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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Updated: Jul 25

How Can a Mindful Approach Help Me?


It is almost instinctual to avoid negative experiences, push negative feelings away, and suppress negative emotions. Avoidance can often be more destructive than facing these challenges head-on.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based therapy that aims to help individuals create meaningful lives, accept the negative as a part of life, take meaningful value-based actions and develop mindfulness skills.


ACT allows patients to develop psychological flexibility, which means it increases your ability to accept both negativity and positivity in life, allowing you to confront challenges without concerning yourself with the potential outcomes. This will prevent you from avoiding possible stressors and encourage you to commit to meaningful action instead. The ability to overcome and move past challenges will create mental room for value-based action that supports well-being. In other words, avoiding or dwelling on problems limits your time and capacity to do things that support your own health and happiness.


What is unique to ACT is that it does not view symptom reduction as the goal. Pain and suffering cannot be avoided because it is natural and an enviable fact of life. By shifting the way we think about pain, it can allow us to live healthy, fulfilling lives alongside negativity. Unwanted or uncomfortable experiences are also out of our control. Therefore, learning to accept and move through those experiences without them interfering with our lives will help us focus on what matters most to us.


ACT stresses that, to truly live a meaningful life, you must accept negative experiences, emotions, and feelings, learn to accept what isn't in your control, and change your relationship and reactions to negativity.


"Running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from the problem is to solve it."

Who ACT Can Help?

In short, ACT can help everyone. Learning meaningfulness skills is helpful for any individual looking for self-determination through a life-affirming perspective. In other words, ACT can help individuals manage their own lives by accepting that life is the way it is and learning to be content with every aspect of it (both positive and negative).


However, ACT is particularly effective for a wide range of psychological disorders as well.

  • Eating disorders

  • Chronic pain

  • Chronic stress

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • OCD

  • Addiction

  • Substance abuse


What is Mindfulness?


Mindfulness can be a confusing concept. Essentially it is to bring awareness to the present and the experiences in the here and now with openness, interest, and receptiveness. It is the acceptance that things are the way they are and the recognition that some things cannot be changed. The same goes for thoughts and feelings. Allow them to come and go naturally; you cannot control how you feel. Having mindfulness can change your relationship with these thoughts and feelings and give you the ability to detach from them. Mindfulness increases your ability to separate the person from the cognition, which means that you can distance the thought itself from you as an individual. For example, if you think "I am horrible," mindfulness will allow you to rephrase this into "I'm having a thought that I am horrible." This effectively disarms the thought and distances you as a person from the negativity. Note that there is no attempt to get rid of the thought or change it significantly, but it is simply rephrased to lessen the impact of the words. Learning mindfulness allows you to develop new compassionate relationships with unwanted thoughts and feelings.


The Six Core Principles of ACT


Acceptance

You must not avoid thinking about negative experiences. When unpleasant experiences happen, you have to make the active choice of allowing them to exist without trying to change them, deny them or going them undue attention.

Cognitive Defusion

Adjust your relationship with your own thoughts and feelings and alter how you react to them. Face challenges and negative experiences head-on, and do not fixate on problems after they have passed.

Being Present

Like it implies, stay in the moment. Practice being aware of the present without judgment and do not try and predict or change what is happening now.

Self as Context

You are not the sum of your experiences, thoughts, and emotions; you are not defined by them. You are only experiencing what is happening to you; you are not defined by that experience.

Values

What is most important to you, what sort of person do you want to be, and what is meaningful to you? These are your values. Conscious and unconscious values direct you every step, and you should learn how to live your life in accordance with your values.

Committed Action

You must set goals consistent with your values, and you should commit to taking effective action to achieve them.


Call Nomina to find out more about ACT therapy or to find an ACT therapist near you.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)