Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of behavioural therapy that uses various mindfulness strategies to help us accept the difficulties that we face in life. ACT does not aim to directly change or stop unwanted or negative experiences. It, instead, aims to help individuals to accept these as a normal part of life, allowing you to then choose a valued direction in which to take action and make positive changes.
ACT teaches you to develop a mindful relationship with negative problems and experiences, promoting psychological flexibility, reconnection with the here and now, a realisation of personal values, and a commitment to behaviour change.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy involves a range of experiential exercises to reduce the power and significance of damaging emotive, cognitive, and behavioural processes. This type of therapy takes a strong stand against ‘experiential avoidance’ – our natural attempt to avoid or get rid of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and offers a long-term solution to future health and happiness.
The length of therapy will depend on your needs and the practising methods of the counsellor, although the overall duration of the therapy is generally relatively short and time-limited.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy follows six core therapeutic processes, each supporting each other in order to help you, the client.
- Acceptance: This is taught as an alternative to experiential avoidance. It involves embracing painful feelings, without attempting to change their frequency or form.
- Cognitive Defusion: Also known as emotional separation, cognitive defusion refers to a set of techniques that attempt to change the functions of negative thoughts and feelings, and how they affect an individual. Procedures that may be followed include encouraging the individual to externally observe their unwanted problems by giving it a shape, size, colour, etc.
- Contacting the present moment: ACT therapy encourages you to be more psychologically present, to connect with the here and now. Enabling individuals to experience the world more directly is thought to make their behaviour and thoughts more flexible.
- The observing self: ACT views the mind as a combination of two parts. One part is the ‘thinking self’, which is responsible for your thoughts, beliefs, judgements, fantasies and so on, whilst the second part – ‘the observing self’ – deals with attention and awareness. The observing self has the ability to develop mindfulness skills. This helps with acceptance and cognitive defusion.
- Values: Values are the chosen qualities that you live by, and they are essential to the development of ACT goals. A variety of exercises are used to help you choose a life direction in various domains, such as family and career. The realisation of these typically comes from your ability to follow through the processes of acceptance, defusion and contacting the present moment.
- Committed action: The final stage involves the establishment of concrete goals that are consistent with your chosen values. It is considered essential that you commit to these goals in order to foster the necessary changes to discover a greater sense of wellbeing and fulfilment.
Acceptance and commitment therapy can help with a wide range of issues, but it is specifically helpful in issues such as anxiety, depression, obsessions and compulsions, trauma, addictions, eating disorders, and psychotic symptoms. The mindfulness element of ACT also makes it effective for those wanting to improve their athletic or business performance.