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Self-acceptance training, an educational, alternative approach to traditional therapy, aims to help people live rich, full lives through group workshop trainings. Practitioners of the approach attempt to evoke a hypnotic trance state in participants, as it is thought that individuals who are in this trance state may be less likely experience critical and/or negative self-evaluations that may interfere with the ability to pay attention to thoughts, imagery, and sensations.

Individuals seeking therapy to develop greater awareness of the self and/or to pursue self-exploration in an environment free from criticism, judgment, and evaluation may find this approach beneficial. 

History and Development

Self-acceptance training was developed by Richard Olney who, during his teenage years, experienced several brief, transient, psychedelic states of mind that involved visual hallucinations and feelings of disassociation. Olney was not disturbed by these experiences but was instead inspired to independently study psychology, mysticism, and hypnosis in his free time. 

Despite going into the field of advertising, Olney maintained an avid interest in mind-body connection healing and by 1972 had transitioned to full-time work as an alternative healer. Mr. Onley’s self-acceptance training approach incorporates multiple approaches: hypnosis, imagery, shamanistic interventions, bioenergetics, Gestalt psychology, and body awareness training. At the height of his career in alternative medicine, he conducted nearly 30 workshops each year in multiple locations throughout the United States and also delivered educational sessions to mental health professionals wishing to expand their practice by learning about self-acceptance. In these professional trainings, attendees worked both to develop personal self-acceptance and learn strategies for teaching self-acceptance to others. 

Olney passed away in 1994, but the practice of self-acceptance training is currently carried on by individuals who have received training from Onley or his students. The practice remains an alternative, educational approach to the treatment of mental health conditions, as it has not yet been backed by empirical research. 

What Is Self-Acceptance?

Self-acceptance can be described as an increased awareness and acceptance of personal strengths and flaws alike. One major foundation of self-acceptance training is the belief that past experiences and beliefs about the self and others tend to create negative self-images that may lead to critical and/or destructive self-evaluations. Old traumas, adverse experiences, and troublesome memories can all have an impact on an individual's present thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and developing techniques to heal from these may help individuals come to experience relief from lasting pain.

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Proponents of self-acceptance believe that if individuals can connect with and understand how these self-evaluations came to develop, they may be able to make positive changes in their thinking and become more connected to their present experiences. 

Disconnecting from Negative Emotions

Practitioners of self-acceptance training believe this approach is often able to help people disconnect from negative emotions through a revision of any critical, negative, or pessimistic internal dialogue that may contribute to their development. The trance states that self-acceptance training aims to evoke in those in treatment are intended to help increase receptivity as helping professionals offer new and/or alternate interpretations of the past for consideration. These interpretations, which may reflect a deep level of acceptance and compassion, are intended to help individuals become better able to disconnect themselves when memories of past experiences and their effects serve to distort interpretations of the present. Reinterpreting the past as well as any negative emotions resulting from it may contribute to a decreased likelihood of a person being significantly affected by negative emotions in the future.

How Can Self-Acceptance Training Help?

Practitioners of self-acceptance training attempt to help people who have come to the realization that their current life is being negatively impacted by past experiences or traumas. Given that hypnosis and the evoking of trance states are important parts of self-acceptance training, people who choose to explore this approach may wish to first consider whether they are comfortable with these techniques. 

Those who choose to participate in this training are guided through a re-experiencing of traumatic or aversive early life events. A person who experienced abuse in childhood might be encouraged to share a detailed incident from memory. A person with low self-esteem might be guided through acting out a childhood conversation that involved harsh criticism. When a person cannot clearly remember details of early life experiences, hypnosis may be used. The purpose of guided reconstruction and re-experiencing of early life events—in a safe, therapeutic environment—is an assisted exploration of the ways past events affect current self-evaluation and understanding. 

Self-acceptance training can also help people feel more self-aware, be less susceptible to unhelpful or unwarranted criticism, and experience an increase in energy and vitality. 

Who Offers Self-Acceptance Training?

The practice of self-acceptance training is not governed by any single organization or group. As the creator, Ornley maintained responsibility for promoting the practice until his retirement, and many of the current practitioners are his former students. Today, self-acceptance training is incorporated into the practice of a number of mental and physical health professionals who take a holistic approach to health and incorporate alternative therapy into treatment. Self-acceptance training is not a type of therapy that is typically covered by insurance, and the cost of attending training varies based on the length, location, and provider.   

Concerns and Limitations

Because self-acceptance training requires people in treatment to share details about their past experiences and the impact these events have had, usually in a group setting, those seeking to pursue self-acceptance training must be open to sharing about their experiences and capable of remembering the past. It is also recommended that they be healthy enough to develop some level of insight into the ways the past affects the present.

People experiencing certain mental health concerns, such as schizophrenia and mania, may find that their ability to clearly remember the past and speak with clarity about their current situation is limited at certain times. In these instances, self-acceptance training may not be recommended as the best approach to treatment. 

Self-acceptance training has not been scientifically researched as an alternative form of therapy for mental health conditions, though according to anecdotal evidence, many individuals have been helped by this approach. 


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  4. Zatzick, D. F., & Johnson, F. A. (1997). Alternative psychotherapeutic practice among middle class Americans: I: Case studies and follow-up. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, (21) 1. 53-58. doi: 10.1023/A:1017995119694