Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of mindfulness based therapy which teaches people to diminish the impact of intrusive thoughts, to refrain from overreacting and to gain control over their lives by taking action.
ACT focuses on three areas:
- Accept your reactions and be present
- Choose a valued direction
- Take action
There are six pillars which form the foundation of ACT:
Acceptance: This means allowing all unpleasant thoughts to enter your mind. In other words, you simply accept thoughts without putting up any resistance. Other approaches try to block or remove these thoughts which is counter-productive. ACT teaches us to rather accept all thoughts without judgement. By adopting new ways to moderate the thoughts, without wasting effort on trying to stop or reject them, we can more easily commit to taking action, which comes next.
Commitment: This motivates you to overcome failure and frustration and to restructure your life in spite of serious setbacks. You have to choose certain values and commit yourself to achieving goals along the way to fulfilling those values. These paths are called valued directions. Choosing valued directions means weighing up (evaluating) what is most important in your life and then committing yourself to completing a journey in the valued direction that you have chosen. You also commit to measuring your progress on a regular basis.
Valued Directions: ACT requires that you ask yourself what your core values are. In order to live a life in congruence with who you are, you need to behave in accordance with your values. Values are the things that ultimately matter to you – what you want to be remembered for. By refining these standards, they can guide you for the rest of your life and greatly improve your self-image. ACT requires you dig out your most important values and then diligently follow the chosen directions to reshape your future and yourself.
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the ability to sense what is actually happening in the present moment and to react in a fully engaging, pragmatic manner, rather than dwelling on negative, non-factual thoughts and feelings. Being in contact with the present moment, rather than obsessing about the past or the future, is necessary for acceptance and living consistently with one’s values.
Cognitive Defusion: This involves detaching oneself from an intrusive thought and dismissing it as a less important matter. Our minds function on two “levels”, one is subjective and the other objective. Though we respond to a thought on one level, we can look at the same thought from another level, enabling us to judge whether our initial response was correct. Looking at it from a neutral point of view gives us insight and makes it easier to deflate exaggerated thoughts and feelings.
Language: Language literally showcases how you see yourself and the world around you. Changes in the way you speak influence the way you think. Saying things in a less negative way exerts a more positive influence on one’s mind. Language actually shapes your reactions. Human language includes facial expressions, body gestures, writing, painting and many more methods of communication which leave the same marks as spoken words.
Committed action: Responsibly committing yourself to achieving goals, based on the chosen valued directions, and striving to honour those goals is the final outcome of ACT.
The benefits of ACT are multiple: You cannot be consumed by an intrusive thought; you can dismiss the thought and turn to other matters; you gain time to calmly restructure your life; you will be armed to handle future emotional upsets; you do not need drugs or alcohol to suppress your feelings; you discover and maintain meaningful, enriching values; you can focus on other things, instead of fixating on feelings; you can improve your performance in any sphere of your life; you can more easily discard other emotional problems; you learn to be in touch with yourself; your environment changes from a prison to a universe.
ACT is effective for overcoming anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, trauma, phobias, substance abuse, OCD, eating disorders, psychoses, chronic pain and terminal illness. If you suffer from any of these conditions or simply want to improve your performance, feel free to contact us for professional advice or a confidential appointment with an experienced counsellor.
The above summary of our previous post on ACT therapy.