Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy that stems from traditional behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Clients learn to stop avoiding, denying, and struggling with their inner emotions and, instead, accept that these deeper feelings are appropriate responses to certain situations that should not prevent them from moving forward in their lives. With this understanding, clients begin to accept their issues and hardships and commit to making necessary changes in their behavior, regardless of what is going on in their lives, and how they feel about it.
ACT focuses on 3 areas:
1. Accept your reactions and be present
2. Choose a valued direction
3. Take action
Whether it be a situation you cannot control, a personality trait that is hard to change or an emotion that overwhelms, accepting it can allow you to move forward. Obsessing, worrying and playing things over and over keep you stuck. In this sense, asking why can leave you helpless. ACT invites you to accept the reality and work with what you have.
Some acceptance strategies include:
1. Letting feelings or thoughts happen without the impulse to act on them.
2. Observe your weaknesses but take note of your strengths.
3. Give yourself permission to not be good at everything.
4. Acknowledge the difficulty in your life without escaping from it or avoiding it.
5. Realize that you can be in control of how you react, think and feel.
Another aspect of ACT is the skill-set of learning how to cognitively defuse psychologically heightened experiences. Defusion involves realizing thoughts and feelings for what they really are, like passing sensations or irrational things that we tell ourselves - instead of what we think they are like feelings that will never end or factual truths. The goal of defusion is not to help you avoid the experience, but to make it more manageable for you.
Some defusion strategies include:
1. Observe what you are feeling. What are the physical sensations?
2. Notice the way you are talking to yourself as these feelings are experienced.
3. What interpretations are you making about your experience? Are they based in reality?
4. Grab onto the strands of your negative self-talk and counter them with realistic ones.
5. Now re-evaluate your experience with your new-found outlook.
When It's Used?
ACT has been used effectively to help treat workplace stress, test anxiety, social anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and psychosis. It has also been used to help treat medical conditions such as chronic pain, substance abuse, and diabetes.
What to Expect?
Working with a therapist, you will learn to listen to your own self-talk, or the way you talk to yourself specifically about traumatic events, problematic relationships, physical limitations, or other issues. You can then decide if an issue requires immediate action and change or if it can—or must—be accepted for what it is while you learn to make behavioral changes that can affect the situation. You may look at what hasn’t worked for you in the past, so that the therapist can help you stop repeating thought patterns and behaviors that are causing you more problems in the long run. Once you have faced and accepted your current issues, you make a commitment to stop fighting your past and your emotions and, instead, start practicing more confident and optimistic behavior, based on your personal values and goals.
How It Works?
The theory behind ACT is that it is not only ineffective, but often counterproductive, to try to control painful emotions or psychological experiences, because suppression of these feelings ultimately leads to more distress. ACT adopts the view that there are valid alternatives to trying to change the way you think, and these include mindful behavior, attention to personal values, and commitment to action. By taking steps to change their behavior while, at the same time, learning to accept their psychological experiences, clients can eventually change their attitude and emotional state.
What to Look for in an Acceptance and Commitment Therapist
Look for a licensed, experienced therapist, social worker, professional counselor or other mental-health professional with additional training in ACT. There is no special certification for ACT practitioners. Skills are acquired through peer counseling, workshops, and other training programs. In addition to these credentials, it is important to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable working.