What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based therapy that incorporates elements of Buddhist mindfulness meditation and newer behavioral therapy techniques. ACT is quite different from traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in that it teaches people how to accept and embrace unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations rather than trying to control or eliminate them. The rationale behind this, is a great deal of human suffering is the result of not engaging vitally in life due to trying to reduce feelings such as fear, anxiety, frustration, etc. These emotions are necessary parts of working toward what you hold dear, your values, and to try to avoid them is to avoid those aspects of life which bring meaning and vital involvement. Through this process of embracing unwanted feelings in the service of achieving goals, often the negative feelings are significantly reduced. The paradox is, the more you try to avoid certain feelings, the more they hang around and negatively influence your life. Although a relatively new treatment, there is significant research to show ACT can have a dramatic impact on a whole host of problems, from anxiety and depression to chronic pain and even schizophrenia.

ACT employs six core principles to achieve psychological flexibility:

  • Cognitive defusion: Learning methods to reduce the tendency to 'buy into' harmful or ineffective thoughts, images, emotions, and memories
  • Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to come, making space for them rather than spending all of one's energy fighting with them
  • Contact with the present moment: mindful connection to the present, experienced with clarity, interest, and devoid of judgment
  • Observing self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, as an arena where both pleasant and unpleasant events are experienced, but have no power to actually harm oneself
  • Values: Discovering what is most important to one's true self
  • Committed action: Moving toward value-based goals effectively