The flexibility of distress tolerance through a brief Acceptance and Commitment Therapy intervention : a pilot study.


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Distress tolerance (DT) is characterized as a person’s capacity and willingness to tolerate negative emotional states. It is theorized that DT may contribute to the development, maintenance, and therapeutic extinction of a variety of forms of psychopathology. The paucity of literature for interventions altering DT indicates that further research in this area could be beneficial. The current study aimed to explore the impact of a brief Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) intervention on DT and various psychological symptoms. Baseline relationships between DT and symptoms, as well as DT and ACT-related constructs were explored. University student participants completed self-report instruments and a one-hour laboratory session of a standardized ACT intervention. Two weeks post-intervention, participants completed another set of self-report instruments. Results indicated that DT was significantly related to measures of discomfort intolerance, resiliency, and impulsivity. DT was significantly related to anxiety, stress, depression, binge eating, and negative affect, such that higher levels of DT were related to lower rates of psychological symptoms. When exploring DT and ACT-related constructs, significant relationships were found between DT and psychological inflexibility, progress on valued living, and four of five mindfulness factors. Results revealed a significant change in DT when measured pre- and post-intervention. The current study shows that DT is flexible and can be significantly and positively altered after a brief one-hour intervention. Changes in resiliency and drinking motives for social, coping, enhancement, and conformity reasons were found. No changes were found in self-reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, or negative affect. Although a lack of significant change on these variables was found, it should be noted that pre-to-post changes in these variables were all in the hypothesized direction. Contrary to hypotheses, results revealed an increase in binge eating when assessed pre- and post-intervention. In terms of ACT-related skills, no changes in psychological inflexibility or values consistency were found, while significant increases were observed for three out of five mindfulness factors. Overall, this study provides preliminary evidence for the utility of a single-session intervention to result in psychological change. An effective single-session intervention is an important alternative to a longer, more intensive treatment.



Distress Tolerance. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.