In the vast universe of psychotherapy, a shining star offers a unique approach to mental health management – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Unlike traditional therapies, ACT doesn’t aim to eliminate uncomfortable feelings. Instead, it encourages acceptance of these feelings and the commitment to actions that make life more meaningful. Intrigued? Let’s embark on a journey to explore the galaxy of ACT.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy that helps individuals live more meaningful lives.
ACT can be used to treat anxiety, depression, chronic pain & substance use disorders through mindfulness exercises, cognitive defusion & value clarification.
Group therapy with the ACT structure provides benefits such as connection, validation & support for mental health conditions.
Understanding Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an innovative psychotherapy technique grounded in contextual behavioural science and cognitive therapy. It nudges us to embrace inevitable pain and suffering while committing to actions that enrich our lives. If you’re wondering, “Isn’t this just like Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)?”, you’re partly correct. ACT is indeed a modern variant of CBT, but it focuses on the context and experience rather than the form to bring about change.
The uniqueness of ACT lies in its aims. Unlike other therapies that strive to lessen the intensity or frequency of uncomfortable internal experiences, ACT aims to decrease the struggle to control or eliminate these experiences while simultaneously increasing engagement in meaningful life activities.
Now let’s delve deeper into the core principles that form the bedrock of ACT.
At the heart of ACT are six core principles.
Acceptance: letting unpleasant experiences be, without attempting to deny or alter them.
Cognitive defusion: observing our thoughts without getting entangled in them.
Being present: mindfulness of the here and now.
Self as context: recognizing that we are more than our thoughts and feelings.
Values: clarifying what is truly important to us.
Committed action: taking steps towards living in alignment with our values.
The principle of ‘self as context’ helps us understand that we are more than just our experiences, thoughts, or emotions. It’s about recognizing our identity that exists beyond the current situation. The principles of values and committed action guide us toward understanding our personal values and committing to actions that align with these values, thereby driving us toward a rich and meaningful life.
Now, let’s look at the theory that forms the foundation for these principles.
Relational Frame Theory
Relational Frame Theory (RFT) is the theoretical backbone of ACT. It acknowledges our capacity to relate as the basis of language and cognition. Interestingly, it also highlights that our ability to form relational networks can sometimes be destructive, especially when anxiety and depression come into play. For instance, you might associate negative words with your life, which can trigger a spiral of negative thoughts and feelings.
To counter this, ACT uses mindfulness. Mindfulness exercises help us accept our feelings and adjust how we respond and relate to them, rather than trying to ignore them. This forms the basis for cognitive defusion, one of the core principles of ACT.
But how does ACT differ from traditional Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)? Let’s find out.
Comparison to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
ACT is often classified as a “third wave” of cognitive behaviour therapy, a term coined by Steven Hayes, the founder of ACT. This “third wave” is characterized by an emphasis on the context and purpose of psychological phenomena, rather than their form. This shift of focus led to the development of ACT, addressing the shortcomings of the “second wave” of behaviour therapy.
What sets ACT apart from traditional CBT is its approach toward inner experiences. Unlike CBT, which seeks to reduce obsessions or negative thoughts, ACT sees these experiences as a normal part of life. ACT focuses on finding ways to let them be there without interfering with our lives. This shift of emphasis from the content or form of abnormal behaviour towards the context it takes place in is what makes ACT unique.
With this understanding, let’s move on to explore the applications of ACT in mental health.
Applications of ACT in Mental Health
Studies have found ACT to be effective in treating a broad range of mental health conditions, including:
Substance use disorders
ACT’s unique approach, which focuses on accepting and making peace with any distressing or unwanted feelings, makes it a suitable therapy for tackling anxiety, depression, and emotional pain. Moreover, for individuals grappling with chronic pain and substance use disorders, ACT provides the tools to cope with their pain and cravings while staying true to their values and goals.
But how does ACT specifically help individuals suffering from these conditions? Let’s delve into these applications in the following subsections.
For individuals wrestling with anxiety disorders, the principles of ACT serve as a beacon of hope. ACT enables them to better cope with their anxiety and stress, paving the path for creating a life they want to live and achieving their goals.
Take Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), for instance. A study on ACT for OCD found that:
ACT was more effective than Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) in treating OCD
Participants in the ACT group showed a significant reduction in OCD severity compared to the PMR group
The participants rated the ACT treatment highly
The dropout rate was relatively low, further underscoring the effectiveness of ACT in treating anxiety disorders.
Depression, a prevalent mental health issue, can also be effectively managed using ACT. ACT employs mindfulness and acceptance techniques to help individuals look at their negative thoughts and feelings in a new light, thereby decreasing depressive symptoms.
ACT is not just about managing symptoms; it focuses on empowering individuals to live a fulfilling life. Through value clarification, ACT helps individuals set a path for their life, strengthening the bond between them and their therapist, and taking actionable steps towards a meaningful life. This proactive approach makes ACT a powerful tool for managing depression.
ACT offers a new perspective for individuals dealing with chronic pain. Instead of focusing on eliminating pain, ACT helps individuals learn to accept and live with their pain, thereby improving their quality of life.
The shift from pain elimination to pain acceptance may sound counterintuitive, but it’s this unique approach that makes ACT effective. ACT helps individuals cope with their pain by focusing on their values and shifting their expectations from eliminating pain to living as best they can with it.
Substance Use Disorders
For people grappling with substance use disorders, ACT can be a beacon of hope. ACT equips them with the skills to stay away from triggers that make them crave substances and make a commitment to living a life free of substance abuse.
ACT’s unique approach, which focuses on accepting and making peace with any distressing or unwanted feelings, makes it a suitable therapy for tackling substance use disorders. ACT provides individuals with the tools to cope with their cravings while staying true to their values and goals.
Techniques and Tools Used in ACT
ACT employs various techniques and tools to help individuals develop psychological flexibility. These techniques include mindfulness exercises, cognitive defusion, and value clarification. Mindfulness exercises help individuals become aware of and manage their responses to various situations by focusing on present-moment thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and physical sensations. Cognitive defusion techniques help people observe their thoughts without getting too involved in them, allowing them to differentiate between their feelings and actions.
Value clarification, on the other hand, helps individuals identify their values and goals, and use them to guide their behavior. Let’s explore these techniques in more detail.
Mindfulness exercises, also known as mindfulness techniques, are a cornerstone of ACT. They help individuals become aware of and manage their responses to various situations by focusing on the present-moment thoughts, emotions, behaviours, and physical sensations. These exercises teach individuals to observe and experience their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without judging them.
Mindfulness can be practiced formally through guided meditations or informally during everyday activities like walking or eating. By practicing mindfulness, individuals can better recognize and control their reactions to situations, leading to improved mental well-being.
Cognitive defusion is another pivotal technique used in ACT. It helps individuals take a step back and look at their thoughts from a more detached, objective perspective. Cognitive defusion techniques help people observe their thoughts without getting too involved in them, allowing them to differentiate between their feelings and their actions.
Cognitive defusion techniques include labelling thoughts, using metaphors, and reframing thoughts. By practicing cognitive defusion, individuals can gain a balanced perspective, move away from overthinking, and reduce mental turmoil.
Value clarification is an integral part of ACT. It helps individuals identify what matters to them and set goals that are meaningful to them and their lives. Value clarification provides a roadmap for the therapy journey and helps take actionable steps towards a more meaningful life.
Values Assessment Rating Form, a tool often used in ACT, can help individuals identify areas where they are not reaching their goals and also areas where they are succeeding. It can assist in setting priorities for reaching those goals in the future.
How to Get Started with ACT Therapy
Embarking on a journey with ACT begins with finding trained mental health professionals, discussing personal values and goals, and utilizing resources for additional support and learning. Having a trained therapist is key to successful ACT therapy, as they can provide guidance and tailored support throughout the process.
Furthermore, discussing personal values and goals with a therapist can help you gain an understanding of what matters to you, set a path for your life, and strengthen the bond between you and your therapist. There are also several resources available, such as worksheets, handouts, book chapters, videos, and audio files, which can help you learn more about ACT.
Finding a Trained Therapist
Finding a trained therapist is the first step toward starting ACT therapy. Therapists trained in ACT can guide you through the process and provide personalized support.
You can find trained therapists for ACT therapy at the Resiliency Clinic, or via directories of therapists that specialize in ACT therapy, such as the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science directory. Remember, the success of your ACT journey largely depends on the expertise of your therapist.
Discussing Values and Goals
Discussing your values and goals with your therapist forms the backbone of your ACT journey. It helps you gain an understanding of what matters to you, set a path for your life, and strengthen the bond between you and your therapist.
This discussion also serves as a roadmap for your therapy journey, guiding the subsequent sessions and helping you take actionable steps toward a more meaningful life.
To bolster your ACT journey, it’s advisable to utilize resources like:
These resources can provide additional support and help you understand ACT better.
Professional organizations like the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) provide a plethora of resources that can be of immense help, including those related to behavioural and cognitive therapy as well as clinical psychology.
Role of ACT in Group Therapy
ACT doesn’t confine itself to individual therapy; it can also be applied effectively in group therapy settings. ACT group therapy offers a unique set of benefits, including validation, connection, and vulnerability among group members.
Group therapy in ACT can be particularly beneficial for diverse issues such as:
adolescents going through a tough time
Let’s delve into the benefits and structure of ACT group therapy.
Benefits of Group Therapy
ACT group therapy can be a ray of hope for individuals grappling with a variety of issues like anger, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and adolescents going through a tough time. Group therapy offers a sense of community and support, helps create healthy attachments, reduces stigma and isolation that can come with certain conditions, and provides different perspectives and accountability.
These benefits make ACT group therapy an effective approach to managing various mental health conditions.
An ACT group therapy session usually starts with a mindfulness exercise, followed by experiential exercises throughout the session. It can be either general or specific groups, catering to a broad range of needs.
Maintaining ground rules such as readiness to make the group work and keeping conversations within the group setting ensures the effectiveness of the group therapy.
In a world where mental health issues are on the rise, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) shines as a unique and effective approach to managing these issues. By focusing on accepting uncomfortable feelings and committing to actions that make life more meaningful, ACT offers a refreshing perspective on mental health treatment. Whether you are grappling with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, or substance use disorders, ACT can guide you toward a fulfilling and psychologically flexible life. So why not embrace the inevitable discomfort and commit to a life that’s rich in values and purpose?
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens in acceptance and commitment therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) promotes accepting difficult thoughts and feelings without judgment, encouraging people to embrace them instead of fighting or feeling guilty. Coupled with mindfulness-based therapy, ACT can be used to help people stay focused on the present moment and move forward through challenging emotions.
What are the six steps of acceptance and commitment therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) follows 6 core processes: Acceptance, Cognitive Defusion, Being Present, Self-as-Context, Values Clarification, and Committed Action. These steps help individuals develop self-awareness, clarity, and action plans toward achieving a greater life purpose.
What is ACT therapy vs CBT?
ACT therapy differs from traditional CBT in that it focuses on helping individuals accept their difficult thoughts and feelings, rather than trying to control them. It also helps one to become motivated by their values and strengthen their sense of purpose.
What is ACT therapy good for treating?
ACT therapy is an effective treatment for anxiety, depression, OCD, addictions, and substance abuse, as well as stress regulation, work stress, chronic pain, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
It can help individuals become more self-aware, stop negative thinking, and lead a life more aligned with their values.
Can ACT be used in group therapy?
Yes, ACT can be effectively used in group therapy, as it encourages connection and vulnerability among members while providing a sense of validation.
ACT helps to create a safe space for members to share their thoughts and feelings, and to build trust and understanding among the group. It also allows members to explore their own values and beliefs, and gain insight into how they work.