What is Acceptance Commitment Therapy?

In Counselling by Dave Segal

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that combines acceptance and mindfulness strategies with commitment and behavior change techniques. It is designed to help individuals develop psychological flexibility, which involves the ability to adaptively respond to thoughts, feelings, and situations in order to live a meaningful and valued life.

The underlying principle of ACT is that suffering arises from our attempts to control or avoid unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Instead of trying to eliminate or suppress these experiences, ACT encourages individuals to accept them as natural and unavoidable aspects of human existence. By practicing acceptance, individuals can reduce the struggle against their internal experiences and create room for more adaptive responses.

ACT also emphasizes the importance of mindfulness, which involves being fully present and engaged in the current moment with an open and non-judgmental attitude. Mindfulness techniques in ACT help individuals observe their thoughts and emotions without becoming entangled or overwhelmed by them. This allows for greater clarity, self-awareness, and the ability to respond consciously rather than react automatically.

Another core component of ACT is committed action. This involves identifying and pursuing values-based goals and engaging in behaviors that are consistent with one’s personal values. The emphasis is on taking purposeful action, even in the presence of difficult or uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. By aligning actions with values, individuals can create a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.

ACT utilizes various therapeutic techniques and exercises to help individuals develop psychological flexibility. These may include mindfulness exercises, cognitive defusion techniques (to reduce the impact of distressing thoughts), values clarification exercises, and behavior change strategies. ACT can be implemented in individual therapy sessions, group settings, or even as part of self-help interventions.

Overall, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy aims to help individuals create a rich, full, and meaningful life, even in the face of challenging thoughts and emotions. It encourages acceptance of internal experiences, the cultivation of mindfulness, and the pursuit of valued actions, leading to psychological flexibility and improved well-being.