I first met Michael at the Perth ANZ ACBS conference, where he had crossed the desert to join in the whirlwind of growing, learning, sharing and collaborating that can only be found at ACT conferences. In true ACBS style Michael was immediately keen to get into a conversation about RFT over a coffee and plan a Mindful Adventure to Base camp (for those members who have not been to a conference, this is the sort of thing that happens!). And whilst we never made it to the Himalayas (don’t worry there is still time!) I have enjoyed getting to know more about Michael, his work and his passion for ACBS, as I am sure you will too.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I’m a clinical psychologist, working as a student counsellor at RMIT University. I’ve been an ACT practitioner since I first registered in 2015.
My current role is primarily individual counselling for university students, but I’m also responsible for the technology portfolio within our team, and I’ve also recently started supervising my first provisional psychologist intern. I’m passionate about ACT and I’m lucky enough to have an intern who’s interested in learning ACT, and teaching ACT has been a great experience so far.
I’ve also been running a peer consultation group for other early-career ACT therapists for three and a half years using the Portland Model.
What books are you reading right now?
My office desk is currently hosting Kelly Wilson and Troy DuFrene’s Mindfulness for Two, and my bedside table has Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
I just received a copy of Learning ACT 2nd Ed (Jason Luoma, Steven Hayes, & Robyn Walser), and I’m looking forward to reading it soon. Hayes and Hofmann’s Process-Based CBT is also staring at me from my bookshelf, but I haven’t found the time to give it the attention I think it’ll deserve.
My favourite recent read has been The ACT Approach by Timothy Gordon and Jessica Borushok. It has some great ways of approaching ACT that were new to me, and comes with heaps of useful worksheets and handouts – great for someone with an ACT-interested intern.
What’s the one process you find most challenging? What’s helped you improve your application of that process?
Funnily enough, Defusion! Despite the array of techniques people have established, I find fusion hardest to take perspective on, as my mind doesn’t seem to get stuck in the same way as many of my clients’ minds. It’s also one of the easiest processes to fall into talking about instead of doing.
What’s helped? Supervision, working with clients with all sorts of fusion, and speaking with my peers about how they recognise and approach it.
What’s the most unexpected reaction you’ve had using an ACT process?
I don’t think any single experience stands out, but I think it’s always rewarding to see clients do things they don’t expect of themselves. Taking perspective or responding flexibly in the presence of the stuff that’s hard for them – smiles amid tears, action despite anxiety, creativity in the face of pain.
Who has shaped your ACT experience and why?
Brian Thompson, Jason Luoma, Christeine Terry, Jenna LeJeune, Paul Guinther, and Harold Robb, when they published their JCBS article on the Portland Model which guided me in setting up my peer supervision group, which has helped immensely in building my ACT skills and confidence! And as a result, also I’ve also been shaped by all the members of my peer supervision group, especially the most dedicated members – Laura, Deborah, Daniel, George, and Lily.
Additionally, all the great people I’ve met or gotten to know better at ANZ ACBS conferences. Shout-outs to Laura, Amy, Megan, Daniel, Avigail, Ben, and Andrew.
Lastly, Matthieu Villatte did a great 6-session webinar – ACT Naturally – about doing ACT work with natural language. This was probably the first step towards process-based work for me, and gave me permission to do what my instincts urged me to do – shape behaviour through language, not just explicit exercises.
What do you think CBS needs to do more of?
Build and broaden our community! We have so many cool ideas to share, but lots of people seem to do some kind of ACT/CBS training and then never connect with ACBS, ANZ ACBS or its members. In my experience, small-group supervision has been a great way to link people into the broader CBS community. In my dream future, we’d have half a dozen or more ACT-focused peer supervision groups in each major city!
What advice would you give to newer members of CBS?
Don’t do it alone! Find other people, nearby or online, who are at similar developmental levels to you in their ACT practice. Work together to share information and resources, practice skills, and get real feedback on your ways of doing things! It’s been a massive game-changer for me.