A Note from Matthew McKay, PhD: Treating Interpersonal Problems with ACT

Clients struggling with interpersonal problems are frequent visitors to therapists’ offices. At the Berkeley Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Clinic, for example, more than 50 percent of our intakes identify significant recurring interpersonal difficulties. The majority of clients presenting with depression, trauma, anxiety, and Axis II disorders report interpersonal problems in more than one important relationship. Colleagues across the country report similar data.

Interpersonal problems destroy relationships and trigger extraordinary suffering, both for those affected and for those to whom they relate. Yet for all the pain these problems create, few systems of psychotherapy directly target the interpersonal behavior that drives the problem, and there is little research addressing what treatments effectively change disordered interpersonal functioning.

If you have clients who struggle interpersonally and repeatedly engage in damaging responses to relational stress, or you have clients whose primary concern is anxiety, depression, or trauma but who have a history of broken relationships, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an empirically-supported approach that specifically targets relationship-damaging behavior. You may have found that treatment targeting only the emotional problems hasn’t been effective in helping clients reach high levels of well-being. With the combination of schema formulation and mindfulness and acceptance based interventions, you can effectively treat interpersonal problems and help your clients live a higher quality of life.

Check back as we go deeper into the ACT protocol for impersonal problems. In the meantime, an exceptional client resource is the new Interpersonal Problems Workbook: ACT to End Painful Relationship Patterns.

See also: Introducing Schema Therapy for Treating Interpersonal Disorders


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