Acceptance & Commitment Skill-Building for Adolescents

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

To some, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is associated with treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder. However, the strategies used in ACT can be beneficial for folks with depression, anxiety, substance use, and other conditions. In fact, its principles can be applied to anyone, at any age, regardless of their mental health status.

What are the components of ACT that teens and young adults can benefit from learning? How do we engage our kids into making positive changes in their behaviors and thoughts? What can parents gain from these same techniques?

Audience Questions

Nate Gruner, LICSW, explains the benefits of ACT principles on the mental health of young adults, discusses how these applications can lead to more meaningful and fulfilling lives, and answers audience questions about how these small, habitual practices can have a big impact.

  • What exactly is ACT?
  • Can you describe some of the differences between ACT and CBT?
  • Is ACT different from mindfulness? If yes, how so? Or is mindfulness a part of ACT?
  • Some of the concepts of ACT seem a little “out there.” For example, we’re aiming for a rich and meaningful life, but the primary goal isn’t necessarily symptom reduction. How do you explain ACT to someone who may feel hesitant to get “on board” with the concept of it?
  • Do you have any examples of perspective shifts that we could implement right now?
  • What’s the benefit of young adults/adolescents learning the core processes of ACT? Are there both short- and long-term benefits to it?
  • What aspects of ACT are most useful for adolescents to implement or focus on?
  • Are there specific subgroups of adolescents that would benefit more from ACT than others?
  • Because of where they are developmentally, are young adults in a better or worse position to learn the skills of ACT, or is there no “right or wrong age” to learn these skills?
  • In a day and age where we’re all easily distracted by our devices, how can we encourage young adults to be more present?
  • The idea of one “being the bus” seems like a way of integrating the ego or the self. Especially seems in our society currently where things can seem so fragmented. Can you comment on this?
  • How does today’s conversation relate to issues such as gender dysphoria which seems to be more prevalent in pre-teens and early adolescents?
  • Do you think if the “passenger” is acknowledged, it will stop bothering you? Sometimes feelings that aren’t processed can come back, and often, young adults can fixate on feelings or occurrences.
  • Adolescents struggling with depression often experience motivation issues that impact homework, studying, school avoidance, etc. How can ACT be helpful with issues of depression that impact school?
  • My teenager is fighting depression (and multiple medications have not worked). Little seems important to them. How would ACT help?
  • What are the first steps to implementing ACT for an older teen who struggles with OCD and has no confidence?
  • Would you recommend ACT to someone who overthinks or struggles with self-esteem?
  • Can you talk a bit more about the difference between traditional cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and ACT? It sounds like old CBT is more about the destination, and ACT is more like the journey, how you travel (flexibly).
  • What connections are there between ACT and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)?
  • Can ACT be helpful if you tend to obsess over worst-case scenarios, especially if you have a history of traumatic experiences?
  • Which of the core processes of ACT do you think are the most beneficial for a whole family to implement?
  • How can we start talking to our kids about implementing components of ACT?
  • As a clinician, where can one get good training in ACT?
  • Are there any books, resources, apps that you would recommend for learning more about ACT and/or helping us explore our values?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


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About Nate Gruner

Nate Gruner, LICSW, is a staff behavioral therapist for McLean’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute (OCDI). He has a particular interest in increasing the effectiveness of psychological treatments for OCD and related disorders. He received the McLean Hospital Career Development Fellowship Grant to fund a research study examining acceptance and commitment therapy-enhanced exposure therapy for OCD.

In addition to his research and clinical work, Mr. Gruner serves as a founding member on the Board of Directors for the New England Chapter of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science.

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Originally aired on May 3, 2022