Self and Suffering: A Critique from the Perspectives of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Zen Buddhism

Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Research Paper

Degree Name



Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

John McNeill, Psy.D.

Second Committee Member

Jennifer Cornish, Ph.D.

Third Committee Member

Pamela Haglund, Psy.D.


Behavior, Buddhism, ACT, Self, No-self, Functional contextualism, RFT, Language, Dualism, CBT, Meditation, Pragmatism, Philosophy, Comparative analysis

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. Permanently suppressed.


The amelioration of suffering has been identified as central to both Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and certain spiritual traditions, particularly Buddhism. While numerous researchers and clinicians view the overlaps between ACT and Buddhism as significant and compelling, key aspects of selfhood in ACT and Buddhism have been seen as elusive and confounding. This theoretical paper explores whether the ACT concept of self-as-context is identical to the Zen Buddhist concept of no-self, comparing these two concepts vis-à-vis their respective approaches to suffering and philosophy, especially in terms of language and dualism. This exploration delineates crucial distinctions in these two notions of selfhood and briefly outlines ways that no-self may inform and impact ACT, specifically self-as-context, and its theoretical and clinical approach to the amelioration of suffering.


39 pages

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