What Is Acceptance & Commitment Therapy?

Many people avoid seeking treatment for a mental health disorder because they think they are not yet ready to face the distressing emotions that comes with it. However, many people neglect to realize that not all treatment approaches require a person to feel guilty about their past mistakes.

There has been a tremendous need to develop non-traditional psychotherapy approaches to help improve treatment adherence and completion for individuals who seek recovery for mental health disorders. In the late 1990s, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) developed as an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy. This approach is being used increasingly in treatment centers around the country as an effective way for individuals to accept their emotions and actively commit to change.

There are six components of acceptance and commitment therapy.

The main element that sets ACT apart from other psychotherapy approaches is its emphasis on mindfulness components, including acceptance and non-judgment. Acceptance and commitment therapy encourages patients to focus on accepting emotions and experiences as they surface without trying to evaluate or change them.

ACT utilizes a behavior change model called the psychological flexibility model. This model is used to help patients understand how rule-following behavior can affect behavior outcomes based on how individuals interact with one another. The psychological flexibility model consists of six primary components:

  • Acceptance: Acceptance is the active choice to allow experiences to happen how they happen, without trying to change or deny them. Acceptance is critical when unpleasant life experiences occur.
  • Cognitive defusion: Cognitive defusion helps patients face negative experiences with limited adverse reactions. Defusion aims to reduce the impact of unpleasant thoughts and encourages patients to view those thoughts with curiosity.
  • Self as context: Self as context helps patients accept the idea that an individual is more than their diagnosis, experiences, thoughts or emotions. Instead, patients are led to recognize that there is a “self” that exists outside of their current experience.
  • Contact with the present moment: The present moment is all you ever have. Being present involves experiencing the present moment without trying to predict the future or change the past.
  • Values: Values are ongoing personal patterns of action that reinforce behavior. ACT helps patients to behave in accordance with their personal values.
  • Committed action: Committed action encourages patients to actively commit to their long-term goals by living consistently with their values.

There is an emphasis on mindfulness in ACT.

Mindfulness is defined as being fully aware of the present moment, including the emotions you feel inside and the things happening around you. ACT utilizes a wide range of exercises to help patients recognize the power in their cognitive, emotional and behavioral processes. In general, the goal of ACT is to increase an individual’s mindfulness skills so that they can change the relationship that they have with their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

ACT also recognizes that the avoidance of problems causes most psychological suffering. Patients partake in their own efforts to avoid unpleasant thoughts, feelings and memories, especially before they decide to seek and receive treatment. Over the course of several ACT sessions, patients will learn how to practice mindfulness skills in everyday life and learn to invest their time and energy into changing their lives in positive ways.

ACT is unique from other mindfulness-based treatments.

ACT is not the first treatment approach of its kind. Many other mindfulness-based treatments equip patients with necessary mindfulness skills, such as dialectal behavior therapy (DBT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). What sets ACT apart from other mindfulness-based interventions?

First, ACT is an approach that can treat a wide range of conditions and circumstances. It can be used in individual, couple and group settings as a short-term or long-term treatment intervention. Meanwhile, while DBT can be applied to both individual and group settings, it is used primarily to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD). ACT also allows therapists to individualize the mindfulness techniques they choose to use in treatment, while other mindfulness-based interventions follow standard protocol.

Another difference that makes ACT unique from other mindfulness-based therapies is that the approach does not hold a primary goal of symptom reduction. Most western psychotherapy approaches view treatment as an ongoing attempt to reduce or minimize symptoms of a condition or diagnosis. However, unpleasant thoughts and feelings are not viewed as symptoms or something that needs to be removed. Instead, ACT works to transform the relationship that patients have with their thoughts and feelings so that they are no longer perceived as “symptoms” that need to go away. ACT empowers patients to recognize that unpleasant thoughts and feelings, though uncomfortable, are indeed harmless.

DiscoveryMD is a treatment program for mental health disorders. We utilize acceptance and commitment therapy because we recognize its value in both short-term treatment and long-term recovery. To learn more about our treatment program or for more about mindfulness-based therapies, please contact us today.

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