Study reveals three distinct classes of psychological flexibility
04/26/2019 // Edsel Cook // Views

Psychological flexibility is an important part of personality. It is the measure of a person's ability to handle changes in their situation and to consider problems and jobs in new and imaginative ways. U.K. researchers determined that patients can be divided into three classes according to their level of psychological flexibility.

In recent years, there were more and more people who were experiencing one form of psychological problem or another that required treatment. NHS England reported receiving referrals for more than 1.4 million patients who needed mental health therapy in 2017. And those were limited to the patients who approached the state for therapeutic assistance instead of going to a private practitioner.

One of the most important tools of psychological therapists is the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Whereas other therapies try to eliminate a difficult feeling in a patient, ACT has the therapist try to get the patient to accept those feelings.

By embracing their feelings, a patient can finally transition toward behavior and goals that are in line with their chosen values. (Related: Incorporating more vegetables and fruits in your diet causes IMMEDIATE improvements to your psychological well-being.)

Improving the ACT approach by evaluating psychological flexibility

Psychological flexibility is one of the core parts of ACT. It assists patients with getting themselves out of an emotional rut, improves their ability to handle stress, and increases their mental wellness. Flexibility also helps them build relevant lives around what they consider to be really important to them.


Until recently, researchers have not been able to explain exactly how the various parts of psychological flexibility cooperated when it came to helping people cope with psychological distress. The psychological construct appears to be a generalized one that applied to everyone. This prevents therapists from customizing the ACT approach in order to better serve the specific needs of an individual.

Researchers from the University of Chichester were the first to evaluate the degrees of psychological flexibility. In a report published in the journal Behavior Modification, they said that ACT patients can be classified according to their level of flexibility.

The U.K. research team believed that its findings will help therapists adjust ACT so that it can effectively target the problems experienced by a particular patient. This not only improves the outcome of the therapy for the patient, but also benefits public health.

A person's level of psychological flexibility will determine therapeutic needs

In the Chichester study, the researchers identified three classes of psychological flexibility. Based on their findings, they said that a person will have either Low, Moderate, or High levels of flexibility.

If a person displays low levels of psychological flexibility, he or she will report the highest level of psychological distress. Conversely, participants with high flexibility enjoy the least amount of stress.

Using these classes as a guide, it becomes easier for a therapist to determine the therapeutic requirements of a patient. ACT can now be adjusted to fit the unique needs of a client.

"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 Chichester researcher Dr. Ian Tyndall. "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 that he and his team will continue to expand on their discovery about psychological flexibility. He also hopes that his team's findings will encourage other researchers to explore this subject.

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