A picture of a diary with the words Every Day is a Fresh Start.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Some Tips

In Counselling by Dave Segal


Anxiety has become a common companion for many individuals. The constant stream of thoughts and emotions can overwhelm us, leaving us feeling trapped and exhausted. However, there’s hope. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers practical tools to navigate the complexities of our minds and build a more compassionate relationship with anxiety.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that aims to increase psychological flexibility. This therapy helps individuals stay in contact with the present moment and choose behaviors aligned with their values, even when faced with difficult thoughts and feelings. Rather than attempting to eliminate unwanted internal experiences, ACT teaches skills to lessen their impact and importance. The overarching goal is not just symptom reduction but living a more vital, values-consistent life through acceptance, mindfulness, and behavior change. ACT relies on six core processes: acceptance, cognitive defusion, being present, self as context, values, and committed action. It’s a powerful approach for a wide range of psychological conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, substance use, chronic pain, and more. By embracing acceptance and taking committed action, individuals can cultivate resilience and move toward a more meaningful life.

1. Mindfulness: Observing Without Judgment

ACT encourages individuals to practice mindfulness, a powerful technique that involves observing thoughts and emotions without judgment or the need to control them. By accepting these internal experiences, we reduce the struggle with anxious thoughts. Here’s how it works:

  • Observe: Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as they arise. Imagine watching them float by like leaves on a stream.
  • Non-Judgment: Refrain from labeling thoughts as good or bad. Instead, treat them as passing events, neither to be clung to nor pushed away.
  • Compassion: Cultivate kindness toward yourself. Understand that anxiety is a natural part of being human.

2. Cognitive Defusion: Untangling Thoughts

Our minds often weave intricate stories, blurring the line between thoughts and reality. ACT’s cognitive defusion technique helps individuals distance themselves from their thoughts. Here’s how to apply it:

  • Recognize Thoughts as Thoughts: Understand that thoughts are mental events, not absolute truths. They don’t define you.
  • Label Thoughts: When anxious thoughts arise, label them as such. For example, say, “I’m having an anxious thought.”
  • Create Space: By distancing yourself from thoughts, you gain perspective. Anxiety loses its grip on your emotional well-being.
A diary with the title Every Day is a Fresh Start. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy uses the concept of staying in the present moment at times.
Staying in the present is a part of ACT. Of course our mind will always wander. | Photo by Alysha Rosly on Unsplash

3. Values Clarification: Finding Purpose

Anxiety can consume our attention, leaving little room for what truly matters. ACT emphasizes values clarification:

  • Identify Core Values: Reflect on what truly matters to you—your deepest desires. Is it connection, growth, compassion, or creativity?
  • Align Actions with Values: Use your values as a compass. Make choices that align with them. This shift of focus reduces anxiety’s hold.

4. Commitment to Action: Moving Forward

Anxiety often paralyzes us, preventing action. ACT encourages committed action:

  • Set Goals: Define specific, meaningful goals related to your values.
  • Take Small Steps: Even in the presence of anxiety, take action. Gradually build resilience.
  • Persist: Commitment means moving forward despite discomfort. Over time, anxiety loses its grip.

5. Defining the “Self” Beyond Anxiety

ACT introduces the concept of the “observing self.” This part of us can observe thoughts and emotions without becoming entangled. Here’s how to apply it:

  • Self-Awareness: Notice the part of you that observes thoughts. It’s separate from anxiety.
  • Narrative Shift: Anxiety doesn’t define your entire being. Cultivate a sense of self beyond anxious thoughts.


These are some tips to get you started however ACT is best used with the help of a trained counsellor. I’ve been using ACT now with clients and myself for over 10 years. Get in touch to find out how it could help you.