Tamar is teaching in the sessions. The more the skills are practiced, the better (and often the quicker) the outcome is likely to be. Using this approach (instead of introducing a set of skills that can be only be applied to the particular issue of concern), Tamar aims to teach her clients important life skills that they can apply to a wide range of issues, and be able to draw upon in the future. To get an idea of how Tamar works, please download the following STAY HERE EBooklet. which Tamar developed to help parents. Even though this was developed during COVID-19, these skills can be applied to many situations.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

ACT has its roots in applied behaviour analysis (ABA; Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968), Relational Frame Theory (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001), and the philosophy of Functional Contextualism (Biglan & Hayes, 1996; Hayes, 1993; Hayes, Hayes, & Reese, 1988). Both ACT and CBT use behavioural techniques. However, there are differences in theoretical approach, change processes, and clinical translation, specifically around how the two therapies address various aspects of human language and cognition. There is much less focus in ACT on the content of thoughts, emotions, memories or sensations, rather the clinician using ACT helps the person form a detached, non-reactive relationship to these private events. CBT approaches tend to view the content of distressing unwanted thoughts, emotions or memories as something that should be cognitively evaluated and restructured to be more consistent with logical analysis of the situation. An easy to read article about ACT can be found here.

What does therapy using ACT involve?

The psychologist using ACT focuses on how a person’s behavioural responses work for them in terms of identified values or life ends. ACT emphasises openness and acceptance of all psychological events (such as thoughts, feelings and behaviours), despite their type and label given, whereas CBT emphasises changing thoughts and behaviour with the goal of reducing symptoms (Coyne, McHugh, & Martinez, 2011). ACT focuses on identifying what really matters to you, and how you want to live your life. Important components of ACT are whether the way that you behave and respond to particular events, people and situations are working for you, and how you can change your behaviour (rather than your thoughts) to start to move towards what really matters to you. ACT emphasizes acceptance of all thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and memories, letting go of thoughts, feelings, and memories that are unhelpful, and being present in the here and now (this is known as mindfulness) while accepting our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways, and does not have to include formal meditation exercises. Practicing mindfulness can include your regular daily activities, like exercising, traveling by public transport, eating, listening to music, or even brushing your teeth. There are many more ways to practice mindfulness, and the more we practice it and incorporate it into our daily routine, the more skilled in it we become.

ACT shares many similarities with CBT in its’ approach to treatment, particularly in the use of exposure by both these therapies. The main difference is that ACT emphasizes changing the way that you view your thoughts and feelings, instead of having to do something to try distract yourself from them, avoid them, or get rid of them. ACT has a large, scientifically measured evidence base, which supports its’ effectiveness for a wide range of issues. ACT has been used successfully with children, adolescents, and adults. I use ACT in my own life, and with my family and children, and I’m so passionate about it that I completed my Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) investigating the effectiveness of ACT versus CBT as a compulsory part of school curricula for year nine students. My study is the first study to compare ACT to CBT in schools.

How is ACT different from CBT?

CBT differs from ACT in its focus on changing thoughts, and replacing thoughts we don’t want to have with positive thoughts. This can be really hard for some people to do (particularly if you do not actually believe the positive thought), especially if you have been thinking a certain way for a long time. This way of coping might get rid of your thoughts temporarily, but the thoughts might return again and again, and you may feel that your thoughts stop you from doing things that you want to do, or need to do (for example: speaking in public or attending social functions). Our thoughts tend to occur automatically, and are not necessarily rational, or reflective of what is actually true, and don’t always make sense. Difficulties coping often arise when we believe everything our minds tell us, which can occur because our thoughts can be pretty powerful, and we can allow them to control our lives. Instead of focusing on changing our thoughts, ACT emphasizes changing the way that you respond to your thoughts and feelings, and changing your behaviours with ones that work better for you. Important components of ACT are accepting what is out of your control, not letting difficult thoughts and feelings stop you from doing things that are important to you, and committing to actions (behaviours) that improve and enrich your life, so that you don’t have to miss out on things that matter to you.