Are Processes in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Related to Chronic Pain Outcomes Within Individuals Over Time? An Exploratory Study Using n-of-1 Designs


  • Hester R. Trompetter University of Twente
  • Derek W. Johnston University of Aberdeen
  • Marie Johnston University of Aberdeen
  • Miriam M. Vollenbroek-Hutten Roessingh Research and Development.
  • Karlein M. G. Schreurs Roessingh Research and Development.



Introduction. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) explicitly postulates experiential avoidance (EA) and values-based living (VBL) as essential treatment processes. As outcomes from between-subject studies cannot readily be generalized to within-subject processes in individuals, we explored the unfolding of, and relationship between, EA and VBL and levels of pain interference in daily life and emotional well-being within individuals experiencing chronic pain. Methods. Using n-of-1 designs, three participants following a multidisciplinary treatment program filled out a 12-item daily questionnaire (87–110 days). After multiple imputation of missing data, McKnight Time-series analysis procedures were performed for each participant separately. The interrelationships of EA, VBL and pain intensity, and the relationship of EA and VBL beyond pain intensity with both chronic pain outcomes were assessed both concurrently (same day) and prospectively (consecutive days). Results. Both EA and VBL were associated with at least one of five outcome variables (four domains of pain interference and emotional well-being) beyond pain intensity in two participants, but not in the third participant. These associations primarily existed for concurrent, but not consecutive, days. In contrast to VBL, EA was not associated with emotional well-being for any of the three participants. Conclusions. Although the finding that ACT-processes were associated with pain outcomes on concurrent days is consistent with ACT theory, the absence of such associations on consecutive days means that alternative explanations cannot be rule out. One possibility is that pain interference fluctuates within days at a higher variability rate than was currently assessed. Future research should consider using a higher measurement frequency to be able to grasp time-lagged effects.