In a new study, U.K. researchers have analyzed degrees of psychological flexibility and identified three distinct classes: high, moderate and low. Delineating psychological flexibility provides clinicians with diagnostic tools with which to create more individual therapeutic solutions, researchers said.

Such flexibility is a key part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), in which a therapist helps the client accept rather than try to eliminate their difficult feelings, develop mindfulness and commit to behavior change strategies.

Researchers define psychological flexibility as the ability to contact the present moment more fully as a conscious person, and to change or persist in behavior for valued goals. Developing psychological flexibility ultimately helps people become unstuck, deal with stress, improve well-being, and build more meaningful lives around what they truly value.

“Our study provides a clearer view to clinicians of the wider spectrum of psychological flexibility, which we hope will help them to facilitate greater change in their clients, in a way which is better tailored to their needs,” said study leader Dr. Ian Tyndall from the department of psychology at the University of Chichester.

Until now, clinicians have had little scientific understanding of how the different elements of psychological flexibility worked together to help a person cope with psychological distress. It appeared to be a “one size fits all” construct, thereby limiting a clinician’s ability to tailor ACT to the individual needs of their clients.

In the study, those in the low psychological flexibility subgroup reported the highest levels of psychological distress, compared to the lowest levels of psychological distress reported by those in the high psychological flexibility subgroup.

Clearly, the therapeutic requirements for those with high levels of psychological distress are very different than those at the other end of the spectrum, researchers said.

It is believed that if clinicians have stronger knowledge of these different levels of psychological distress, they can better tailor the ACT offered to their clients, with benefits not just for the client but for public health in general.

“With more and more people presenting with psychological distress, and seeking professional assistance with their conditions, it is important that the concept of psychological flexibility provides the necessary nuance to underpin successful therapy,” Tyndall said.

Tyndall conducted the study with Dr. Antonina Pereira, also from the Department of Psychology.

According to figures from the National Health Service (NHS) England, around 1.4 million people were referred for NHS mental health therapy during 2017. This does not take into account people who accessed mental health therapy from private sources.

The research team at the University of Chichester worked with colleagues from Coventry University, the University of Milano-Biccoca, Italy, Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University, Ireland.

The findings are published in the journal Behavior Modification.

Source: University of Chichester