ACCEPTANCE AND COMMITMENT THERAPY

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It differs from traditional CBT insofar as ACT focuses on helping people to be mindful of and accept their unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations and painful memories rather than trying to control or get rid of these experiences. In addition, ACT encourages people to identify their values and commit to doing the things that accord with what matters most to them in order to lead to a rich and meaningful life.

What happens in ACT?

From an ACT perspective, psychological problems are likely to arise and persist when we repeatedly overreact to short term thoughts, feelings and impulses and attempt to control and avoid things we don’t like. The acronym FEAR sums this up succinctly:

  • Fusion with your thoughts: Like two pieces of metal, we become ‘fused’ with our (negative) thoughts so that they dominate our behaviour. Consequently, it is difficult to take a step back, let them go and refocus our attention on the things that really matter
  • Evaluating of your experience: judging things as good or bad as opposed to being present and accepting your experience
  • Avoiding your experience: trying to suppress or control unwanted thoughts, feelings and sensations, or avoiding people, places and situations because of the way they make us feel
  • Reason-giving for your behaviour: persisting in behaviour that holds you back from doing what matters most.

Ultimately, this leads to what has been called ‘psychological inflexibility’. The ACT approach aims to increase psychological flexibility which means working towards:

  • Accepting your thoughts and feelings and being present
  • Choosing a valued direction in life
  • Taking action to do what matters most and live life in accordance with your values                                                                           

ACT recognises that pain and suffering will visit everyone at some point in their lives and assumes that even in the midst of our distress we can find meaning and purpose and become better people as a result of learning to relate differently to the pain we will inevitably experience.

Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy right for me?

ACT has been shown to be an effective treatment for a range of mental health problems. So, if you want to learn about becoming more accepting, living in the present and committing to pursuing your values even when things are difficult then Acceptance and Commitment Therapy may be the treatment that works best for you.

Recommended reading

Harris, R. (2008) The happiness trap: How to stop struggling and start living. London: Robinson.

Brown, F.J. (2013) Get the life you want: Finding meaning and purpose through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. London: Watkins.

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