What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, which is pronounced like the word “act” rather than the letters), you commit to taking steps to improve and develop your life while accepting the things that are beyond your control. It is a form of psychotherapy that places a strong emphasis on accepting oneself in spite of one’s negative ideas, feelings, symptoms, or circumstances. Instead of attempting to eliminate difficult emotions, ACT teaches participants how to handle them without becoming overreactive. ACT encourages individuals to be aware of and accepting of situations rather than instructing them to control their thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Additionally, it promotes increased dedication to positive, healthy pursuits that support your ideals or objectives.
The notion that ACT therapists follow contends that growing acceptance can result in growing psychological adaptability. This strategy has several advantages and may assist individuals in overcoming the tendency to routinely avoid particular emotions or ideas, which can result in subsequent issues. By giving people the clarity they need to comprehend their own beliefs and act appropriately, ACT helps people become more psychologically flexible.
The three areas that come under the circumference of ACT areas:
- Accept your reactions
- Choose a path
- Take action
The Goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
By recognizing the suffering that is unavoidably associated with it, ACT seeks to help people live full, meaningful lives. The acronym “ACT” is appropriate since the goal of this therapy is to take effective action that is motivated by our core beliefs and in which we are totally involved. We can only live meaningful lives by leading conscious lives. Of course, there will be obstacles in the shape of painful and unwelcome “private experiences” while we work to build such a life (thoughts, images, feelings, sensations, urges, and memories.) When dealing with these personal situations, ACT offers mindfulness techniques.
The key feature of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
ACT is the only Western psychotherapy that was created in tandem with Relational Frame Theory, a foundational research program into human language and cognition (RFT). Symptom reduction is not the main objective of ACT, in striking contrast to the majority of Western psychotherapy. This is based on the idea that the constant effort to eliminate “symptoms” is what first causes a clinical condition. When a personal experience is classified as a “symptom,” a battle with the “symptom” is initiated. By definition, a “symptom” is anything “pathological” that we should work to eliminate.
Six Principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is built on six fundamental tenets. Together, they seek to achieve the major objectives of effectively managing upsetting thoughts and events and building a rich, vibrant life. The guidelines are:
Principle 1: Cognitive defusion
This ability is about learning to see ideas, pictures, memories, and other cognitions for what they are rather than what they frequently appear to be, such as dangerous occurrences, laws that must be followed, or unquestionable truths and facts. The goal of cognitive defusion is to dissociate oneself from unpleasant, unwanted ideas, sensations, desires, memories, or other mental products. It is taking a step back from them to gain perspective and perceive them for what they are: fleeting snatches of words. As we can see from the second premise, effective use of cognitive defusion results in a more open mentality.
Principle 2: Expansion/acceptance
This ability, which is known as “acceptance” by some other ACT practitioners and theorists, is known as “expansion” by Harris since “acceptance” carries a lot of different connotations. It refers to the technique of allowing uncomfortable emotions, sensations, and drives to arise rather than attempting to control, ignore, or push them away. We discover that they annoy us lot less when we open up and let them come and go without fighting with them, avoiding them, or paying them undue attention. Additionally, they leave us alone faster rather than linger and disturb us.
Principle 3: Contact (connection) with the present moment
Allowing oneself to experience sensations, feelings, and ideas that have occurred is in accordance with the third ACT principle of establishing contact with the present moment. It entails being fully present, focusing on whatever we are doing, and paying attention to the here-and-now experience with openness, curiosity, and receptivity. We are fully engaged to what is occurring right now, right now, rather than lingering on the past or worrying about the future. We are totally involved in whatever we are doing when we are connected. When we practice connection, we may wonder why we bother dragging ourselves out of the past or the future to return to the present now; why is this thought to be so advantageous to us.
Three things that are dear to the third principle of ACT are:
- This is the only life we’ve got
Being merely half-present means missing half of it. Lack of present-moment touch is analogous to listening to a great piece of music while wearing ear plugs, or eating a favourite cuisine when the mouth is still numb after a dental visit; we miss the richness that could be.
- Right now is the only time when we have any power.
Given that the core of ACT is a commitment to appropriate, values-guided action, we may remind clients that in order to build a meaningful life, we must act, and the capacity to act exists only in the present now. “One cannot saddle a camel that has not yet come (the future), nor one that has already left (the past),” says an Arab proverb.
- “Taking action” means effective action, not just any old action.
In ACT, an effective action is one that advances us in a desired direction. We need to be mentally present to be aware of what is occurring, how we are reacting, and therefore how it is appropriate for us to respond in order to choose which way lays that path.
Even people who live their lives mostly under the mediating effect of their ideas typically have some experience with present-moment contact—specifically, moments when it materialized unexpectedly and impulsively.
Principle 4: The Observing Self
One potent part of human awareness that is usually disregarded by Western psychology is the Observing Self. A transcendent sense of self—a continuity of awareness that is unchanging, always present, and unaffected—can be accessed by making a connection with it. From this most expansive vantage point, one can immediately experience statements like those found in various body-feelings-mind relaxations, I am both my body and more than just my body, as well as my feelings and more than just my feelings, and both my mind and more than just my mind. From this position, we are able to perceive that our ideas, feelings, memories, impulses, sensations, pictures, roles, and physical bodies are only minor elements of who we are and do not represent the core of who we are due to their cyclical nature. Knowing that when we become aware of our ideas, two processes are really going on at once—the process of thinking and the process of witnessing the thinking—is essential to understanding the Observing Self Principle. The client’s attention can be called to the distinction between the self that is watching the thoughts and the ideas that occur by repeatedly, if required. No internal experience—that is, thought, sensation, picture, or urge—is harmful or oppressive from the viewpoint of the Observing Self.
Principle 5: Values clarification
Clarifying what is most significant within the most innermost area of ourselves that we have access to is the goal of this ACT principle. It entails contemplating the kind of person we want to be, the things that are important to us, and the principles we want to live by. Our principles give our lives direction and inspire us to make big life changes. When we live by our values, we not only feel happier and more fulfilled, but we also realize that life can be rich and important even when “bad” things happen to us.
A “life values” questionnaire that asks respondents to consider their values in eleven domains—from family and marital relationships to education and spirituality to community life and ties with nature—might be given to the client as part of ACT-oriented treatment. Exercises for values clarification may be skipped by some clients, for a variety of reasons. The “value clarification’s” key components are:
- Values versus goals
It’s possible that some people are unsure of the distinction between values and aims. According to Harris, values exist because they are a constant in our life as something we cherish, whereas objectives are a one-time transaction. He compares himself to a traveller and declares that he will keep moving west. No matter how far the individual may travel, there is always a more westerly route in which he might move forward, making that constant direction comparable to a value. However, declaring along the way that he plans to climb to the summit of a certain mountain is a goal because once he gets there, the objective is accomplished and it is final. Knowing our values allows us to create objectives that are meaningful and help us live according to our ideals. But this could be even another barrier to the application of this theory.
- But are they my real values?
Because they are unsure if their responses will accurately reflect their “actual” beliefs, some people could be reluctant to implement Principle 5 or even complete any questionnaires related to it. Of course, if someone expresses a value for anything, such as compassion, just by saying so, then that value can be taken into account because, by definition, a value seems to be something we hold dear. Simply stating that we appreciate something over others indicates that we adore and hold that item in high regard.
- I don’t know what I want
Once more, whatever we decide is already valued by us since we have named it, yet this raises the problem of “I don’t know what I want.”
- What if my values conflict?
You will probably run across this one if you are employing ACT approaches to assist customers; it is a genuine objection. It is difficult to say that one does not have ideals that tug one in different directions, especially in the frenetic modern world. A customer could, for instance, deeply value the worth of spending quality time with family while also deeply desiring to advance professionally, prioritizing that; the two values are likely to clash at some point, if not frequently. The truth is that we occasionally need to give one area more priority than another by asking ourselves, “What’s most essential to me right now, given the competing values I’m experiencing?” The individual must then act on the selected value without second-guessing what they are giving up in the knowledge that, if required, the balance may be “adjusted” at a later time. Nevertheless, some people will be resistant to having their beliefs clarified due to prior disappointment or failure.
- I’ll do it later
Right, I see. You have undoubtedly encountered this one before if you work as a counsellor or any other mental health support person. When the procrastination demon is out in full force, principle 5 of values clarity will be ineffective. Inform the patient that it is “later” now and that it is time to act, as the name of ACT treatment commands.
Principle 6: Committed action
In accordance with the final principle, the individual sets goals and acts, but not just any action. Here, the individual realises that living a full and meaningful life is a result of choosing wise decisions and acting in accordance with their ideals. Will followers always succeed in achieving the objectives they have set? No, of course not, but regardless of how many times a person may go “off the rails”—or simply fail to start down the track—the values remain there to serve as an example and a catalyst for renewed action. The purpose of objectives is to serve as a reminder to the individual to take the steps necessary to achieve the life they have imagined for themselves. In the end, it is up to each individual to muster the motivation and energy to act.
What ACT Can Help With
ACT may be effective in treating:
- Anxiety: A sensation of worry, dread, and unease is known as anxiety. You can start to perspire, become agitated and anxious, and have fast heartbeat. It can be a typical response to stress. You could have anxiety, for instance, when confronted with a challenging challenge at work, before taking a test, or before making a crucial decision. It may enable you to manage. You could feel more energized or able to concentrate if you’re anxious but for some with anxiety disorders, the terror can be incapacitating and last for a long time.
- Depression: Major depressive disorder, sometimes known as depression, is a significant medical condition that frequently affects people’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Sadness and/or a loss of interest in previous hobbies are symptoms of depression. It can impair your ability to perform at work and at home and cause a number of mental and physical issues.
- Eating disorders: A mental illness known as an eating disorder is characterized by aberrant eating habits that are harmful to a person’s psychological or physical well-being.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a widespread, persistent, and long-lasting mental illness in which a person has uncontrolled, recurrent thoughts (obsessions), urges to engage in certain actions (compulsions), and other symptoms.
- Stress: Stress is a state of worry and exertion, either emotionally or physically. Any circumstance or idea that gives you cause for annoyance, rage, or anxiety might trigger it. Your body’s response to a demand or difficulty is stress. Stress may occasionally be advantageous, such as when it keeps you safe or helps you reach a deadline.
- Substance use: When a person uses alcohol or another drug in a way that compromises their health or causes difficulty at work, school, or family, they are said to have a substance use disorder. Substance misuse is another name for this illness.
- Psychosis: The term “psychosis” is used to characterize mental disorders in which some sense of reality has been lost. An episode of psychosis is what is known as when someone falls unwell in this way.
The relationship between ACT and mindfulness
What is mindfulness?
By keeping a kind, caring perspective on our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and the environment around us, we may practice mindfulness.
How are ACT and mindfulness related?
Similar to how ACT focuses on acceptance, mindfulness encourages us to be conscious of our emotions and feelings without passing judgement on them. For example, we should not consider that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel at any particular time. By engaging in mindfulness exercises, we train our minds to concentrate on the current moment rather than the past or the future.
ACT breaks mindfulness skills down into 3 categories:
- Defusion: distancing from, and letting go of, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and memories
- Acceptance: making room for painful feelings, urges and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle.
- Contact with the present moment: engaging fully with your here-and-now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity
There is the element of “you” that is conscious and attentive. We frequently refer to it as the “observing self” in ACT. Although there are many other ways we might discuss the “self,” in daily speech we mostly refer to the “physical self” (your body) and the “thinking self” (your mind). The aspect of you that has the capacity to witness both your physical self and your mental self is known as the “observing self.” I think the phrase “pure consciousness” is more appropriate since that is all it is: pure awareness. It is the part of you that is conscious of everything else, including every idea, every emotion, and everything you hear, touch, taste, and smell.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a novel and innovative method for changing behavior that modifies the fundamental assumptions underlying the majority of Western psychotherapies. This current scientific method is firmly founded on cutting-edge research into human behavioral psychology. It is a mindfulness-based, values-oriented behavioral treatment that shares many similarities with Buddhism but is not at all religious.
Benefits and Effectiveness of ACT
The effect that ACT has on psychological flexibility is one of its main advantages. The capacity to accept your ideas and feelings when they are helpful and to set them aside when they are not is known as psychological flexibility. This enables you to carefully respond to your inner experience, refrain from quick decisions, and concentrate on leading a meaningful life. Your capacity to accept and cope with the symptoms of disorders like anxiety or depression can be enhanced by psychological flexibility. Often, this improvement in psychological flexibility can lead to large reductions in those symptoms.
Effectiveness of ACT
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Schema therapy
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
Third-wave therapies have historically been viewed as being especially suitable for patients who did not respond to earlier therapies like conventional CBT. However, it is currently thought that a third-wave therapy option may be appropriate as a first-line therapy for some patients. According to research, ACT is useful in treating a variety of ailments, including those that fall under several categories. Additionally, ACT seems to enhance quality of life and may aid in coping with chronic pain and physical ailments.
How to Get Started with ACT
ACT may be provided by a variety of mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counsellors. If you want to learn more about this method, you may find an experienced ACT practitioner or inquire about your therapy provider’s expertise in it. The Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies are additional possible referral sources (ABCT). Additionally, the ACBS offers free ACT tools in the form of audio clips, films, and mindfulness activities.
A therapist who has received specialized training in the Function will act as both an active, empathetic listener and a guide during the sessions, promoting deeper inquiry and nonjudgmental awareness is usually the one proficient in ACT. ACT sessions frequently involve active participation, homework assignments following the session, and psychological or mindfulness training. The completion of these tasks is a crucial component of ACT since it allows you to gain new knowledge and increase your psychological flexibility.
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