Acceptance &

Commitment

Therapy (ACT)

ACT is a structured time-limited therapy aimed at maximizing people’s potential for a rich and meaningful life while teaching skills to handle the pain the inevitably comes with it. Described by Hayes (2007) as “getting out of your head and into your life”, ACT proposes that most psychological suffering is caused by ‘experiential’ avoidance, or trying to avoid or get rid of unwanted experiences such as thoughts, feelings, and memories, versus allowing them to come and go without struggle.

ACT (pronounced like the word ‘act’) teaches focused strategies to deal with negative thoughts and feelings more effectively, and helps guide you in clarifying what is truly important to you (your values) and then commit to action that will enhance and improve your life.

The 6 core steps in ACT are:

  • Contact with the present moment: Means learning how to be more engaged in the present moment, versus caught up in the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness skills are taught to help people bring awareness to whatever is happening without struggle.
  • Diffusion: means learning how to distance yourself from unhelpful thoughts and feelings so they have less power over you. It’s about learning to see thoughts as just thoughts, and feelings as physical sensations in the moment that will pass.
  • Acceptance: means learning how to open up and make room from an uncomfortable feeling, versus struggling with it and trying to push it away.
  • The Observing Self is the part of you that is responsible for awareness and attention. Through Mindfulness, ACT teaches you to be aware of whatever you are thinking and feeling in the moment so you can respond with conscious awareness.
  • Values are what are important to you, deep down in your heart, and how you want to live your life. Values are what matters to you in the big picture.
  • Committed action means taking action that is guided by your values, even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable.

ACT proposes that when all these things are put together, you develop ‘psychological flexibility’. This is the ability to be in the present moment, to deal skillfully with painful thoughts and feelings, and to be able to do what matters.

ACT has been found to be effective in a range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, post-traumatic stress, addictions, eating disorders, and chronic pain.