What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (usually called ACT) is a therapy model with empirically proven effectiveness.
It works well for depression, anxiety disorders, addictions, and a general sense of being stuck in patterns of behaviour or emotions that makes a person feel miserable.
How does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy / ACT work?
ACT is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy with its roots in Mindfulness, traditional Behaviour Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. In a very practical manner it can help a person to overcome a sense of being trapped by learning to manage emotions differently, commit to different actions that align with your values, and generally develop a greater sense of ease and peace. It also sometimes incorporates meditation.
ACT was developed by Steven Hayes in 1982 in order to create a mixed approach which integrates both cognitive and behavioural therapy. Steven wanted to move away from traditional therapies of the time with what seemed to him an over-focus on narrowly defined abnormal behaviour modification out of context. Steven’s treatment model is broader and more flexible as it incorporates every person’s unique experiences. It also incorporates a person’s values – i.e. what they value, appreciate, and aspire to.
Many of us try for years to change the way we think and feel by judging it, ignoring it, suppressing it, or wishing it away. That simply doesn’t work and we find ourselves feeling that we are chasing our tails and getting nowhere. ACT believes that there are valid alternatives to trying to change the way you think, and these include mindful behaviour, attention to personal values, and commitment to action. In essence, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a gentle, more natural, yet quite practical approach.
Just some of the conditions ACT works well for
Social anxiety disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Relationship habits that keep yielding the same unhappy results
Low self-esteem and low confidence
Feeling overwhelmed, overburdened and unable to see a way out
The six core principles to develop psychological flexibility
ACT teaches a variety of skills that together bring relief of symptoms as well as a general increased ability to enjoy life. These are based on the following principles:
Learning to perceive thoughts, images, memories and perceptions for what they are – nothing more than bits of language and images – rather than what they often appear to be: threatening events, rules that must be obeyed, or objective truths and facts. Thoughts are simply that, thoughts. Sometimes they are facts, but sometimes they’re just perceptions or worries that we use to scare or upset ourselves. The freedom from the tyranny of fusing with our thoughts typically bring great relief.
Russ Harris who wrote The Happiness Trap and other ACT books prefers to call this skill “expansion” – this means to learn the skill of making room for unpleasant feelings, sensations, and urges, instead of trying to suppress them or push them away. This gentle allowing and accepting of sometimes difficult experiences helps us to open up and stop the struggling, running from them, or giving them undue attention. And so somehow, they move through us more quickly and bother us much less.
We also offer self-acceptance therapy for teens, to enable better stress management techniques and to promote greater self-acceptance.
Contact with the present moment
This skill is based on mindful awareness of the here and now which is experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness. So many beautiful moments in life are missed as we have a great tendency to have our minds on other times and other places. Imagine how much richer life would be if the experience of a sunset, a kiss, a child’s recital or even a difficult conversation is approached with presence and full connectedness! Right now is the only time we have power – we cannot change the past and although the future may be planned for, nothing is certain. But don’t miss this exquisite wonderful instant of your life that will never come by again.
The observing self
Imagine the ability to connect with a part of you that is non-judgemental, calm and curious and less changeable by the emotions, thoughts and experiences of life. Wouldn’t it bring a greater sense of calmness in life, provide a harbour in the storm and a wiser perspective on the many perplexities of life? This is the skill of accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging and more spacious.
ACT helps us to investigate more deeply that which we hold dear – what sort of person we want to be, what is meaningful to us, and what we want to stand for in this life. Our values guide us on the journey of healing and growing and provide direction for our lives. They also motivate us to make significant changes to be true to ourselves.
As our Values provide the map of where we want to go, at some point we need to commit to starting the journey with conviction, sometimes trepidation, but always in the service of a more meaningful life.
Harris, Russ. (2007). The happiness trap: Stop struggling, start living. New South Wales, Australia: Exisle Publishing.
Harris, Russ. (2011). The Confidence Gap. Robinson Publishing.
Harris, Russ. (2012). The Reality Slap: Finding Peace and Fulfillment When Life Hurts. New Harbinger Publications.
Hayes, Steven & Smith, Spencer. (2005). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New Harbinger Publications.
ACT / Acceptance & Commitment Therapy | Adelaide Psychology Clinic
All our Psychologists are trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and continue to grow their skills in this therapeutic model through ongoing professional development courses and peer supervision.
To discuss the benefits that ACT might have on your overall well-being, please reach out to our Kensington clinic, just a short drive away from Norwood and nestled in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs.
Adelaide Psychologists | ACT / Acceptance & Commitment Therapy
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