In October, myself and a good friend (Dr. Duncan Gillard, who happens to be co-author of this wonderful article) will provide resilience training to members of a particular workforce. Rather than re-inventing the wheel we invited Dr. Paul Flaxman to Bristol to show us how to deliver the 2+1 method that he developed with Dr. Frank Bond. Let me just give you some background information about Drs Flaxman and Bond: with the help of a few other gifted people they have churned out 15 years worth of top quality research investigating the utility of the ACT model in the workplace. In fact, and I know this because I just wrote a book about ACT research, the total number of people who have received “ACT in the workplace” is greater than the majority of diagnostic categories for which ACT has been tested (click this link to see the total number of participants involved in ACT research illustrated across disorder from 1986 to December 2014). In short, these guys know what they are doing because they have been refining their protocol for 15 years. And the 2+1 method is what they came up with.
After our meeting with Paul I felt there was something interesting in this approach, so I took the opportunity to read ‘The Mindful and Effective Employee’. Written by Flaxman, Bond and Fredrik Livheim, the book is essentially a step-by-step guide instructing the reader how to deliver 2+1 training. What is different about this particular review is that it has both an academic and an applied slant. Specifically, like the Compassion and the ABC’s of Human Behaviour reviews that I have written, in this blog I will try to inform you as to the qualities of the book. Additionally, however, given that I will be actually delivering this approach, in another blog in the near future I will also be able to review how the contents of the book work in the real world. For me, this feels exciting.
I’d like to start this review with an observation that may or may not resonate with readers. When you see that this is a ‘workplace’ intervention, you might assume that delivering ACT in this context has something to do with managing work-related stress. In fact, however, one of the earliest moments of clarity I had when reading this book occurred when I realized that this intervention isn’t actually a protocol for increasing workplace resilience. It is a protocol for increasing resilience….that just happens to be delivered in the workplace. It is a genius slight of hand from the authors. It is almost as if, once upon a time, possibly whilst in a meeting, they asked the question ‘how do we get ACT to as many everyday people as possible?’ And then someone answered with the sentence ‘well, most people work’.
Now don’t get me wrong, when the protocol is pitched to employers, it is accurate to suggest that people who are more psychologically flexible are more productive and have less sick days. However, the primary achievement of this protocol is that it exposes everyday people to ACT principles in the hope that it will impact every area of their life, not just work. And reaching everyday people is crucial for a couple of reasons; firstly, the stats show that many will suffer psychologically and yet not seek help, possibly because of the stigma that comes with having a ‘mental health issue’. In this format and context, Acceptance and Commitment ‘Training’ could almost function as an early intervention strategy. Secondly, no matter how psychologically healthy you are, having the skill to mindfully return to valued directions is likely to benefit you in the long run.
I guess this blew my mind a bit. I had always thought that in order to deliver ACT in the workplace, I would need to have lots of experience delivering interventions with working populations. However, due to the fact that this program is just, in fact, ACT for everyday people, it became feasible for me to get involved with such a venture. Added to this, the transdiagnostic nature of the model means that I can translate my previous experience of delivering ACT in group format for use in the workplace. The flip side of this, however, is that each population has its own idiosyncrasies, and delivering ACT in the workplace is no different. This brings me nicely to one of the best aspects of this book; the authors experience shines through in the way that they detail these idiosyncrasies. In other words, they almost take you through a journey of their experiences with working populations, such that someone who has never delivered ACT in the workplace could go into a 2+1 session knowing roughly what to expect. Of course, the book does many other things.
I begin with the writing. Over and above the linking sentences that the authors use to glue the book together (and I point that out because I keep telling my students of their importance), let’s remember that this program is designed for every day people. Consequently, the ACT model has to be broken down into jargon free pieces that would not overwhelm your everyday person, yet it also has to give people an experiential understanding of ACT. I believe that the authors achieve this with their humble tone and straightforward writing style. Sometimes when people simplify ACT they lose richness in the content of their intervention. But these authors do not. The two skills model is elegant and easy-to-understand, and the book manages to explain the interconnectedness of ACT processes with clarity.
Next I move on to the practical nature of the book. I feel that anyone with a basic knowledge of ACT could read this book and then sell / deliver the 2+1 method. The rational is laid out clearly in Chapter 1, Chapter 4 is full of further practical advice that would be useful getting such an approach off the ground, Chapters 5-8 walk through the 2+1 method and the penultimate chapter provides readers with a background of the research in this area. Interestingly, the book also details some other ways in which the ACT model is used within workplace settings, including the fantastic ‘train the trainer’ program of Livheim, and the contributions of celebrated ACT folk such as DJ Moran, Rachel Collis and Rob Archer.
Being the geek that I am, I applaud the authors for drawing the reader’s attention to RFT at various points throughout the book. However, if I were to pick out a negative, I would suggest that those without any prior knowledge of RFT would struggle to understand its relevance in this context. In other words, as I have studied RFT I understood the lingo that the authors used, but someone without that training may not. In truth, in a book designed for everyday people it was always going to be difficult to clearly and succinctly describe why RFT matters, such that it may have been a good idea either to more thoroughly describe RFT or to stay away from it altogether. (By the way, it has been shaking off this nickname recently but for a while RFT was simply referred to as ‘Voldemort Theory‘, which I still find hilarious!).
The effortless integration of RFT into books such as this is something that I haven’t really seen, as of yet, and I would dread to think of readers being put off by this criticism (especially given that RFT is probably only talked about on a handful of pages). Therefore, let me leave you with this. If you want to deliver ACT training in the workplace, then you have to read this book. It is really that simple. It provides a wonderful framework for delivering ACT to working populations that I feel you, the reader, could use with relative ease. Of course that is just my hypothesis! I will let you know how I get on with using the 2+1 method in the real world in the coming months.