Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique form of therapy that encourages patients to embrace their negative thoughts and feelings instead of trying to avoid or eliminate them. Trained therapists use this technique to treat a wide range of conditions, and it has shown to be remarkably effective for many people. Here’s what you need to know about the therapy, as you decide if it might be right for your needs.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Basics
At its most basic level, ACT encourages patients to accept those things that are out of their control and commit to other thoughts and actions designed to enrich their lives. Rather than feeling guilty about having negative thoughts or feelings, patients learn that negative emotions are perfectly natural. When they are able to accept the negative parts of their consciousness, patients are more free to start moving away from them and towards a more positive direction.
The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility. Practitioners help patients become more aware of the ways they think and feel through mindfulness exercises and strategies. They also focus on creating lasting behavioural changes through committing to new actions and thought patterns. Patients learn to accept their thoughts as they are and to evaluate those thoughts to determine whether they are serving the patient’s life goals. If the thoughts are not serving them, patients can work to instil new, more positive thoughts and actions.
ACT is built around six core processes:
Acceptance – Many people instinctively try to avoid thinking about and processing negative emotions. In ACT, acceptance enables them to allow these negative thoughts to exist without necessarily trying to do anything about them. Patients simply let the negative thoughts be, moving on to more positive thoughts instead.
Cognitive Defusion – This process aims to change how patients react to their thoughts and feelings. When they are experiencing negative emotions, the goal is to face them and then move on without fixating on them.
Being Present – This is where the mindfulness aspect of ACT comes in. Patients are encouraged to be aware of what is happening in the present moment but without judging it or themselves. They can then experience what is happening without trying to change it or predict the outcome.
Self as Context – This philosophy explains that a person is not just the sum of all their experiences. Rather, their true self is the core personality and human being that still exists even when all of those experiences have been stripped away. The self is the underlying person who understands and processes those experiences.
Values – Values are the qualities and goals a person is working towards. These values guide people throughout their life’s journey. In ACT, values reveal what actions patients need to take rather than dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings.
Commitment to Action – The ultimate goal of ACT is to help patients commit to new actions that will better assist them in achieving their long-term goals by staying true to their values. While negative thoughts are a normal part of life, it is what people do after those negative thoughts arise that really matters. Taking action is the part of ACT that enables patients to overcome their negative emotions and improve their lives for the better.
How ACT Works
Human beings are the only creatures able to create relationships between words and ideas. For example we can relate apples and oranges to the overall concept of fruit. While this is incredibly useful for processing the world around us, it can create problems when we associate seemingly innocuous ideas in a negative pattern. Over time, people can begin to associate concepts like failure or worthlessness to themselves, setting them up for more negative outcomes in the future.
ACT works by teaching patients to acknowledge and move on from these thought processes, rather than allowing them to become ingrained. While negative thoughts can be natural and appropriate responses to particular situations, they do not define who a person is as a human being, and should not prevent that person from moving on with their life.
When you see a therapist for ACT, you’ll start by learning to listen to the way you talk to yourself, called self-talk. The main focus will be your self-talk surrounding traumatic events and other negative aspects of your life, like unhealthy relationships, physical problems and more. Your therapist will then help you determine whether these aspects are things that you can change, like leaving an abusive relationship, or that you must accept the way they are, like a physical disability.
If you can change the situation, your therapist will help you develop strategies for making the necessary changes in your life in accordance with your personal goals and values. If the problem is something that you cannot change, you can begin to learn behavioural strategies to work around your challenges so that they don’t have as much of a negative impact on your life.
Once you have gotten a handle on the current major issues in your life, you and your therapist can begin to evaluate any patterns that have emerged in your past. This way, you can avoid repeating any negative patterns in the future. Rather than fighting with your emotions, you can learn to acknowledge them for what they are and learn to work with or around them to achieve the fulfilling life you want.
What ACT Can Help With
ACT has shown promise for a wide range of physical and psychological conditions. It is often applied in situations involving depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and even psychosis. It can also be useful in helping patients deal with overwhelming stress and many forms of anxiety. Practitioners have also used it to treat medical conditions like substance abuse, chronic pain and diabetes.
Benefits of ACT
The key benefit of ACT is that it can help patients battle mental disorders like anxiety and depression without using medication. It teaches patients to change the way they relate to their negative thoughts and emotions so that these thoughts don’t take over. While patients may not be able to eliminate all pharmaceutical medications right away, they may be able to reduce their dosage over time, ultimately going off the medication completely. With the opioid crisis being such a hot topic in the medical and psychological fields, it is promising to have effective treatment alternatives that don’t require medication.
Learn More about ACT
At Life & Mind Psychology, we are proud to offer ACT among our treatment services. We welcome you to get in touch with us to learn more about this style of therapy and whether it might be right for you. Reach out today to schedule an appointment.