Using ACT to target internalized homophobia and self-stigma

Using ACT to target internalized homophobia and self-stigma

Many of our clients struggle with shame and stigma. Despite its prevalence in the therapy room, there are few clinical interventions that specifically target self stigma,  defined here as “negative thoughts and feelings (e.g., shame, negative self-evaluative thoughts, fear) that emerge from identification with a stigmatized group” (p. 48, Luoma, O’Hair, Kohlenberg, Hayes, & Fletcher, 2010). This is an issue that we at Portland Psychotherapy are exploring, both in our clinical work and in the research we are conducting. We currently have several research projects underway, looking at various aspects of stigma and shame, how they impact functioning, and ways to target stigma and shame inside and outside the therapy office.

For these reasons, I was very interested in a recent article in Cognitive and Behavioral Practice by Yadavaia & Hayestitled “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Self-Stigma Around Sexual Orientation: A Multiple Baseline Evaluation.”  In the article, the authors report on the effectiveness of a brief (6-10 session) ACT intervention for self stigma in those who experience same sex attraction– sometimes referred to as internalized homophobia. While the ACT intervention in the study was individualized to each participant, similar to standard clinical practice, all 6 of the basic ACT processes were covered and expert ratings of treatment integrity were high.

The study found that participants evidenced positive changes on a variety of factors including self stigma/internalized homophobia, depression, anxiety, quality of life, perceived social support, and overall psychological flexibility. What I found to be most significant was that while participants reported a decrease in the believability of same-sex thoughts, the frequency of those thoughts did not change. This finding is consistent with previous studies using ACT to target other psychological difficulties (e.g. Bach & Hayes, 2002) and appears to support an ACT-consistent mechanism of change. In ACT, it is the workability of a thought in terms of valued action, rather than the form of the thought that is targeted. As such, we would expect, and this study did indeed find, that the frequency or even the form, of particular thoughts would not necessarily change significantly, but rather that change is found in the function that thought serves. It other words, after the intervention, participants continued to still have the same same-sex thoughts, but they were much less troubled by the thought.

Previous studies have supported the use ACT to target other forms of self-stigma, including those who struggle with substance use problems (Luoma, Kohlenberg, Hayes, Bunting, & Rye, 2008) and obesity (Lillis, Hayes, & Bunting, 2009). Although power was limited because of the small sample size  (n=5), the pattern of findings in this study were consistent with previous findings and suggests that ACT may be an effective intervention for individuals who struggle with self-stigma related to sexual attraction and sexual orientation.

UPCOMING TRAINING EVENTS

January 31, 2020, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm · Portland, OR · Details

This workshop is intended to be part 1 of a two day workshop, but can also be taken on its own. This workshop is useful for therapists who want an update on the current clinically applicable research on how shame functions, including an overview of how and when shame tends to be adaptive versus maladaptive. This day has two primary goals: 1. To provide an overview of research on shame and self-criticism that can guide clinical practice and 2. To allow therapists to experience the model from the inside-out so as to develop greater personal self-compassion and a deeper intuitive understanding of compassion-based intervention strategies. Read more

February 1, 2020, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm · Portland, OR · Details

This workshop is intended to be part 2 of a two day workshop, but can also be taken on its own. If you already have a thorough understanding of the functions of shame and a good understanding of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, then it is you will probably be OK taking just the second day of this workshop. The workshop proceeds to discuss how ACT processes can be focused on addressing chronic and pervasive shame-based difficulties, with a particular focus on flexible perspective taking. Demonstrations of how to use perspective taking and compassion-fostering strategies with clients will be provided and attendees will also practice in small groups. An overview of chair work in the context of ACT will be provided. Read more

February 29, 2020, 9:00 am – 12:15 pm · Portland, OR · Details

Exposure is one of most the effective treatments for anxiety, trauma, and obsessive compulsive and related disorders (e.g., OCD, PTSD, panic disorder). A transdiagnostic intervention, exposure involves the repeated and systematic engagement with avoided stimuli that cause anxiety. Unfortunately, exposure remains underutilized by clinicians (e.g., Scherr, Herbert, & Forman, 2015), mostly due to misunderstandings of how exposure works and perceived difficulty of using it with clients. This half-day workshop will address these gaps by drawing from research on enhancing clinician understanding of and ways to overcome barriers to delivering exposure therapy (Farrell et al., 2016). Using didactics, role-play, and experiential exercises, participants will learn flexible application of exposure for a variety of clinical targets. Read more

April 17 and 18, 2020, 9:15 am – 5:00 pm · Portland, OR · Details

Do you ever “get stuck” as a therapist? Do some of your clients press your “hot buttons”? Do you ever find yourself struggling and thinking about “what do I do next” or feeling anxious, scared or stressed in therapy? In this workshop we will work on clarifying your therapist values and defining what is “difficult” about “difficult” clients. Through discussions, demonstrations and roleplays we will then work on these difficult clients and look at the processes from a compassionate ACT perspective. Read more