Russ Harris on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Dr. Russ Harris, a physician and psychotherapist, has written several books (The Happiness Trap, ACT Made Simple) to explain Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to the general public.

These short videos are excerpts from an interview he did with the Australian TV personality, Zara. The two of them improvise some brief demonstrations of key techniques you might use in an ACT session.

As casual as the videos may be, they get a few ideas across quite well. I especially like the use of the hands and a sheet of paper to dramatize the effects of identifying or fusing with depressive experience. This simple exercise conveys the basic concept of shifting from avoidance to a strategy of acceptance.

Harris’s books and workshops help people apply the ACT methods to everyday situations but don’t get into the severe forms of depression, anxiety or bipolar. I think that’s wise since you can’t rely on self-help techniques alone to manage severe episodes. You need the additional help of a therapist or other forms of professional treatment to manage during the worst times.

Nevertheless, the ACT concepts are among the most valuable I know for dealing with the milder, but still debilitating, impacts of mood disorders. These are the everyday self-beatings and isolation that can distort the whole course of life if you don’t have good methods for breaking their hold on your mind and feelings.

I’ve made a small playlist at YouTube with the set of these interview videos, and I’m adding other lists of good videos to my YouTube channel. Let me know of any suggestions you have to add to this resource page.

7 Responses to “Russ Harris on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”

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  1. vipul says:

    Although, Russ Harris has done a good job in writing ‘Happiness Trap’ but it is no way superior to what Dr. Steven Hayes, has written on ACT. ‘Get out your mind and into your life’ is the best book on ACT that you can find anywhere. I strongly recommend this book to everyone who is facing any sort of mental or emotional trauma.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, vipul –

      I agree about the Hayes book. Harris can be helpful and so is Strosahl’s book on ACT for depression, but neither adds much to the excellent presentation by Steven Hayes.


  2. Evan says:

    Russ is an Aussie (like me). Just thought you’d want to know.

    His books are accessible – easy to read and clear. I think they are really useful.

  3. WillSpirit says:

    You are right to emphasize that severe symptoms cannot be handled through self-help alone. When disabling depression and/or anxiety take hold, one really should seek professional assistance. But I think effective self-help methods like ACT-based techniques offer something more profound than alleviation of mild symptoms.

    ACT encourages me to self-direct my mental and physical activities in a way that makes relapse much less common and much less severe. So although I would not rely solely on my own mind to get out of a dangerous place, I am happy to have tools that make falling into those deep traps much less likely. Relapse prevention means redirecting one’s trajectory when mild mood issues arise, so that rather than giving up on activities and sinking lower, one keeps going until the mood passes.

    With such ability, those of us with once-terrible mood problems can gradually feel less defined by emotional difficulty. It guides us to a place where mental health issues no longer restrict or define our lives. Professional guidance is vital during crisis, but personal skill permits one to break free of ongoing dependence on professionals. Such self-empowerment should be the ultimate goal of all mental health care.

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Hi, Will –

      Well put – I agree completely. Self-empowerment is the key to all the progress I have made. Medication has its place, but it’s the self-help tools that have made all the difference in my life.


  4. Thomas Jespersen says:

    I thought you might find this interview interesting:

    “The term “mindfulness meditation” refers to a form of meditation during which practitioners are instructed to pay attention, on purpose and non-judgmentally. The process of learning to attend nonjudgmentally can gradually transform one’s emotional response to stimuli such that we can learn to simply observe our minds in response to stimuli that might provoke either negative or positive emotion without being swept up in these emotions. This does not mean that our emotional intensity diminishes. It simply means that our emotions do not perseverate. If we encounter an unpleasant situation, we might experience a transient increase in negative emotions but they do not persist beyond the situation.”

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Thank you, Thomas –

      It’s a helpful quote, and the link has gotten me into Sam Harris’ work. Lots to read!


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