Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness based behavioral therapy which aims to maximize the human potential for living a valued and meaningful life. In this therapy, the core belief is the human suffering is normal, however the natural urge to resist uncomfortable feelings will maintain emotional problems. ACT takes the view that attempting to get rid of or changing difficult or unwanted thoughts can be counter productive to the success of living a valued life.
The goal of ACT is to teach clients to be willing to experience emotional pain and suffering while still committing to personal goals and values. ACT teaches clients to clarify values that help guide behaviors towards goals in a mindful way. ACT incorporates mindfulness skills to teach clients to become consciously aware of the present-moment in a non-judgemental and accepting manner. The overall goal in therapy is to increase psychological flexibility which is the ability to be fully present in current moment and engaged in behaviours towards a valued end. There are 6 core components that can increase psychological flexibility:
- Acceptance: skills are taught to accept distressing thoughts and emotions rather than avoiding their presence. Acceptance skills involves a willingness to embrace and awareness of thoughts that are distressing without attempting to change or get rid of the thoughts. For example, clients who suffer from chronic pain are taught to encourage letting go of the struggle against pain.
- Cognitive Defusion: skills are taught to change the way one relates to their thoughts and emotions so that the function of these thoughts, i.e. anxiety-inducing, becomes diminished, thereby reducing the literal function of the thought. This defusion process weakens the thought pattern, taking the client from literally held statements ("I am no good") to experientially held statements ("I am having the thought, that I am no good"). This results in a reduction of believability of that thought rather than reducing the frequency.
- Being Present: skills are taught to contact the present-moment in a nonjdugemental manner so that all envionrmental and psychological events are embraced. The goal is to teach clients to experience the world in a direct fashion, allowing behaviours to be more flexible and aligned with core values. Clients are taught how to exhibit more control over behaviour by describing the presence of a thought, rather than judging the thought.
- Self-as-context:skills around language are taught to clients so that they become aware of the impact of verbal rules on their behaviour. For example, the verbal rule, “in order to be a good wife, I must cook and clean every day,” can dictate behaviours. Mindfulness is a core component in teaching clients how to become aware of their experiences without becoming attached.
- Values: skills are taught to clarify values which provide a moral compass towards purposive action. A variety of exercises can help the client choose life directions in various domains (family, citizenship, parenting) while undermining the verbal rules that may interfere with participation in these domains (I must be X, in order to have Y).
- Committed Action: skills are taught to develop a large repertoire of behavioral patterns that are aligned with values. Goal setting and skill development are an important part of addressing barriers to progress.