Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based behavioral therapy. ACT (pronounced as one word) is based on six core principles: acceptance; cognitive defusion; being present; self-as-context; values; and committed action. These core principles assist in creating psychological flexibility (i.e. being present, opening up to experiences, and doing what matters) through experiential exercises, exposure, relatable metaphors, and homework assignments.
Many people come into therapy feeling as if they are defective or “aren’t good enough”. ACT is nonjudgmental and unconditionally accepting as it states that client’s do not need to be “fixed” as they are not broken. ACT demonstrates that everyone at some time or another struggles and this is indeed the “normal” human condition.
ACT emphasizes living your values (i.e. the things you deeply care about) even during difficult times. In addition, ACT teaches an abundance of coping skills, such as mindfulness. Mindfulness means coming back to the present moment instead of rehashing the past or being overly concerned about the future, which can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety. Mindfulness further allows you to practice acceptance (i.e. allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them) of both your “good” and “bad” experiences.
ACT further allows you to learn how to cope with difficult thoughts and self judgements. For example, a common problem people experience is constantly analyzing, fighting with, or attempting to control one’s thoughts. It is a very Western notion to think that we must get rid of bad thoughts and feelings in order to have a rich, full, and meaningful life. You have likely said or heard the words, “If only I could get rid of my anxiety, I would be able to accomplish ‘x’” or “If only I was not depressed, I’d be able to go out and do things I care about”. ACT teaches you how to move towards the things you care about regardless of the painful thoughts and judgements you are having.
For a more detailed overview of ACT, along with explanations of the six core principles, read the article “Embracing Your Demons: An Overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” by Dr. Russell Harris.