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Workshop 5

Wednesday 19 April: 9.30am - 12.30pm

Using metaphor to promote healthy self-esteem and self-acceptance

Dr Joe Oliver, University College London, and Dr Richard Bennett, University of Birmingham


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The concept of low self-esteem has become prominent in everyday language and is often applied to people with a wide range of interpersonal problems. The idea that ‘high self-esteem’ is preferable to ‘low self-esteem’ is equally pervasive amongst therapists and the people who engage their services. However, rather than targeting esteem directly, Relational Frame Theory (RFT) research suggests targeting the relationship that an individual develops with their self-concept through hierarchical framing interventions.

Because of the extensive learning history people often have with painful self-stories, along with ongoing contact with contexts that support attachment to self-stories (for example, providing a sense of safety), it can be extraordinarily difficult to change this relationship. Creative and engaging methods are needed to help clients understand how their self-story functions and to develop some distance between ‘them’ and ‘it’. The use of a well-crafted hierarchical (or container) metaphor facilitates this, whereby the observer self can be discriminated from the content of thoughts one might have about it.

Based on the presenters’ book, 'The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Self Esteem’, (New Harbinger, 2020), this workshop will present cutting edge developments in contemporary theory and practice, drawing on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and RFT to help therapists increase the precision of their metaphor use.

Self esteem and associated negative self-narratives can be difficult to work with and shift. Clients frequently find it hard to engage and often emphasise their perspective that the narrative is true, despite the emotional pain it causes and behavioural limitations it imposes. This workshop offers a creative solution to this problem that clients find engaging and helpful.

Key learning objectives: 

Via attendance at this workshop, participants will learn:

  1. An ACT & RFT informed functional understanding of self-esteem
  2. An understanding of the principles of metaphor development in therapy from a functional behavioural perspective.
  3. How to develop 'container' metaphors that hierarchically frame the relationship

Dr Joe Oliver works as a consultant clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at University College London as over director of the postgraduate graduate program in CBT for Serious Mental Health Problems. He is the founder of Contextual Consulting, delivering therapy, supervision in ACT and training in the UK and internationally. He regularly lectures, teaches, and supervises other professionals in CBT and ACT. He co-edited the text book, ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy & Mindfulness for Psychosis’, and also co-authored the self-help book, ‘ACTivate Your Life’ and several text books, including ‘ACT for Psychosis Recovery’, ‘Acceptance and Commitment Coaching’, ‘ACT: 100 Key Points and Techniques’ and, most recently, ‘The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Self Esteem’.

Dr Richard Bennett works as a clinical psychologist and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist. He leads the postgraduate diploma in cognitive behavioral therapy at the University of Birmingham and runs Think Psychology, in Birmingham, UK, which offers psychotherapy, supervision and training. He is a BABCP accredited psychotherapist, supervisor and trainer, training professionals in CBT and ACT nationally and internationally. He co-edited ‘Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy in Sport and Exercise’ and co-authored ‘ACT: 100 Key Points and Techniques’, ‘The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Self Esteem’ and, ‘ACT: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions’.

Key references 

Bennett, R. (2017). From esteem to acceptance: contemporary perspectives on the self. BPS Psychotherapy Section Review, 59, 8-15.

Foody, M., Barnes-Holmes, Y., Barnes-Holmes, D. & Luciano, C. (2013). An Empirical Investigation of Hierarchical versus Distinction Relations in a Self-based ACT Exercise. International Journal of Psychology & Psychological Therapy, 13, 3, 373-388

Marshall et al (2015) Self-compassion protects against the negative effects of low self-esteem: A longitudinal study in a large adolescent sample. Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, 74, 116-121

Oliver, J. & Bennett, R. (2020). The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Self-esteem. Oakland: New Harbinger

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