What is Acceptance & Commitment Therapy?
ACT is an evidence-based psychotherapy that aims to empower people to be more willing to accept discomfort and pain, of any sort, in order to live a fuller, more meaningful life. While reducing psychological symptoms and emotional pain is part of the therapeutic process, the primary goal in ACT is to create a richer sense of purpose, meaning, and satisfaction with one’s life.
Although considered to be a form of behavioral analysis, much of the focus in ACT is on language as a behavior, and in particular internalized language (i.e., thinking). An ACT therapist will focus on processes such as mindful awareness, non-reactance, perspective-taking, and behavioral planning with the ultimate goal of promoting psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility is characterized by openness, awareness, intentionality, and willingness to take meaningful action. Put more simply, psychological flexibility is “emotional agility” (see Susan David, PhD).
Acceptance and commitment therapy is effective in treating anxiety, depression, stress, psychosis, somatic health issues, and addiction.
6 Core Processes
Acceptance and commitment therapy assumes the human brain is wired for survival, not happiness, and by default seeks to avoid difficult, uncomfortable experiences, including emotions, resulting in rigid rules that often clash with what we desire as conscious, autonomous human beings. With this in mind, ACT focuses on six interrelated processes aimed at increasing psychological flexibility.
Acceptance of Private Experiences
This refers to the process of being willing to experience all thoughts, sensations, emotions, and urges, without attempting to control or modify them.
This refers to the process of passively noticing thoughts and images come and go in and out of your conscious awareness. Defusion promotes the understanding that thoughts are first and foremost mental events that we can notice, not necessarily objective truth or fact.
Present Moment Awareness
This refers to the process of intentionally noticing and observing your moment-to-moment experience, both internally and in the world around you. Focusing on the present moment is a core element of mindfulness practice, including many forms of meditation.
Self as Context
Self as context can be thought of as experiencing the “observing self.” When we are self-aware, we are both the subject and the object. Self as context simply refers to taking the perspective of, and connecting with, the part of you that is “being” aware (i.e., the subject).
The process of “values” refers to connecting with freely chosen life directions. Values are qualities of ongoing action, or being, that we want to stand for in our lives. Values are not goals, but rather the reasons you choose the goals you choose.
The process of committed action refers to the willingness to take action in the service of living a life consistent with personal values, even in the face of challenge, discomfort, and adversity.