What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an empirically based treatment approach. The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility leading to improved mental health outcomes and symptom reduction. There are 6 components that play a role in our psychological flexibility including: Values, Acceptance, Defusion, Contact with the present moment, committed action, and self-as context. When we increase psychological flexibility we change the way our mind views and responds to stimuli from our environment, increasing our window of tolerance, reducing triggers, and increasing self-awareness and life satisfaction.
The components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Acceptance: Acceptance involves the active and aware embrace of those private events, thoughts, and feelings from the past or present without attempts to change their frequency or form, especially when doing so would cause psychological harm. Acceptance means we accept what comes up and we learn to let go of trying to change or alter them but rather learn to work with them through the rest of the ACT components below.
Defusion: through this technique we attempt to change the undesirable functions (the way we interact) with our thoughts and other private events, rather than trying to alter their form, frequency or situational sensitivity. For example, we practice remembering that thoughts are thoughts and don't need meaning. An unpleasant "negative" thought is named as such and treated as an externally observed event trough various techniques and told to help diminish its impact and the connection to ourselves. One example of this is to label the process of thinking :
“I am having the thought (insert scary, intrusive or unpleasant thought”
This helps reduce the literal quality of the thought and therefore weakening it.
Values: ACT uses a variety of exercises to help a client choose life directions in various domains (e.g. family, career, spirituality) while undermining verbal processes that might lead to choices based on avoidance, social compliance, or fusion.
Contact with the present moment: in ACT we practice non-judgmental contact with psychological and environmental events as they occur. The goal is to help you experience the world more directly as to be able to show up to life our your values. We do this through practice of various mindfulness, defusion, and grounding techniques.
Self as context: We learn perspective taking, practice awareness of self and others in relation to the world. working to become aware of one’s own flow of experiences without attachment to them or an investment in which particular experiences occur. This helps us develop empathy both to ourselves and others
Committed action: This includes the actions (goals and steps) you can take to help you live a more meaningful life in line with your personal values. Application of skills such as exposure, communication, boundary setting, goal setting, etc. Unlike values, which remain constant and never achieved, concrete goals that are values consistent can be achieved. We will work on setting short, medium, and long-term behavior change goals.
Watch the video below for an example on how we use ACT for intrusive, anxious, or overthinking thoughts.