Exploring the power of acceptance

Melissa Atkinson

Accepting ones thoughts – whether good or bad – may be a key to preventing eating disorders, Flinders University psychology student Melissa Atkinson (pictured) says.

As part of her PhD, Ms Atkinson has been investigating the power of “acceptance techniques” as a method to reduce body dissatisfaction among people who are at risk of developing an eating disorder.

“Acceptance techniques involve the awareness of your thoughts, feelings and experiences and accepting them as they are without trying to control or change them,” Ms Atkinson, Based in the School of Psychology, said.

“It means that whenever negative thoughts come into your mind, you accept those thoughts are there and move on – you don’t dwell on them or try to reason with them,” she said.

The two-part research, now in its final stage, involved an initial experiment with about 80 general participants to determine how they engaged with acceptance techniques, as well as a more targeted, preventative study with at-risk individuals to measure the long-term effectiveness of the therapy.

“We worked with a general university population but induced body dissatisfaction by showing them magazine pictures, gave them acceptance training, and then asked them how they dealt with their thoughts and feelings to see if they were using acceptance or not,” she said.

“We found that people with emotion-related difficulties, negative moods or who displayed an avoidant coping style had more trouble engaging with acceptance techniques.

“We also found no marked difference between those who did and didn’t engage optimally with the technique, which suggests that those who didn’t adapted it in their own way and were doing something else which appeared to help.”

She said while the technique proved valuable as a temporary measure, more studies were needed to determine its effectiveness over a longer time frame.

“Acceptance is a relatively new application in addressing psychological problems, it’s been used to help people work through an eating disorder but this is one of the first studies to look at it as a preventative measure.

“The initial results seem promising in a brief format but we still need to assess the data from the long-term participants to see whether it’s successful over an extended period of time.”

Ms Atkinson was a winner of Flinders University’s 2012 Best Student Paper Awards, an annual competition which aims to recognise and reward outstanding student research.

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