A member of the CanFASD Family Advisory Committee recently had the opportunity to participate in a research program that gave caregivers of individuals with FASD the skills to better manage the challenges and stresses of their daily lives using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
The goal of the research project was to measure the impact ACT training has on caregiver stress and well-being, and to understand if this approach is feasible and beneficial to families of individuals with FASD. The research is being conducted in Toronto by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the University Health Network (UHN).
Mary Ann Bunkowsky, a member of the CanFASD Family Advisory Committee, had the opportunity to participate in this research project. She attended one evening session and one full day workshop on ACT Training.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helps individuals to struggle less with difficult things in their lives and mindfully connect with things that are most important in a way that is loving and respectful. ACT training gives individuals the skills to develop new and mindful relationships with their thoughts and feelings, rather than seeking to change or eliminate unwanted thoughts.
Canadian researchers have found that ACT training has alleviated levels of depression and stress in caregivers of individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions. However, this is the first research study to explicitly look at the impacts of this training on caregivers of individuals with FASD.
Mary Ann found this program extremely valuable and is looking forward to implementing the skills she learned during these trainings in her own family.
“The more we care for ourselves the better we can be for our families… My experience with ACT has enriched my life and given me some focus.”
The therapy training teaches individuals mindfulness, so staying in the moment. It also places a strong focus on reframing the mind to recognize that nothing is inherently happy. Your happiness comes from the things that you place value in, and it is something that you strive to create. For example, if you believe that having children will make you happy, then you place a strong value in parenting and family relations. ACT teaches you to reframe your mind and understand that by focusing on, and working towards, your values and goals, you will have a more meaningful and fulfilled life then if your life’s focus is on achieving the abstract notion of “happiness”.
ACT recognizes that unwanted thoughts and feelings will come into our minds, but we should work to change our relationships with these feelings and use them to inform our actions and reactions moving forward.
Mary Ann’s main takeaway from the program is that life is not about striving for happiness.
“Refocusing on our values allows us to feel fulfilled and content and maybe not so defeated by the challenges in our lives… It’s not about being happy; it’s about living a fulfilled life. If you’re living your values… then you will live a fulfilled life.”
She believes ACT can be extremely beneficial for other families like hers. However, in order to be effective, these training programs should be run by a knowledgeable and trained facilitator, who is preferably a caregiver of an individual with FASD. There are currently no FASD-specific ACT training programs available in Canada, but the findings of this currently unpublished research will hopefully inform the development of such programs in the future.
“Having the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as part of your life is really going to set your whole family up for success… This is something I want to take to the next level. I want to help myself first, and then share the ACT experience with my husband and children, and parents and caregivers to help us all live more fulfilling lives.”