What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) uses and teaches mindfulness and acceptance strategies that help people develop psychological flexibility. It can help people recognise how trying to supress challenging experiences can cause problems. Instead it helps people accept their negative thoughts and feelings and become better at taking action towards more valued behaviours that support well-being. ACT encourages people to open up to challenging thoughts and feelings, helping them to not avoid situations where these may come up. This therapy is not intended to change unwanted experiences but instead it teaches people to develop a mindful relationship with them.
How it works
ACT is not a specific set of techniques however there are 6 core principles that are thought to help develop psychological flexibility.
1. Cognitive Defusion: This aspect of therapy aims to change the function of negative thoughts, emotions and memories that affect an individual.
2. Acceptance: This provides an alternative to avoiding unwanted thoughts and feelings. Embracing these without attempting to change them helps individuals to open up and implement newly learnt coping strategies
3. Contact with the present moment: This is about individuals being psychologically present, connecting with what is happening now.
4. The observing self: This focuses on a person’s attention and awareness which may include developing mindfulness skills.
5. Values: Values give life meaning and purpose. They are used in ACT to develop therapy goals.
6. Committed action: This aspect of ACT involves establishing goals that are consistent with a person’s values so that individuals stick to them and carry them out responsibly.
Mindfulness is one of ACT’s most useful techniques promoting openness and curiosity. Developing mindfulness skills can help us see our experiences in the present moment without judgement. It helps us to detach and let go of unhelpful thoughts, allows us to experience painful feelings and feel connected to the present moment.
Acceptance techniques also play a significant role in ACT. By trying to get rid of pain and distress, we can in fact increase it. By accepting and acknowledging what we feel, we can learn to make room for these negative feelings so that we no longer have to fight to supress them.
Benefits of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
ACT can teach a variety of skills that help to deal with distressing thoughts and feelings so that they have a much smaller influence on your life. It can also help in determining what is important to an individual and encourage you to change your life. Different to many other therapies that aim to make the individual feel better, ACT helps people become empowered to make themselves feel better.
Who can ACT therapy help?
This therapy has been found to be effective in helping people who have been diagnosed with or who struggle with anxiety, depression, obsessions and compulsions, the effects of trauma, substance abuse, eating disorders and distressing unusual beliefs and visions.
The mindfulness elements of this therapy are also very effective in many different settings including improving people’s athletic or business performance.