American Psychological Association

118th Annual Convention
San Diego, August 12-15 2010




Be forewarned: there are bits of literal transcript here that may seem disjointed. But that's how he presented, powerful sound-bytes and time-shifting back to formative events, personal and societal, and then circling back to a conceptual point or another point in time. Then silence. And more passion and poetry. It was a riveting, hypnotic, brilliant presentation. For me, only slightly familiar with either the details or fame of ACT, this was eye-opening as to why Dr. Hayes is held within such high regard by peers. Being mindful himself, of time and place, Hayes explicitly said he was not going to try to explain ACT, although some of the profound explorations he shared included some results of using this specific approach. (Remember, we live in evidence-based times!) But even without the results of studies, just following his ideas about human nature, and the sea of language we are swimming in, objectified by words of others, and by ourselves...

I can see why this extraordinary man is so inspirational and admired. This afternoon he shared a mixture of personal anecdote and human experience, not promoting any specific technique or brand, or hammering home any one specific take-away message, except maybe what the title of the presentation hints. The world really needs people who can rise above what Hayes referred to as the sea of language - the distortions, the hype, the blame, the objectifying, and doing it to both others and self. That was my reaction. Here's the presentation.



Steven Hayes


Steven C. Hayes: What Psychotherapists Have That the World Needs Now


This was an extraordinary experience. Introduced by the American Psychological Association's CEO (and Hayes' college roommate!) Dr. Norm Anderson, Steven Hayes was described as one of the world's most infuential psychologists, known for his widely regarded ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), and also for the philosophical/linguistic underpinnings and his placing an emphasis on "mindfulness".

Speaking in a gentle, Southern-tinted voice, Hayes immediately captivated the audience with a slide referring to the 1950's, black & white television, and his witnessing his mother's reaction to the TV when seeing something relating to the Holocaust on the tube. (She spit at it and turned it off.)

1956. A little boy watching his mother.

He didn't understand at the time. But he knew something powerful had happened, between what was shown on the television and the reaction of his mother. Thirty five years later he gave the name of his mother's assumed name (to escape sure death), to his own daughter.

All the while, we watch horrors - images of the World Trade Center burning, etc. While we all remember that disaster, "what if it were suitcase bombs in the city?". Perhaps 10 years from now it will be online, how to do this effectively.

OBJECTIFICATION

Objectification is all around us. [Up on a big screen: Graph of hatred pre and post 9/11. One sees it never returned to the earlier level post 2001.]

1961. A black man in a bowling alley. Being made fun of, in degrading terms

Are we better now?

Now is a new era of "objectifying" people, groups, ideas... Immersion in a new Television era of hate-talk and polarization evoked by a continuum from Fox "News" to MSNBC, and the echo chamber's intensity. "Lack of compassion. Objectification". Everything is black and white. Speaking of which, Hayes noted that he has a Latino wife and African American daughter, himself. He continues...

It is now 1972, and they are in a Southern club, with a swimming pool. A man stops to comment to Dr. Hayes, "Your baby... is a little... brown..." He knew then they'd be leaving.

"The ubiquity of objectification. It's everywhere!" He displayed a photo of a very obese person (later noting that this is one class of people who get very little sympathy or relief from blatant ridicule). Next, the image of George W. Bush appears, and evokes expression of both distaste and laughter from the large audience. Everyone reacts. Have we objectified?

Hayes continues. It's not enough to say that others are doing this, being cruel, and objectifying. "We do the same to ourselves. And if we're not lying to ourselves, we know that it's true."

1978. Sitting on a bench on the campus of North Carolina- Greensboro

There is a way to change psychotherapy. A way to change our thinking. If that is true, we need to know about what the human language and condition is.

Some aspects of language are described well through relational frame theory. Seen from this perspective,

Language is:

Dr. Hayes now introduced a slide with 2 different sized circles. "Even a cockroach", he said, "can learn to choose the bigger of 2 circles."

Three year old humans are busy learning concepts such as symbolism and quantity. Ask a 3 year old if they'd like a big nickel or small dime, they'll know it's money that buys candy and the bigger one (they think) is the best choice. By age 5 they choose the dime.

"Such processes are necessary for problem solving". One needs to learn symbolic categories.

Of course, "problem-solving is also a curse", for example being good at remembering and wondering about painful things... "I can torture myself with how I should have more, or how this is, what I should have been... If we can choose the dime we can torture ourselves."

A SEA OF LANGUAGE

"We are swimming in a sea of language". In a poetic and brilliant burst of prose (which I could not catch all of though I tried!) Dr. Hayes tied in our use of language to what's being done by Fox and MSNBC (in polarized, objectifying opining), adding to our "feeding like pigs in a trough on the insanity generated by our own culture", driven by iPads, instant messages and tweets, et cetera. In general, "the more sick and twisted and perverted something is, the quicker you can find it on the Internet. There's a YouTube video." We have YouTube on one side, the NY Times on the table on the other side, and info-tainment TV droning before us, masquerading as news.

"The more you watch the more objectifying of women you develop. The more objectifying of all sorts of other things, too."

Objectification. Judgment. Lack of Acceptance. "Guess what? If you can apply it to others you can apply it to yourself. And if it's not you, then it's the person sitting on either side of you."

1984. Watching my African-American daughter come into a room. And seeing the reaction.

Carrying the Burden of History

"We've put science and technology on steroids. We need to create modern minds for the modern world. Mental health professionals need to solve it because the politicians sure ain't gonna do it!"

Putnam 2007. "I like being."

"You can't just do this social policy thing and expect we're going to see modern minds for this modern world."

MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness - work on this "is exploding". Why? "Hippies grew up and the crazies drive the bus."

1982 - The Panic Attack from Hell

"Pain in the chest. Left arm numb with radiating pain. Clearly it is a heart attack. And I know it's a panic attack." He had a shift of attention. He survived. He has always been interested in noticing shifts of attention. In order to see you need to know: "There's more to you than your history. We have a spiritual side. We can say that."

The science is increasingly saying one thing while media tells us another. It is important to use and understand words "to change your frame".

"Psychological flexibility: We want people to be open, active, and centered. The Buddhists are right."

Dr. Hayes paused to tell us that he doesn't want to get into technical talk about his particular "brand name" therapy (ACT) . He wants to talk about flexibility and its role. And he will give some examples of how to put this into action.

Dr. Hayes emphasized the importance of "self acceptance" and cited research on variables which promote flexibility or predict it. He spoke of shame, and a study of applying his principles to international students from Japan, resulting in a positive impact, and seeing still more potential.

Here, finally, are a few more bits, from his concluding remarks, tying his life observations to his theory and relating it back to how therapists can be truly helpful.

"So what do therapists have that the world needs? A focus on what you value. Don't erase the past, carry it forward!" We need to address and channel our painful past burdens, not hide it away. Indeed, he said, "Inhale it!" He continued again to poetically argue with great passion, for a new paradigm to truly understand the past and present within people's lives. Actively.

There was an audience Q&A -

Response to a question: "We move in spirals, not in leaps. And we stand on the shoulders of others. For the first time, Western science is reflecting on acceptance and mindfulness." [While ridiculously polarized media circuses of hate and polarization and objectification are rampant.]

Q: Any thoughts on the objectifying of mental health professionals?
A: Don't professionals flip it? Like, 'You're a borderline'. I don't believe you can solve it by saying, "you said it wrong". Or, like "moron". It was a word. [He elaborated on how words have power and are objectified too.]

Dr. Hayes concluded by saying that his vision for "a modern mind for a modern world is that we can catch those notions, in flight." He mentioned the history of research into nonsense syllables and using funny songs as therapy, and underscored once again how the power of words is so pervasive and so deeply connected to our thinking.

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INDEX OF 2001 APA Convention Articles:
Behavioral Telehealth | E-biz of Mental Health | 2001: A Cyberspace Odyssey

INDEX OF 2002 APA Convention Articles:
CyberSex & Cyber-Infidelity | Beck & Ellis 2002 | Behavior Therapy | CyberPsychology | E-Ethics

2003 Convention Highlights: Full Text | Beck 2003 | Quality of Online Health Info | Sternberg's Vision

2005 Convention Highlights:   Opening Session | Pioneers of Behavior Therapy
Distinguished Elders of Psychotherapy | Legends Discuss Psychology | Online Clinical Work | Town Hall Meeting

2006 Convention Highlights:
Opening | Online Psychotherapy & Research | Psychological Vital Signs | Advances in Cognitive Therapy
Brok on Chaplin | Conversation with Aaron T. Beck - 2006 | Dr.Phil | 21st Century Ethics | Media: Town Hall '06

2007 Convention Highlights:
Humanizing an Inhumane World | Opening Session | Albert Bandura | Linehan, on Suicide
Psychology's Future | Conversation with Aaron T. Beck - 2007 | Evil, Hate, & Horror

2008 Convention Highlights:
Grand Theft Childhood | Opening | Malcolm Gladwell | College Success, Love, Hate, More | My Life With Asperger's
My Space, You Tube, Psychotherapy, Relationships... | Aaron T. Beck - 2008 | The Mind and Brain of Voters

2009 Convention Highlights:
Internet: Pathway for Networking, Connecting, and Addiction | Opening | Virtual Psychology & Therapy | Q&A with Zimbardo
Seligman: Positive Education | Future of Internet Media | Sex, Love, & Psychology | How Dogs Think


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