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My ACT/CBS Conference Experience - An Inspiration and a Privilege

Guest blog from Catriona George

In November 2016, Think Psychology sponsored three people to attend the 3rd UK and Ireland Conference in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy and Contextual Behavioural Science.  The intention was to support people to present original research and other innovative work.  The criteria were that (a) those people had never had the opportunity to present at an ACT/CBS conference before, and (b) their earnings were at a level that might otherwise make attendance more challenging.

This guest blog from Catriona George covers her reflections upon her attendance at the Conference.


My ACT/CBS Conference Experience - An Inspiration and a Privilege

I returned yesterday from my first ACT/CBS conference in Edinburgh feeling hugely inspired and privileged to have been a part of it. In fact, I don’t feel I would be overstating it if I described the two-day experience as life changing. I was lucky enough to have my place on the conference sponsored by Dr Richard Bennett and Think Psychology, giving me the opportunity to share my own research in addition to soaking up the many and varied skills classes, debates, key notes and symposia on offer during the conference.

Day one opened with a keynote speech by Helen Bolderston, tapping into the overall theme of the conference: Building Bridges, encouraging us to be open to the rich diversity of thoughts and ideas we can draw from through listening to what other approaches have to offer and building on our shared values. This invitation to open our minds provided a fitting start to the conference and I decided to put this into practice by attending Mary Welford’s excellent skills class: Compassion Focussed Therapy for Dummies, an approach which I knew very little about. Unlike many other conferences I have attended, which can leave you feeling inspired, but wondering how the ideas you have heard could be implemented in your own practice, a real strength of this conference was the very practical and clinically relevant nature of many of the sessions. Following Mary’s session, although having only dipped my toe into CFT, I could already see its potential application in my own clinical work and felt eager, not only to learn more, but to start incorporating this perspective with many of my clients on my return to work.

Something that came across very strongly throughout the conference was the warmth and openness of everyone I met or heard speak, and their willingness to share their own vulnerabilities as well as their knowledge and skills. This was particularly striking in Rikke Kjelgaard’s class: Ten mistakes you don’t want to make as a therapist’. Rikke powerfully modelled the first of the points from her class: ‘we are all in the same boat’ by bravely giving examples of when she has become stuck or moved away from her therapist values in her own therapy. This served the purpose of reminding us of the inevitability that these things will happen, but also of the opportunity for us to learn and grow from these moments. There were also plenty of practical ideas to help make us aware of these pitfalls and how to manage when these situations arise.

If I have one regret from my conference experience, it would be the I did not personally get up and perform at the, now legendary, Follies on the evening of day one. This was an opportunity for anyone attending the conference to get on stage and perform some sort of conference-related song, comedy act etc. It was truly hilarious, and again brought everyone together on an equal footing to poke a bit of fun at ourselves! Taking part will certainly be a committed action for me at a future event!

A highlight of day two was Louise McHugh’s keynote speech: Language as a Tool in the Clinical Environment. I will be honest and say I noticed my mind sending me thoughts prior to this talk about how I will be lost within the first ten minutes and about how difficult I have often found it to engage with Relational Frame Theory and some of the more complex theoretical underpinnings of ACT. However, for me, Louise’s talk really brought the theory to life and, for the first time, I really felt I could follow that line clearly from theory into clinical practice.

Strangely, as my own presentation and skills class on my research into using ACT with dementia caregivers approached, my nerves seemed to have almost entirely dissipated and I felt very much at ease in this supportive and encouraging environment. Although I knew I may get stuck, make mistakes etc, I felt much more connected with my values around the work itself and sharing this with others, more connected with our shared vulnerabilities as human beings and less fused with the idea that what I present has to be perfect! Again, another illustration of the way in which the conference was not just about listening to others’ ideas and considering how to put them into practice with clients. It was about how these approaches apply to us all as human beings and how the applications go far beyond the therapy room. No-one summed this up more powerfully than Robyn Walser in her closing keynote speech, reminding us all of our wider responsibilities not only to the human race, but to other species and the planet as a whole. For around the third time in two days, I found myself moved to tears, and leaving the conference with a sense that I can and will make changes following this that will bring me closer to my values. I will endeavour not to put the conference programme away in a box and return to doing things exactly as I did before, but to bring what I have learned, through listening and experiencing, into my workplace and other areas of my life.

Once again, I must thank Richard Bennett for enabling me to attend the full conference and David Gillanders for organising such a fantastic conference. I look forward to the next one!

Written by Catriona George


Contact Catriona at


3rd UK & Ireland ACT/CBS Conference

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Guest blog from Catriona George