What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a short-term approach that works by helping individuals change the way they relate to their difficult and distressing inner experiences such as painful thoughts, feelings, urges, memories, and physical sensations. ACT helps you to become more mindful of the present moment and reduce precious time and energy trying to avoid or escape negative thoughts and feelings. ACT helps to refocus your energy on pursuing a meaningful life that is in accordance with your personal values.
How does ACT Work?
ACT is based on the philosophy that pain is inevitable, but suffering is not. What this means is that although negative experiences are a part of life, our tendency to dwell on them and attempts to avoid them can become consuming and add to our pain. For example, in order to escape feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and boredom, we may turn to recreational drugs, overeating, high-risk sexual behaviour, and other problematic behaviours. At the same time, we also spend much of our lives ruminating about the past and worrying about the future, rather than making use of the time we have in the present. When this happens, we lose sight of what gives our life purpose and meaning.
ACT helps us identify what is truly important to ourselves – what we value in the core of our being. In concert with goals and values, the process of ACT is to then promote action to live a full and meaningful life while accepting the inevitable pain that accompanies it. Rather than spending our time and energy on pushing away our negative thoughts and feelings, ACT helps us to use mindfulness skills to engage with our present experience. The use of mindfulness skills enables you to learn to limit the influence negative experiences have over your daily life.
What happens in ACT?
In ACT you will work with your therapist to identify and clarify your goals and values. This information is one important aspect of the treatment process as it helps to guide and clarify roadblocks that interfere with your values. At the same time, you will learn other important skills such as mindfulness to help open up to your present experience, and make space for painful thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Rather than trying to counter or escape negative thoughts and feelings, you will learn to develop awareness of powerful feelings (e. g., fear, sadness, regret) and regulate your emotions to help you move toward valued action. When you make room for your painful experiences instead of pushing them away, you may learn that it is actually easier to keep moving in the direction of your valued goals. You will also be helped to stop struggling with your inner experience, and instead become more of an observer, one who views his or her experience with openness, curiosity, and compassion.
Is ACT effective?
ACT has been evaluated in numerous randomized controlled trials and is an evidence-based treatment for a range of difficulties including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse, stress, and other psychological problems. It is typically a short-term treatment; however, treatment length depends on many factors, including the severity and chronicity of your difficulties.