Doing what matters in times of stress

In this blogpost I wanted to highlight an important programme that is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, for people who are affected by adversity and help deal better with stress. It is a real world application of how psychotherapy can improve the lives of people around the world and make it a better place.

In 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) updated Self Help Plus (SH+), an initiative to provide mental health support to people facing adversity in regions with less resources. The programme is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which is  originated Dr. Stephen Hayes. 

The content was created by Dr Russ Harris et al. for the WHO. They came up with a Comic book that can be used around the world by people with various levels of education. The programme consists of 5 sessions and can give facilitated by person with little mental healthcare training, like a nurse. It is conducted over 5 weeks and uses recording to guide the sessions.It is considered a low intensity intervention. 

ACT is pronounced as a verb to emphasise the need for committed action in this model. ACT focusses on encreasing psychological flexibility. This is done by opening up to our present moment awareness and our internal experiences ( our thoughts and emotions), while acting in alignment with our values and moving towards our aspirations. Simply put, Opening up, Being Present and Committed Engagement. The programme has been implemented in regions affected by adversity. 

Recently, a study in Northern Uganda of female Sudanese refugees’ mental health, has been conducted to see if the programme improves psychological flexibility. The study was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology by Daniel P. Lakin and a team of researchers. As you can image, conflict-affected areas experience increased level of psychological distress and mental health disorders, which was confirmed among others by Steel et al., 2009. 

The researchers have concluded that psychological flexibility did improve among the Sudanese female refugees, despite it being a low-intensity intervention. The outcome the SH+ study underscores the effectiveness of the ACT based programme. And that psychological flexibility can be improved even for low-resourced regions around the world. 

The programme is flexible enough to be adapted to the various regions’ needs and still maintain the key components that make ACT such an effective therapy. It provides a roadmap to lessen the impact of adversity across the globe and make this world a more peaceful and harmonious place.

It also indicates that dealing more effectively with stress can be learned in brief therapy. This is a great message for anyone struggling with feelings of stress, low mood and feeling overwhelmed. So if anyone you know is struggling with any of those feelings, do let them know that simple and easy to learn skills can go a long in dealing with life’s challenges.


Lakin et al., 2023: blob:

Steel, 2009:

Written by:
Allard Mueller
Counsellor and Psychotherapist
SACAC Counselling

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