This psychological intervention blends two complementary approaches:
- acceptance and mindfulness strategies
- commitment and behavior change strategies
The goal of such a combination is psychological flexibility and the liberation of language to better define and address our emotions. Using ACT, a therapist guides clients through paradox, experiential, and metaphor exercises to assist them in accepting their reactive patterns and committing to change—at the same time. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy focuses on being present with your behaviors, carefully choosing a new, valued direction, and then moving forward with the action necessary to make it that behavioral change happen.
Based on the fundamental concept of mindfulness, ACT is not generally perceived as needing years of therapy to be effective. Rather, it’s a more immediate form of exploring how your cognition connects to your feelings and thoughts. The basic premise is that, through observing and accepting all forms of cognition, action can be taken before a feeling or pattern is eliminated. This approach has been found to be helpful when treating anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders.
Let’s take a closer look at the six core principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:
- Cognitive defusion
- Being and staying present
- The Observing Self
- Committed action
All forms of cognition (memories, thoughts, etc.) can be perceived as rules or truths or threats. ACT aims to change how we see such cognitions and to recognize them as the bits of language they are. Imagine a negative thought enters and colonizes your state of mind. Defusion would aim to decrease the validity and believability of that thought by, for example, repeating it (out loud) until it becomes more of a sound than a reality.
Often, the first reaction to a negative event or emotion is avoidance. This is a rational, but not always productive, response. Acceptance might be an alternative choice. Within the context of ACT, this means making room for the experiences that our instincts may urge us to avoid. “Making room” for challenging feelings is not the same as surrendering to them. We can see it more as a refusal to struggle with them thus taking away their ability to control and influence.
Being and staying present
As the first two principles demonstrate, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy encourages an in-the-moment awareness. Being present in the here and now cultivates an emotional flexibility less hindered by controlling thoughts of the past and/or present.
The Observing Self
Are you familiar with the concept of a “transcendent sense of self”? This approach is founded on the perspective that while your memories, desires, emotions, thoughts, and physical self are all important, they are also all in flux. Your essence is ever-present and is much more than any single one of these.
The state of mind created by the first four principles creates a safe space for clarifying one’s values. Who do wish to be? What’s important to you? What do stand for and what will you stand up for? Moving in the direction of such values will likely involve us “making room” for various forms of discomfort. Are you willing to accept this?
Our values serve as guides by which we set our goals. Subsequently, it takes committed action to reach those goals. Through the setting of short, medium, and long-term goals, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy motivates us to develop new and larger patterns of behavior change.
Are you interested in seeing if ACT can help you change some issues you’re struggling with? Contact me today for a free consultation.