Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a powerful psychotherapy based on cutting-edge research into how the human mind works. To shorten the name we call it ACT. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is clinically proven to be successful in treating various psychological problems.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helps people to shift their thinking and behaviour toward a more flexible mindset to live a meaningful life. ACT focuses on actions that enrich your life. ACT helps you spend your energy on things of importance by not being entangled by your mind. Mental health professionals using ACT have two basic aims in this therapy:

ACT aims to help you create a rich, full and meaningful life. To do that, we’ll need to spend some time talking about what you really want out of life. We help you discover what’s important and meaningful to you. We call this ‘clarifying your values’. Values are your heart’s deepest desires and how you want to show up in your life. Using that information as a guide, we’ll look at how you can set goals and take action to change your life for the better. During the process, we develop a sense of meaning, purpose and vitality.

The other aim is to develop skills that help you handle painful thoughts and feelings. You learn to handle your difficult experiences in a way that lessens their influence over you. We call these skills mindfulness and awareness skills. Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, openness, and focus. In a state of mindfulness, painful thoughts and feelings have much less impact on you. Mindfulness helps you handle even the most difficult feelings, urges, memories and thoughts. As you learn to do so through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy you can

  • break self-defeating habits and destructive patterns of behaviours
  • let go of self-defeating beliefs
  • rise above your fears
  • change your attitude in life-enhancing ways

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of mental health issues.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is part of the ‘third-wave’ cognitive behavioural therapies. ACT is an effective therapy for many mental health conditions. These conditions include depression, anxiety, chronic pain, PTSD and other mental health disorders. It’s also useful in helping people deal with chronic pain or illness.

Steven C. Hayes and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Prof Steven Hayes developed the model and founded the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS). The ACBS has trained thousands of mental health professionals who practice ACT, and they continue to provide training and research opportunities today. 

The mission statement of the ACBS is the “alleviation of human suffering and the advancement of human well-being through research and practise grounded in contextual behavioural science”.

Personally, the values that drew me to become a member of the ACBS were the openness of the community & their passion for the field. From the beginning, the ACBS was open to scrutiny and lives with this value of openness.

Whether you are suffering from a mental health difficulty or want to optimise your function, ACT can help you.

The goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is to help you attend to the present moment and to discover that you are already complete and whole in your current state. ACT helps you see your life experiences more clearly—including your problems or challenges. It helps you create a greater sense of acceptance of your experience in the present moment.

While Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of mental health issues, it has been particularly successful in the treatment of depression, chronic pain, PTSD, anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks; borderline personality disorder; depression; obsessive-compulsive disorder and pain disorders. 

Because of ACT’s effectiveness as a therapy, various psychological governing bodies internationally have added ACT as an approved therapy. Thus, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is approved by bodies like:

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE),
  • Australian Psychological Society (APS),
  • Netherlands Institute of Psychologists

How does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy work?

The main aim of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is to increase psychological flexibility. We don’t just focus on the symptoms; we look at what is the function of your behaviours in your context. In other words, why is this action happening in that situation? This is part of the contextual behavioral science framework in ACT in a social context.

What is psychological flexibility in ACT?

When you practice ACT exercises you are training your mind to hold you captive by your thoughts and feelings. Instead, you begin to notice how these thoughts and feelings come and go in the moment. This allows you to respond to your thoughts rather than react to them. Allowing you to make the choices in life that are most important to you.

Psychological flexibility (PF) is now one of the most researched tools in mental health. The opposite of pf is psychological rigidity. Psychological rigidity has a direct correlation with mental health difficulties.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is not just for people with mental health difficulties. Research has found that it’s effective not just for people with diagnosed mental disorders but also for people without any evidence of psychological problems. Even just brief training on psychological flexibility skills can lead to increased happiness and decreased stress. In fact ACT and the increase of psychological flexibility have been used to improve performance in sports, at work and at school.

A few examples of psychological flexibility are:

  • Observing your experiences without judgments

  • Accepting how you feel

  • Noticing your thoughts without getting caught up in them

  • Being willing to have your actions shaped by your values

  • Finding value in things you might have previously considered worthless

  • Acting on what you genuinely want instead of what you think you should want

The opposite of psychological flexibility is psychological rigidity

When you’re in an overwhelming state of mind, it can seem like there’s no way out. Research has shown that psychological flexibility is the opposite of this, and is the key to a flexible mindset that leads to happiness. In fact, psychological flexibility is so important that it’s become one of the most researched tools in mental health.

Psychological rigidity has a direct correlation with mental health difficulties. People who are psychologically inflexible are more likely to experience anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and self-harm problems than people who are psychologically flexible.

Psychological rigidity is defined as the inability to adapt or adjust our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in response to new information, new experiences and changing circumstances. Some people may overreact to situations or they may under-react. They might get too caught up in their own thoughts and feelings, or completely shut down if they feel overwhelmed by their emotions. (This is okay by the way). Psychological rigidity often causes people to judge themselves and others unfairly based on past experiences, which can lead them to feel anxious and depressed if they don’t live up to the standards they’ve set for themselves.

Psychological flexibility can be learned as a skill and practised on a regular basis; in fact, research has demonstrated that ACT can be used in the treatment for mental health concerns like these.

Psychological flexibility is a crucial skill to have for anyone who wants to live a happy and satisfying life. And it’s a skill that’s not easy to master. A lot of times we’re told to just “live in the moment” or we’re encouraged to “just let go and be yourself.” But that’s easier said than done, especially when you have a history of psychological rigidity. Therefore, working with a therapist is the most effective way to improve your psychological flexibility. You can learn these skills on your own but in a therapeutic setting you can speed up this learning curve. The role of therapy, therefore, is to speed up the development of psychological flexibility.

The good news: psychological flexibility can be learnt!

The six core principles of ACT.

ACT helps you develop psychological flexibility. The six core processes of change are:

Acceptance, mindfulness, defusion, self as context, values and committed action.

Acceptance and ACT

Acceptance: Accepting thoughts and feelings means saying “it’s not pleasant, but it is what it is.” This can be hard to do, because we tend to want our thoughts and feelings to change. The problem with this is that it puts us in an adversarial relationship with our own mind. Instead of trying to get rid of the thought “I’m tired,” you could accept that you’re tired and that you have a choice on how you respond to being tired. You may decide to go back to sleep, or you may decide to do something else. However, accepting the fact that you’re tired can also give you the space to figure out your best response without feeling like there’s a struggle going on inside of you.

Mindfulness and ACT Therapy

Mindfulness is a core concept in Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

The idea is that you need to be able to observe your own thoughts and feelings with as little judgement as possible. It’s a way of learning to accept your internal experiences, so that you can become more flexible and functional in dealing with them.

In ACT, mindfulness involves three things:

1) Observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment

2) What those thoughts and feelings mean to you

3) How they affect your behavior 

Defusion and ACT Therapy

Defusion means seeing thoughts as just thoughts rather than facts about reality. Thoughts are often judgments, interpretations, or predictions about future events—but they’re simply guesses. By defusing from your thoughts, you’re removing the weight from them. You might notice them instead of identifying with them as part of your identity

Self-as-Context and ACT treatment

“Self-as-context” is a way of talking about your identity: the things you believe, the ways you act, and the qualities you value. By “context”, we mean something like “the environment in which something occurs”, so here we’re talking about how you see yourself in relation to what’s going on around you. In ACT we take the stance that you are more than just your thoughts, life roles, emotions, and experiences. We help you develop the part of you called the ‘observer’. You learn to be less reactive to the things happening in you and around you.

 Values and ACT treatment

Value is a key component of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). It’s the idea that your life has purpose and meaning, and that you can find meaning in all sorts of things: from your career to your relationships to your hobbies. You don’t have to do anything specific in order for your life to have value; it just does! Through valued direction in ACT we identify your deepest personal values and connect them to your behaviour and experiences in order to live out your personal values more consistently in your life.

 Committed Action and ACT

Committed action is a behaviour change strategy used in Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). It involves taking action based on values, which are core beliefs that guide your life. ACT teaches that you can make meaningful changes to your life by focusing on how you want to live rather than what you want to change.

Committed action is a strategy used to increase the likelihood that you will take action towards your goals. You can use committed action if you want to make changes in your life but find yourself procrastinating or avoiding taking action. Committing to some specific actions will help you overcome obstacles and increase your chances of success.

How do I use committed action?

What to expect in your journey with an ACT therapist?

You can expect a caring, hands-on approach that is tailored to your individual needs. Your therapist will focus on helping you achieve your goals in the quickest and most effective manner possible.

In a nutshell, here’s what you can expect:

1) Hands-on therapy approach.

2) Non-judgemental collaborative alliance with your therapist 

3) Respect for you as a person and your individual needs.

4) Not a once size fits all approach.

5) Practical exercises and not just talking.

We take a hands-on approach to therapy, working together with you to create a comfortable environment where you can feel confident talking about what’s on your mind. We’re not here to judge—we respect you as an individual and work towards reaching your goals in a collaborative way. Each session is designed for you personally, not just a one-size-fits-all approach, and we use experiential techniques that address your problems rather than just having you talk about them.

We are here to support your individual process and take you on a journey toward healing and growth. Together, we will explore how you can respond to life’s challenges, while learning strategies and skills to manage stress and anxiety. We know each person’s needs are unique, which is why we listen to your specific needs before offering a personalized approach to therapy. 

Ready to get started? Schedule your first session and see if we can help.

Structure of an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy session

The ACT therapist will use an eclectic approach, incorporating elements of experiential therapy and mindfulness training as well as cognitive-behavioural therapy. The therapist will also encourage you to take a more active role in your treatment by doing things like writing down your thoughts and feelings, taking part in conversation exercises and working on tasks that help you learn about what is important to you.

During sessions, the therapist may ask you to talk about your experiences and feelings or have you do a certain activity. This can be challenging at first because it involves putting yourself out there and trying new things that may make you uncomfortable. But over time, ACT helps people learn how to handle their psychological discomfort so they can live more fully and happily.

How many sessions do I need in ACT?

It’s always hard to know how many sessions this will take. A good rule of thumb is to commit to six sessions, and then on session six, we’ll take stock, see how you’re going, and see if you need any more. 

If you find that you don’t need that many sessions, that’s fine too. Also, we have to be realistic. People are very unique and therefore, we can’t assume a therapy works for everyone. So if this approach doesn’t seem right for you, or you’re not happy with the way it’s progressing, it is easy to refer you to colleagues who have different approaches.

As a therapist, I am also equipped in other modalities like EMDR, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Life Design Counselling. Therefore, I can adjust my therapy approach if ACT does not seem to work for you.

We’re here for you, and we hope that by reading about ACT, you realize that there are many options for managing your emotions and mental state. While this post covered only a few things to know about ACT, we hope it was informative and helpful! You can also learn more about other treatments like CBT or DBT.