Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an empirically-based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behaviour change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.

 

ACT (pronounced 'act' not 'ay see tee') is developed within a pragmatic philosophy called functional contextualism and is based on Relational Frame Theory (RFT), a comprehensive theory of language and cognition that has emerged within behaviour analysis.

 

ACT differs from traditional Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) in that it focuses on what they can control - their arms, legs and mouth - rather than trying to teach people to better control their thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories and other private events.

 

As such, ACT teaches the client to 'just notice', accept and embrace their private events, especially previously unwanted ones. This helps the client to get in contact with a transcendent sense of self known as 'self-as-context' - the person who is always there observing and experiencing, yet distinct from one's thoughts, feelings, sensations, and memories. ACT aims to help the individual to clarify their personal values and to take action on them, bringing more vitality and meaning to their life in the process.

 

The core conception of ACT is that psychological suffering is usually caused by experiential avoidance, cognitive entanglement and resulting psychological rigidity that leads to a failure to take needed behavioural steps that are consistent with core values.

 

To summarise, you could say that ACT views the core of many problems to be FEAR: 

  • Fusion with your thoughts
  • Evaluation of experience
  • Avoidance of your experience
  • Reason giving for your behaviour.

The healthy alternative, then, is to ACT:

  • Accept your reactions and be present
  • Choose a valued direction
  • Take action.

While ACT is still relatively new in the development of its research base, it has shown preliminary research evidence of effectiveness for a variety of problems including chronic pain, addictions, smoking cessation, depression, anxiety, psychosis, workplace stress and diabetes management.

 

ACT has also been adapted to create a non-therapy version of the same processes called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This process, oriented towards the development of mindfulness and acceptance, has been investigated in several research studies, with good preliminary results. It values skills in non-clinical settings such as businesses or schools.