Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is commonly referred to as ACT, which is said as one word “Act” rather than the individual letters.
It is an evidence-based cognitive and behavioural intervention. ACT is designed to create greater psychological flexibility, which means being flexible in situations instead of getting stuck in patterns of unhelpful behaviour.
ACT is ‘transdiagnostic’, which means it doesn’t focus on specific disorders or diagnostic criteria, rather it offers a model of understanding human suffering generally.
ACT has been shown to be helpful in treating a range of issues such as anxiety, depression, addiction, compulsive behaviours, chronic pain as well as adjusting to general life challenges.
The term Acceptance refers to the development of skills to help accept what is outside our control. Commitment is about actually taking action and doing the things that lead to greater satisfaction in life. The goal of ACT is to help us to be more able to consciously respond to situations by either changing or persisting in behaviour in order to help us move closer to the type of life we want to lead.
SO HOW IS ACT DONE?
ACT is not a rigid set of techniques applied to a specific psychological condition. Instead ACT focuses on a small set of processes all designed to improve our overall psychological flexibility.
There are 6 core processes in ACT….
- Acceptance – understanding that psychological pain is a normal part of being human. That by accepting all parts of our experience (including the difficult parts!) we can learn new and more helpful ways of responding to our thoughts and feelings. This is instead of engaging in an effortful and often losing battle against our thoughts and feelings.
- Defusion – responding to our hurtful and unhelpful thoughts in a way that may reduce their impact, so that we aren’t so driven or influenced by our thoughts. This is Instead of working to change our thoughts which can paradoxically lead to an increase in the thoughts we are trying to get rid of.
- Being present – being aware of the present moment and tuning-into what is happening in the here and now. This is mindfulness! Instead of being driven by old ideas or getting excessively caught up in our past or future.
- A Perspective taking – the ability to see multiple perspectives of ourselves and our experiences. To observe our thoughts and feelings rather than being consumed by them. This is instead of holding on to a particular view of ourselves or a situation we find ourselves in and being constrained by this view.
- Defining Values – developing an understanding of what is important to us, what really matters to us and what brings us satisfaction and meaning to life. This is instead of being influenced by ideas of what we “should” do.
- Committed Action – actively taking steps to act more in-line with our Values. This process is about actually doing the stuff that matters to us. It can involve small behavioural goals. This is instead of repeatedly doing things that maintain our suffering.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
ACT will involve trying new things out in the therapy session, having exercises to practice outside of therapy and using metaphors to help understand concepts. ACT is very much about experiencing new ways of doing things. An ACT therapist is encouraged to have their own personal experience in practicing the ACT principles too! An ACT therapist can help someone develop skills in the six processes mentioned above.
WANT TO FIND OUT MORE?
Our therapists are trained in ACT and would enjoy the opportunity of introducing this model to you.