Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

I don’t know about you, but my mind is constantly swimming in thoughts; and it seems that the more I try to move in a direction that gives my life meaning and richness, the more my mind yells at me to do the opposite.

The simple reason behind this is that, most of the time, the most meaningful and worthwhile actions usually carry some unpleasant or uncomfortable feelings and, being the avid problem solver, our mind sees a very simple solution – just stop doing it!

Unfortunately, this causes more problems than it solves. Although this will stop that uncomfortable feeling in the moment, it pushes us away from the kind of life we really want and creates more difficulties for us long-term.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT (pronounced as the word “act”), is one way to turn down the volume to our thoughts and live a life guided by values.

ACT is about committing to meaningful action in line with your values, being present, and making room for the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that inevitably show up along the way.

Whilst symptom reduction is often a by-product of ACT, it is certainly not the goal. According to Harris (2006), this form of therapy has a major emphasis on:

  • values;
  • forgiveness;
  • acceptance;
  • compassion;
  • living in the present moment;
  • and accessing a transcendent sense of self.

Dealing with Painful Thoughts

In ACT, you will learn psychological skills to deal with painful or unwanted thoughts and feelings effectively, through the use of mindfulness skills, so that these thoughts have less influence over you. It also helps you to clarify what is important and meaningful to you by identifying your values, and uses this knowledge to motivate and guide change.

Mindfulness, a core process of ACT, is defined as consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience with openness, interest, and receptiveness (Harris, 2006).

Mindfulness teaches us to be fully present in the moment, engaged in what we are doing, and allowing our feelings to be as they are – without trying to change or control them. By observing our thoughts and feelings rather than entering into a struggle with them, they can seem much less overwhelming. This in turn allows us to change our relationship with painful thoughts and feelings so that they have less of an impact over our actions.