Acceptance And Commitment Therapy ACT

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, known as ACT (pronounced as the word ‘act’), is based on the idea psychological disorders are caused by the avoidance of painful internal/external experiences. ACT as a therapy, focuses on mindfulness and acceptance based strategies. It does not aim to change our distressing thoughts, make them better, neither to think differently. Instead, ACT aims to teach us to manage painful thoughts and feelings through the application of mindfulness skills. Mindfulness means paying attention with flexibility, openness, and curiosity.

ACT contains six core therapeutic processes which allows us to be in the present moment with full awareness and openness, which in turn allows for more psychological flexibility.

  Contact with the present moment – Be here now

This is the concept of being psychologically present. Instead of just ‘going through the motions’, having contact with the present moment, allows us to stop thinking about painful memories, or ruminating over what may happen in the future.

  Values – Know what matters to you

Knowing our values, what is important to us, and how to create a meaningful life, helps us to connect with what we value most and move us towards that direction.

  Committed action – Do what it takes

The process of taking action is taking steps towards what we value, even in the presence of distressing/unpleasant thoughts, feeling and experiences. We must act to create the change we want.

  Self as context – Pure awareness

Pure awareness is another term for observing ourselves in any given moment, not just our thoughts, but also what we feel, sense or do. This provides us with a greater ability to be mindful and in the present moment. This allows us to separate from our thoughts, beliefs and the memories we have.

  Defusion – Watching our thinking

Defusion is detaching ourselves from our thoughts, beliefs, images, memories and simply observing them. In other words, we are not getting caught up in them, but rather observe, let go, and provides us with an opportunity to respond rather than react.

  Acceptance – Opening ourselves up

Like defusion, acceptance is about opening ourselves up, making room for our painful feelings, thoughts, emotions and memories. This ability and willingness to feel the discomfort, without becoming overwhelmed, without judging or criticizing our experiences is what ultimately actions us towards a life of value, and makes us more resilient.

When we consider counselling, we generally want to ‘get rid of’ something which troubles us, such as depression, anxiety, loss, bereavement etc. With ACT, the goal is never to reduce or avoid these experiences, but rather to stop struggling with these experiences.

Further reading:

Harris, R. (2009). The Happiness Trap. Stop struggling, start living. Australia: Exisle Publishing