Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: What You Should Know
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that works by helping people become more psychologically flexible so they can better handle difficult situations. The therapy teaches acceptance of difficult thoughts, feelings, and experiences without judgment while also committing to acting in line with values.
ACT combines components from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mindfulness-based techniques and other forms of treatment.
The main goal of this type of therapy is to help people increase psychological flexibility, which is the ability to be open to your internal experiences, such as thoughts or emotions, without becoming overwhelmed by them.
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What Are the Key Concepts of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
According to this report published in the National Library of Medicine, ACT belongs to the third wave of clinical therapies often used by modern psychologists. ACT encourages individuals to embrace their internal experiences and undertake behavior change in accordance with their values.
Nova Southeastern University (NSU) states that numerous studies collaborate the efficacy of cognitive and behavioral approaches, such as ACT, in physical therapy practice.
The key concepts behind this form of evidence-based treatment are:
1. Psychological Flexibility
Psychological flexibility is an essential concept for ACT because it involves being able to shift between different perspectives or points of view to better cope with difficult situations or emotions. A person can be more open to varied perspectives if they address the issues themselves rather than how those issues make them feel, thus getting locked into a single outlook.
Additionally, this allows people to take part in activities without feeling overwhelmed by associated negative emotions. Instead, they can focus on what brings joy or purpose into their life.
2. Committed Action
Through committed action, individuals can set smaller goals which gradually lead towards achieving the overall goal despite any discomfort they may feel. This requires taking proactive steps and remaining steadfast in their values even when faced with fear or other difficulties.
3. Acceptance of Internal Experiences
Rather than trying to stifle internal experiences, proponents of ACT recognize these experiences for what they are — transient states that do not dictate our future actions. This understanding gives us greater autonomy over how we react instead of allowing external factors to control us entirely.
With this insight, we can better equip ourselves to confront challenges head-on with a steadfast commitment to our values despite any discomfort or fear experienced along the way.
4. Contextual Behavioral Science
Contextual behavioral science looks at how past events shape current behavior patterns and helps people identify triggers for certain responses to develop more effective coping strategies.
Benefits of ACT
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, ACT is an evidence-based therapy (EBT) with several benefits, such as:
1. Better Emotional Regulation
By increasing their psychological flexibility, individuals can better handle difficult situations and emotions without being overwhelmed. This allows an individual to manage stressors more effectively while maintaining healthy boundaries in interpersonal interactions.
2. Improved Relationships
By understanding their own internal experiences, individuals can be more mindful and present in interpersonal relationships. This greater awareness of self can help them recognize when a person or situation is triggering an unhealthy response and act accordingly.
3. Increased Self-Awareness
ACT encourages individuals to become aware of how their thoughts, beliefs, and emotions shape their sense of self and how they interact with the world. This increased self-awareness can lead to better decision-making and improved life satisfaction.
4. Effective Treatment of Mental Health Issues Including Substance Use Disorders
Overall, ACT can be an effective tool for treating anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues because it helps an individual identify and manage triggers while maintaining a commitment to their values.
Techniques Used in ACT
Therapists and mental health professionals use the following Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques:
- Mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness exercises help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings without judgment or attachment. This allows them to accept what they are feeling instead of trying to avoid or change it.
- Cognitive defusion. Cognitive defusion involves helping people realize negative thoughts are only thoughts rather than facts. By recognizing negative thoughts as mere musings, rather than verifiable truths, individuals can create a space between themselves and these contemplations to better choose how they react.
- Acceptance strategies. Acceptance strategies involve learning how to be present with difficult emotions without getting overwhelmed or trying too hard to push away uncomfortable feelings.
- Committed action planning. Committed action planning encourages individuals who are dealing with addiction issues to develop goals based on their core values and to use those values as the motivation for making positive changes despite any challenges they may face along the way.
- Values clarification. Values clarification involves identifying your personal beliefs about life, and then living authentically according to those beliefs even when faced with adversity, such as an addiction or substance use disorder.
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Who Can Benefit from ACT?
The University of Utah cites evidence from a pilot study which indicates that ACT effectively helps adolescents cope with anxiety. But anyone who is struggling with mental health issues can benefit from ACT, including individuals of any age who are facing:
- Substance use disorders
- Depression and anxiety disorders, including social anxiety
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)
- Personality disorders
- Eating disorders
- Long-term chronic pain or uncomfortable physical sensations
What does this form of therapy actually do, and what concepts are applied?
What Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Do?
ACT sessions use techniques from traditional cognitive therapy, such as group and individual sessions, to help individuals accept their internal experiences and commit to meaningful action.
The critical concepts of ACT are based on contextual behavioral science, which includes the idea that language can influence our thoughts and feelings. In other words, how we talk about our inner experiences can shape them in ways that make it difficult to move forward with committed action or live a meaningful life.
By using experiential avoidance techniques like mindfulness meditation or thought defusion exercises, individuals learn how to observe their painful thoughts without becoming overwhelmed by them.
What Are the 6 Core Principles of ACT?
These core principles of ACT provide individuals with the tools to work through difficult emotions like anxiety, depression, and addiction in a mindful and compassionate way. With practice, these tools can transform lives and enable you to create a rich, meaningful life congruent with your values and goals — even when faced with difficult emotions or challenging circumstances.
The six core principles of ACT are:
Acceptance means allowing thoughts and feelings to simply flow without trying to change or judge them as good or bad. Accepting enables us to notice our current situation rather than ruminating on the past or agonizing over what may come.
2. Cognitive Defusion
Cognitive defusion involves learning how to step back from unhelpful thoughts so we can observe them objectively instead of getting caught up in rumination or overthinking.
3. Contact with the Present Moment
Contact with the present moment involves paying attention to what’s happening right now — both internally and externally — rather than focusing on past events or worrying about what might happen next.
4. Self-Observation Without Judgment
Self-observation without judgment allows you to recognize your own behavior patterns so you can make changes if needed while still being kind and compassionate towards yourself during this process.
5. Clarity About Personal Values
Clarity around personal values helps you identify what really matters most to you in life so you can focus your energy on activities that align with these values instead of getting sidetracked by distractions like social media scrolling or watching too much TV.
6. Commitment to Acting Based on Those Values
Commitment to acting based on your values requires courage but also provides motivation for maintaining focus regardless of potential setbacks or disappointments.
What is the Goal of ACT?
The goal of ACT is to help clients learn how to observe their thoughts rather than getting caught up in them. This therapy uses cognitive behavioral techniques, such as mindfulness, exposure exercises, and principles from contextual behavioral science like relational frame theory (RFT). RFT helps individuals develop better communication skills within relationships and between themselves and others around them.
What Are Some Examples of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Let’s use the example of how a 52-year-old man struggling with alcohol addiction could use ACT to improve his quality of life.
John has been drinking heavily for the past five years, and his drinking has started to take a toll on his mental and physical health. He’s feeling frustrated, ashamed, and stuck in this cycle of addiction. But John wants to find a way out. He also wants to learn how to build healthier relationships with his family and friends.
Together, John and his ACT therapist could apply ACT using:
- Cognitive defusion: Cognitive defusion teaches John how to observe his thoughts and feelings without attaching too much importance to them or getting overwhelmed by them, which can help him gain some perspective instead of always focusing on the negative aspects of his addiction.
- Acceptance strategies: The ACT therapist can help John adopt an accepting attitude toward himself and his current circumstances rather than trying to push away his difficult emotions.
- Values clarification: John’s therapist can help John determine what matters in life and understand how John’s current behaviors affect his ability to make progress towards those goals.
- Committed action planning: The therapist helps John create a plan of action based on John’s values. John can use this plan as the foundation to take meaningful steps towards a healthier life.
ACT techniques can help John learn to accept himself and develop more meaningful relationships with others while also taking steps to break away from the cycle of addiction.
What is the Difference Between Mindful Acceptance and Mindful Awareness?
Mindful acceptance and mindful awareness are two powerful tools used in addiction treatment. They both involve becoming aware of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without judgment or criticism.
Becoming aware allows individuals to become more tolerant towards themselves when faced with adverse situations instead of fighting against them or shying away from uncomfortable feelings completely.
The critical difference between acceptance and awareness is:
- Mindful acceptance focuses on allowing these experiences to be present while still accepting them as part of life.
- Mindful awareness involves actively observing these experiences without engaging with them.
Acceptance and awareness are both essential components of this therapy. ACT aims to help individuals struggling with addiction stay more present in life and better connected to their values.
Is ACT For You?
To assess whether ACT would be a good fit for you, ask yourself:
- Do I have difficulty accepting my thoughts and feelings?
- Am I struggling with addiction or unhealthy behaviors?
- Do I want to express more of myself but feel like something is holding me back?
- Do I want to build a more meaningful life based on what is important to me?
- Do I want to improve communication patterns in my relationships?
- Do I often feel stuck in patterns that aren’t helping me reach my goals?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then ACT may be the right approach for you.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help you become more accepting of yourself while also providing tools and guidance so you can act based on your values and make progress toward a better life.
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