“Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Positive Psychology The Seven Foundations of Well-Being”
Edited by Todd B. Kashdan and Joseph Ciarrochi
New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Oakland, CA 2013
Book offers analysis of mindfulness; raises questions
Reviewed by James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D
Mindfulness, acceptance and positive psychology have achieved high visibility in recent years. In this book, psychologists Todd B. Kashdan and Joseph Ciarrochi have assembled 13 chapters that discuss similarities and differences between positive psychology and the therapeutic modality known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In their words, both positive psychology and ACT “seek to make positive change at multiple levels, from individuals to relationships to organizations and cultures,” as well as “appeal to a wide range of people, including those working in clinical, social, educational and business disciplines.”
The chapter authors are generally consistent in defining the underlying concepts of the book. Positive psychology, for example, is equated with people having valued experiences, feeling content with their lives, being optimistic and cultivating happiness at every opportunity. And yet, it is apparent that the scientific underpinnings of positive psychology initially advanced by Seligman and colleagues are not necessarily congruent with what is found in the popular press – as an empirical test, visit the “Psychology and Self-Help” section of your local bookstore!
As expected, the chapter authors look closely at mindfulness which, based on representative definitions from the book, is “conscious awareness with an open, receptive attitude of what is happening in the present moment.” Essentially, the practice of mindfulness entails paying attention to the here-and-now, minus judgmental thinking and without experiential avoidance. Most of the chapters examine mindfulness with reference to specific treatment approaches such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Finally, the integration of mindfulness and acceptance is detailed extensively in the book through evaluation of ACT, “a mindfulness, values-oriented behavioral therapy, with Buddhist traditions, but not with a religious focus.” Though some professionals may be unfamiliar with ACT, it has a rather formative conceptual base and substantial research evidence of treatment effectiveness. Of note, the concluding chapter in the book was written by Steven C. Hayes, an exemplary scientist-practitioner and the originator of ACT.
Although not stated explicitly, the book is clearly geared toward clinicians, especially those with a cognitive-behavioral orientation. And yet the chapters never reach the level of a procedural guide nor should the book be considered a treatment manual. It appears, in fact, that the editors granted the authors considerable latitude in writing their chapters, the result being some unevenness in content and exposition.
This book will appeal most to psychologists and other mental health professionals who are knowledgeable about mindfulness and acceptance-based therapies. Certainly, there is introductory material but most of the chapters move beyond the basics and require the reader to embrace some dense narrative concerning theory and research-to-practice translation.
Understanding ACT, for example, demands a fundamental understanding of relational frame theory, stimulus equivalence and functional contextualism, all esoteric topics to the uninitiated. My opinion is that the book puts forth a very contemporary analysis of mindfulness, acceptance and positive psychology, is expansive in scope and poses more questions than it answers – but perhaps this is what the editors intended.
James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D, is senior vice president, applied research, clinical training and peer review at the May Institute in Norwood, Mass.