ACT for Trauma: PTSD and Beyond

Earn 8.25 CE/CMEs - Care for Clients with Trauma Issues Without Exposure Treatment

The Basics of ACT for PTSD

By Sonja V. Batten, Ph.D.

This presentation is an excerpt from the online course “ACT for Trauma: PTSD and Beyond”.


  • The ACT therapist is willing to practice the ACT tools in their own life.
  • The processes in ACT are relevant to the whole human condition.



So now, I’d like to review some take-home messages from this first module of using ACT with posttraumatic problems in living.

So, as we’ve discussed, the experience of trauma is common. Almost all of us, at some point, will experience what could be a potentially traumatic event. But developing long-term clinical problems, such as PTSD, is much less common. However, we are all changed by the difficult experiences in our lives. Some of these changes are for the better and we’re made stronger or more open to the experience of joy in our lives or the experience of suffering in other’s lives because of the difficult things we’ve been through. When those experiences do lead to long-term clinical problems, though, there are effective cognitive-behavioral treatments many of which include an exposure component.

And I believe that acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, adds to the repertoire of a trauma therapist because it builds on those existing treatments, but also allows for more of a focus on the full range of emotions, quality of life, and not just symptom reduction as well as an integrated treatment of other comorbid conditions.

So, within an ACT model, we look at those posttraumatic problems in living as having three main sources.
First, experiential avoidance or that unwillingness to experience private events, like thoughts, feelings, memories, bodily sensations that are unpleasant.

Second, being overly fused with difficult or ineffective cognitive content, like those thoughts about self or others or the world and not being able to see those for what they are—which are just thoughts.

And third, a disconnection from living a life that’s consistent with one’s personal values, whether that’s engaging in behaviors that are problematic or taking the person in a direction that isn’t meaningful to them or it’s ineffective action and sort of an inability to move forward in the ways that are important.

And the rest of this course will go into greater detail about the exact tools and processes of the ACT model for addressing posttraumatic problems in living. ACT truly will help not just with the specific symptoms related to traumatic stress but also with helping the trauma survivor to reclaim a full life based on his or her own values and come to truly thrive after the experience.

This work requires the ACT therapist to be willing to practice the ACT tools in his or her own life in order to truly have a lived experience of what the therapist is asking the client to do. Otherwise, it’s not really fair to ask your clients to do these things. They’re really hard and you need to know what you’re asking your clients to do.
The processes that are targeted in the ACT model are considered relevant to the whole human condition, not just to those people who have clinically significant levels of distress.

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