The Use of Acceptance and
Commitment Therapy with
Hemodialysis Patients
Mary Rzeszut, MSW, LCSW
Winthrop University Hospital
Mineola, New York
Can We Do Something Different?
60% of patients with chronic disorders adhere poorly to
treatment regimen*
Estimated that 50% of dialysis patients do not adhere to at
least part of their treatment**
Depressive symptoms are present in 30% of dialysis
Team’s or facility’s approach causing patient resistance?
*Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 2001
**Seminars in Dialysis, 2001
***Nephrology Nursing Journal, 2010
Expectation of Medical Model
Educating patient increases understanding and
reduces anxiety
Health care team leads patient toward taking correct
action with regard to treatment and disease
Patient will want to take correct action in order to
produce good outcomes
Psychological factors and patient’s behavior are
important but secondary to primary task of dealing
with condition
Causes of Patient Resistance
Patient’s self-blame and guilt if belief illness was
self induced
Denial- talking about illness makes it real
“Expect to find a cure” “Receive a transplant soon”
Patient’s sense of being labeled or judged by team
(difficult, angry, non-compliant, depressed)
Clinical urges to “fix”, “to reassure" or “to advise”
Feelings of anxiety, shame, and vulnerability
during every treatment (whether expressed or not)
What Can We Do?
Patient Centered Care
National Research Corporation
Psychosocial Interventions Maybe Helpful
Difficulty coping with adjustment to disease
Anger displayed through acting out behavior, self-
medication with drugs or alcohol, or
Tool to assist in breaking through resistance
To meet demands of CMS to regulate and control
hospitalizations and medical outcomes
Considerations When Applying Interventions
Patient should have a life goal
Proceed at patient’s pace, avoid persuasion.
Education of medical condition important but often
insufficient for behavioral change.
Need constant support due to complications from
Expect relapse or setback
Overview of Case Study
Patient is a 49 year old single male
Abandoned by his biological mother at birth and
adopted at the age of 13
Never married and has limited support network
Suffered from two major losses, his father and
Lives alone and works part time
History of drug and alcohol abuse and has been
incarcerated for dwi and assault
Still drinks occasionally and smokes marijuana
Overview of Case Study
Had an acute diagnosis of ESRD
From onset of hemodialysis treatment was non-
Missing on average 2-4 treatments a month, one
month missing 7 treatments
Displayed constant anger towards unit staff
Displayed feelings of hopelessness towards life
Therapeutic Goals
Desired therapeutic outcomes were:
1) to increase hemodialysis treatment adherence
to prescribed dialysis regimen
2) to increase patient’s quality of life and
achievement of life goals
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Considered a third world modern
cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT)
Contrary to traditional CBT
Mindfulness-based, values-oriented
behavioral therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Teaches mindfulness skills to address
painful thoughts and feelings effectively
To have less impact and influence
Clarify what’s important and meaningful
To inspire and motivate to set goals
Take action that enriches life
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT has two therapeutic goals:
 Accept what
is out of our personal control
Commit to taking action that enriches life
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT consists of six core processes that are
divided into two main components
Mindfulness and acceptance processes
Commitment and
behavior changes
Mindfulness and Acceptance Processes
 Acceptance – willingness to experience any degree
of psychological distress
 Cognitive defusion – techniques designed to alter the
context of one’s thoughts, especially those that
produce harm
 Self-as-context – a person’s view of themselves based on
what they are currently thinking and feeling
These three processes help transform the cognitive and
emotional barriers that stand in the way of obtaining a
value driven life
Commitment and Behavior Changes
 Contact with the present moment – closely monitoring
how one is effectively or ineffectively behaving in the
present moment
 Values – verbal statements of what an individual
desires to experience throughout his life
 Commitment - action towards achieving one’s chosen
How Was ACT Implementated
 Patient described problematic issues
Illness and hemodialysis treatment
 Described feelings regarding issue
feelings of distress, frustration and anger
 Discussed behaviors when experiencing these feelings
(avoidance behaviors)
 Avoidant behaviors: excessive drinking, drug use, behaviors that
cause physical harm, procrastination and avoidance of conflict
Skips treatment
Drinks excessive fluids
Takes anger out on others
 Discussion if avoidant behaviors were adapted to avoid
distressful emotions
 Patient explored present strategies/behaviors when dealing
with problematic issue and evaluated if they were effective
(anger, leaving dialysis unit and skipping treatment)
 Patient reflection, no suggestions are given
 May take more than one discussion for patient to see that
current avoidant strategies are problematic
Interventions Cont’d
 Once patient saw avoidant strategies/behaviors as
Discussed what losses occur from this behavior in
terms of patient’s emotional energy, and health
Interventions Cont’d
Discussed how negative thoughts and feeling have
effect on living a more meaningful life.
nothing in life was worthwhile
Felt “less than””
Discussion on avoiding negative feelings creates
behavior that is detrimental to well-being and quality
of life.
Avoidance and control of these distressing emotions
are the problem not dialysis
Interventions Cont’d
 The willingness to experience distressing emotions
 To be mindful of emotions and choose the solution
that benefits his health
 Exposure exercise – Patient asked to monitor behavior in
the present moment and choose alternative solution
(choose different approach if wait times are excessive at unit)
(to think about if skipping treatment will benefit long term
Interventions Cont’d
 Established Life Goals
 Discussed life goals
(kidney transplant, relationship, purchasing a car,
going on vacation)
 Develop plan of
action to reach life goals
 Support when complications arose
(environmental stressors or medical complications)
Case Study Results
Treatment adherence improved after 15 sessions
Since July 2011, continues with 100% compliance or
missing only one treatment
Improvement in mood and affect
Self report of awareness of behavior
Responsibility for actions
Case Study Results
Decrease in hospitalizations
2011 - 8 admissions
 2012 – 2 admissions
Improvement seen in KDQOL scores for mental
function and effect/burden of disease
Achieving life goals – presently in relationship, on
transplant list.
Other Uses for ACT
Adherence issues to diet and fluid restriction
Anxiety/Needle Phobia
How to Apply ACT
Have patient discuss problematic issue
Explore present coping strategies
What have you tried?
Reflect on outcome and create awareness of behavior
Do you feel this strategy is working?
Is it giving you the outcome you want in terms of
your health?
Is there something you can do differently in this
 Explore the negative feelings/thoughts associated
with issue/problem
Have you thought about how this problem
makes you feel?
Is the thought true?
Replace “but” statements with “and” statements
“I would like to go to treatment but it makes me feel anxious”
“I would like to go to treatment and I am feeling anxious”
Explore life goals
 What type of life would you like to have?
 Goals should be specific
 Measurable and include details
 Within the patient’s ability
 How do you know you are moving in the direction of
obtaining goal?
 What’s getting in the way?
 Can you try to work towards goals while still feeling
these distressful feelings?
Intervention Has Been Successful
 Patient takes responsibility for behavior
Small behavioral change (adherence, diet or treatment)
Affect or mood change (less angry)
**Therapeutic interventions are not about what the
clinician values but what matters to the patient!!!

The use of acceptance and Commitment therapy with Hemodialysis