What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help you to cultivate a rich and meaningful life, by accepting what is beyond your control, and committing to actions that are in line with your values. ACT can help you to increase your psychological flexibility, allowing you to break free from patterns where you feel stuck, and consciously engage in behaviours that will propel your life forward, towards living more fully as the kind of person that you’d like to be.
While many people wish to completely eliminate or avoid painful thoughts and feelings, efforts to do so are usually short lived – as negative feelings always return. Additionally, spending energy trying to control or avoid negative feelings can actually amplify them in the long term, and the side effects can diminish your quality of life. For example, the more you fear something (and avoid it) the longer you tend to struggle with it, and the worse your anxiety gets over time. Alternatively, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can teach you how to change your relationship to these painful thoughts and feelings so that they have less impact and less influence over you, empowering you to re-focus on moving towards who and what is important to you.
How does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) work?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on six main processes:
Acceptance: Making room for whatever shows up in one’s internal, private experience, be it thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories, and urges. Letting these experiences come and go, and be as they are, instead of fighting against them. By dropping the struggle, you can refocus on connecting to what’s most important to you.
Cognitive Defusion: Being able to relate to unhelpful thoughts and beliefs in a new way, such as observing them without getting caught up in them, or letting them go. It involves seeing thoughts for what they are, not what they say they are. We can learn to notice thoughts as words or mental images, without acting on them.
Present Moment: ACT teaches flexible engagement with moments in the “here and now”, from a place of openness and curiosity.
The Observing Self: One part of our mind is often busy with mental activity such as thinking, judging, planning, worrying, etc., while another part of our mind is able to notice and observe these mental functions. The part that notices our thoughts, as well as our feelings and bodily sensations, is called the Observing Self. The Observing Self is pure awareness. Pure awareness allows us to take space from painful thoughts and feelings, so that we have more freedom to choose how to respond in a given moment (rather than react).
Values: Our hearts deepest desires for what we want our life to stand for, what kind of person we want to be. The types of relationships that we want to cultivate. The direction we want our life to go in. There are no right or wrong values, they are freely chosen, moment to moment by each person. It is not “I should do…” it is “I want to do….”
Committed Action: When we are clear on what is important to us, we can take steps towards that. We can set small, medium, and long-term goals, and build up patterns of behaviour that will take us in the desired direction, in terms of how we want to live our life. Committed action is difficult, it often means facing what we have avoided. However, it is meaningful, in that it allows us to move forward, according to what we value.
What sort of problems can ACT help with?
ACT is for anyone who wants to reduce their psychological suffering and increase their well-being. ACT can be used in individual therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, workplace trainings, and many other settings.