Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, also known as ACT, is an integrative practice that blends the classical scientific approach to therapy with value-based mindfulness and behavioral values. This intersection of the traditional methods of analysis and treatment for issues including depression, anxiety, stress management, OCD, chronic pain, drug abuse, and PTSD (to name a few) integrates intentional examination and reflection upon values and behaviors of empathy and sympathy, as well as evaluation of one’s approach to acceptance, forgiveness, compassion, present circumstance, intrinsic values, and self.
Together with a licensed therapist, clients utilizing ACT explore and discuss the coping habits they have employed to deflect personal reflection and responsibility and avoid the situations and circumstances in their lives which trigger their minds and bodies in stressful, detrimental, and inflammatory ways. Instead, ACT allows for a safe. therapeutic environment in which a complete analysis and exploration of causation and reaction brings clarity, breakthrough, meaning, and release.
ACT is based upon the understanding that each life is a balance of pleasure and pain, and it explores our visceral and physical responses to each. In an effort to create a rich and meaningful life, we must also examine the pain that is an inevitable part of our journey. Suppression and denial of our most traumatic or abruptly painful experiences manifests in isolation, sadness, emotional “walls”, and physical symptoms of pain and disease. By employing values-guided and experiential exercises, ACT delves into the unpleasant, challenging, and distressing events which have shaped our thoughts, feelings, memories, and responses to our daily lives and those in them. ACT requires ACTion from its participants, and is not a passive program. ACT creates positive change, not only in attitude, but in emotion, response, relationship, and body.
According to Oxford Languages, mindfulness – by definition – is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” Mindfulness is the foundational premise of ACT. Through guided and interactive exploration, ACT clients examine and listen to their own self-talk, evaluating the instincts and impulses which drive their struggles with avoidance, denial, depression, self-deprecation, commitment, and rebellion. In doing so, the client is able to reach a healthful place of acceptance, commitment, and peace with the world around them and their place within it. ACT asks of the individual questions like:
This focus on mindfulness brings awareness to your here-and-now experience. Simple evaluation of mind-body-breath awakens a sense of who you are, what you are doing, how you are feeling, and what you need out of this present moment. From this place of awakening, clients can further explore the circumstances from outside themselves with honesty, sincerity, vulnerability, openness, receptiveness, and ultimately, acceptance. ACT shows us that feelings are not who we are, rather they are experiences which come and go very quickly in our daily life. Feelings we choose to latch onto, however, have the power to create a narrative which can become emotions, and further form into negative habits, self-talk, worldviews, and barriers to a healthy life. ACT drives away distraction and negative self-talk, rather it encourages the ebb and flow of your thoughts and feelings, allowing them to come and go rather than take root and fester. This “be the sky” philosophy enables us to allow the clouds, storms, and hurricanes of life to pass through our lives rather than become the defining conditions of our very being. The sky simply is the sky; weather comes and weather goes, but the sky is still the sky. So too are we.
As your licensed therapist guides your treatment, you will become more acutely aware of the challenges you face and how you can accept your current circumstances. This awareness and integration allows you to stop fighting your past, your perceptions, and your emotions and, instead, start practicing more confident and present-tense behavior and choices, based on your personal values and goals.
There are six foundational processes in ACT, established to enable and encourage your success towards psychological flexibility. As you progress through these steps, you and your therapist will define and refine together your goals, skills, and processes for navigating the challenges that will inevitably arise as you meet yourself on a deeper level.
The milestones of ACT are:
Acceptance – Acceptance is key to the process of self-realization and epiphany that comes along with inner exploration. As you evaluate that which “makes you tick”, recognition and kind consideration of self empowers you to experience the vast range of your authentic thoughts and emotions rather than trying to avoid, deny, or alter them.
Cognitive Defusion – Cognitive defusion is a marvelous mechanism, allowing you to step outside of yourself and impartially reevaluate the way you react to those things that upset or disturb you. Observation of your circumstances via a neutral, arms-length approach lends a clearer, calmer, less impetuous response and perspective and gives you an opportunity to reframe and adjust your choices and reactions.
Mindful Presence – The intentional act of being present affords you the luxury of observing your thoughts and feelings without judging them or trying to change them. Without judgment, you are then liberated to change the course of your decisions and future behaviors without guilt, shame, and self-recrimination.
Who am I and Why am I Here? Using Self as context brings your identity into full focus, and illuminates who you fundamentally ARE, rather than what you think, feel, or experience.
Personal Values – Personal values are just that – personal. Each of us has their own guiding set of principles and standards by which we evaluate our behavior and that of those around us. Rather than goal-oriented pursuits, our personal values create a lens through which we see our motives, challenges, opportunities, and adversities in light of the intrinsic values involved in such judgements and decisions. We are less inclined to feel pressure to please others and more aptly prone to confidently conduct ourselves in a way that is in line with our adherence to our ethical code of conduct, conscience, and personal sense of integrity.
Committed Action – The purpose and intention of ACT is to help you develop and expand your psychological flexibility. This approach encourages a reevaluation of your emotional openness and the ability to healthfully adapt your thoughts and behaviors to better align with your values and goals.
Through the process of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, clients find their voice when asked, “what does your life mean to you?”. Alongside a licensed therapist, you will be empowered to explore that which makes you you – and unleash the power and promise that you find. What has happened in your life is not who you are; it simply helped to shape and influence the person you are becoming. The goal of ACT is trust – trust in yourself, your experiences, your decisions, and your life.