Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one of the modern-day approaches to psychological therapy. Usually called by its abbreviation “act”, this therapy is largely used to treat conditions such as depression, insomnia and OCD.
At its core, ACT is an approach which encourages you not to try and control, ignore or even avoid negative thoughts and emotions. But instead to arm you with strategies which help you to accept them and be able to take what life brings more compassionately. So instead of trying to come up with logical and rational explanations for your thoughts, you move towards a gentle acceptance.
What is ACT based upon?
ACT is one of the therapeutic approaches coming out of the third wave of Cognitive Behavoiural Therapy (CBT). We have written about CBT in more detail in another post but it’s based upon a combination of evaluating both your thoughts and your behaviours. It uses techniques designed to change unhelpful thinking patterns and maladaptive behaviours.
One key aspect of the third wave CBT therapies which differs from the second wave is the focus on your relationship with your thoughts and behaviours. This is different to focusing on the thoughts themselves. Perhaps a tricky concept to understand at first but you can also read a more informative piece on the different waves of CBT.
Mindfulness in ACT
You’ll probably have heard of mindfulness before. Often it’s talked about in terms of a practice on its own, but ACT is actually a mindfulness-based technique. We talked about your relationship with your thoughts and that’s where some of the mindfulness-based techniques come into play. Rather than trying to control your thoughts, mindfulness teaches you to simply notice them.
What are the main processes within ACT?
ACT has six main processes which all contribute towards the goal of psychological flexibility.
- Acceptance: allowing unpleasant thoughts to exist rather than trying to suppress them.
- Cognitive defusion: this is looking at thoughts rather than being in the thoughts by defusing or separating yourself from them and looking at them from a different perspective.
- Being present: focusing on the present moment such as placing your full attention on day-to-day tasks.
- Self-as-context: the idea that we are not the sum of all our current thoughts and that as these change you are still you that is observing these parts. This could also be called the observant you.
- Values: understanding what your core values are to life, what do you want to stand for, what should life be about. Having clarity will help guide your decisions based on what’s important to yourself.
- Committed action: undertaking ACT helps you not only make commitments to changes but also encourages those to work with your values and life goals