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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

What is ACT Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented domain of psychotherapy that has roots in traditional behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. During ACT, clients learn to stop avoiding, denying, and pushing away their inner emotions. Instead, clients begin to accept that their unavoidable feelings are normal human responses to certain circumstances. Beginning to face their feelings head-on, clients start to accept the emotional toll of their behavior and commit to making necessary changes in their actions. These changes take place despite what may be going on in their lives and how they feel.

ACT and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) helps treat conditions such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • OCD
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Substance addiction

How ACT Therapy Works?

According to the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS), ACT is “a unique empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.

With ACT, clients become more mentally adaptable and develop mindfulness skills and self-acceptance. With the goal of accepting a greater variety of thoughts and feelings, learning the act of commitment is essential. In the course of the therapy, clients commit to actions that allow them to embrace challenges such as those associated with addiction and mental health. The ACBS sees ACT as a foundational therapy based on the concept that suffering is a natural and inevitable condition for humans. Humans have an instinct to control their experiences, but this instinct is never truly possible and does not always serve clients.

History of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

depressed woman in act therapy sessionIn 1986, Steven C. Hayes, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada, began studying how language and thought influence people’s internal experiences. Hayes’ research laid the foundation for ACT, which developed as a successful therapeutic approach for treating addiction and mental health issues. Hayes knew that suffering and pain could not be avoided or suppressed forever. Rather, he saw suffering as an inevitable and essential part of being human. Most importantly, Hayes viewed these unavoidable emotions as a source of fulfillment and empowerment to handle any challenge life has to offer.

For more information, view Hayes’s TED Talk on psychological flexibility and the foundation of his exploration of ACT.

6 Core Processes of ACT Therapy

The six core processes of ACT guide patients through therapy and provide a framework for the life-changing actions necessary for recovery:

1. Acceptance

  • Acceptance replaces clients’ tendency to avoid thinking about negative or even potentially negative experiences. Acceptance is an alternative method to allow unpleasant experiences to exist without trying to deny or push them away. Acceptance is not a goal of ACT, but a method of encouraging action that will lead to positive results such as recovery.

2. Cognitive Defusion

  • Cognitive Defusion incorporates expressive techniques intended to alter how a client reacts to their own thoughts and feelings. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy does not intend to minimize a client’s exposure to negative experiences, but rather to help clients face these experiences and end up on the other side with a decreased fixation on their negative aspects.

3. Being Present

  • Being Present is the practice of being aware of your current circumstances and of yourself in each moment, without judgment of the experience. In simpler terms, being present in ACT involves experiencing what is happening without trying to predict or shift the experience.

4. Self as Context

  • Self as Context is the idea that an individual is more than the summation of their experiences, thoughts, or emotions. The Self as Context process provides clients with the alternative belief that there is a self outside of the current circumstance.
    We are not only what happens to us. We are the ones experiencing what happens to us.

5. Values

  • Identifying and living by your values gives clients the ability to work towards any threat in any given moment. Humans all have values, whether they are conscious or unconscious, which direct an individual’s next steps and actions. In ACT, clients learn tools that help them live their lives in accordance with the values that are imperative to their identity.

6. Committed Action

  • Overall, ACT aims to push patients to commit to actions that will help them move forward with their life or long-term goals. With committed action, clients learn to live a life consistent with their values. Positive behavior cannot surface without awareness of how a given behavior affects your life.

Through this process, therapists encourage clients to move on from outlooks that have not worked for them in the past and to stop repeating thought patterns and behaviors that only shift sadness forward. Once clients start to accept their current hardships and commit to stop fighting past patterns and emotional turmoil, they can instead engage in positive and optimistic behavior based on their personal values and life goals.

When seeking treatment, it is important to know that there is no official certification for ACT practitioners. However, therapists and health professionals can acquire ACT skills through peer counseling, continuing education workshops, and other specific training programs. Beyond these credentials, the most important step in seeking treatment for addiction or mental health disorders is to find a therapist that makes you comfortable and secure enough to be vulnerable and open to change.

ACT shows that turning away from a problem in your life only makes it more difficult to find a solution. The easiest way to escape from the problem, therefore, is to seek treatment and solve it.

If want more information on Acceptance and commitment therapy and how it can help you or a loved one recover from addiction and mental health challenges, Boardwalk Recovery Center can help. Contact us to learn more about our therapeutic modalities and how our comprehensive programs can help you live a purposeful and joyous life.

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