62 4 Understanding and Enhancing Psychological Acceptance James D. Herbert Drexel University Lynn L. Brandsma Chestnut Hill College P sychologists and other mental health professionals can scarcely check their mail these days without receiving yet another announcement fora training workshop, book, or podcast focused on enhancing mindfulness and psychological acceptance, both in their patients and in themselves. Several new psychotherapy models featuring mindfulness, acceptance, metacognition, and related concepts have become very popular over the past decade. Not to be left behind, even versions of traditional treatment models such as psychoanalytic psychotherapy have recently adopted the prefix “mindfulness-based” (e.g., Stewart, in press Ventegodt et al., 2007). These concepts have also found their way into the public consciousness, with countless media presentations extolling the virtues of mindfulness. Beautiful, young, serene-looking women with palms held together prayerfully and bodies in graceful yoga poses adorn the covers of magazines and websites. References are made to ancient wisdom and esoteric practices newly imported from the East, couched in a seductively exotic and
CHAPTER 4: Understanding and Enhancing Psychological Acceptance —— 63 mysterious aura. Life-changing benefits are touted, and not surprisingly, products are sold.
Scientifically minded professionals and laypersons alike can be forgiven for reacting to these developments with a degree of skepticism. Among those who are weary of passing fashions in popular psychology, the very trendiness of these developments may suggest alack of deeper substance. Indeed, the value of a theory or technique is not determined by its popularity to do so would be to commit the logical fallacy known as
argumentum ad populum. Just because many people embrace an idea does not mean it is true or useful. The fact that a large percentage of Americans do not believe in biological evolution (Alfano, 2009; Pew Research Center, 2013) does not speak to its truth value as a scientific fact. But it is equally important to avoid knee-jerk cynicism. The popularity of an idea does not speak directly to its truth or utility but neither does it speak against it. The ad populum reversal describes a sort of guilt by association, in which a proposition is judged to be invalid merely because it is popular. So, like any other novel development, the value of psychological acceptance and mindfulness as theoretical concepts and intervention techniques must be evaluated in light of the scientific evidence. As it turns out, the past decade has witnessed tremendous growth in the scientific study of these concepts and treatment strategies. Although a great deal more work remains to be done, the results thus far are quite promising. The evidence to date suggests that psychological (also referred to as experiential) avoidance of thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations is associated with a wide range of psychopathology, and that fostering a sense of experiential acceptance can have therapeutic benefits (Germer, Siegel, & Fulton, 2013; Herbert & Forman, 2011a).
In this chapter, we begin by reviewing key concepts and their recent evolution, followed by a description of specific techniques and strategies for promoting psychological acceptance in the service of prevention and behavior change, with a particular focus on enhancing well-being and quality of life, and on improving functioning. We then review the research assessing the utility these approaches and their underlying theoretical mechanisms. Finally, we offer suggestions for future innovation and research.