Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)
What is ACT?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, known as “ACT” (pronounced as the word “act”) is a mindfulness-based behavioural therapy that utilises a wide range of experiential exercises and values-guided behavioural interventions to help us:
develop psychological skills to deal more effectively with difficult thoughts and feelings and reduce their impact and influence over us;
clarify our values (what is most important to us about the way we want to live our lives and interact with others) and choose behaviours that are consistent with them even when life feels difficult, unknown and scary;
become more skilful observers of our lived experiences so that we can more intentionally choose behaviours that enable us to more consistently and courageously do what is important to us.
Benefits of ACT
The aim of ACT is to maximise human potential for a rich, full and meaningful life by helping us accept what is out of our personal control and commit to action that improves and enriches our life. ACT teaches people how to engage with and overcome painful thoughts and feelings through acceptance and mindfulness techniques, to develop self-compassion and flexibility, and to build life-enhancing patterns of behaviour.
ACT is not about overcoming pain or fighting emotions; it's about embracing life and feeling everything it has to offer. ACT doesn't directly focus on reducing symptoms but instead helps us develop ways and willingness to do the things that are important to us more consistently. Sometimes we might experience some symptom reduction as a by-product of being more able to do the things we want to do but this is not a requirement for living a more meaningful life.
ACT can provide a host of benefits including helping us stop habitually avoiding certain thoughts or emotional experiences, which can lead to further problems. ACT has a very high scientific evidence level with over 300 Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) that have shown its effectiveness in a wide range of areas such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use, eating disorders, chronic pain, stress, borderline personality disorder, cancer, epilepsy, diabetes tinnitus, procrastination, parenting, quality of life, sports performance, stigmatization.
Psychological flexibility refers to an individual’s ability to cope with, accept, and adjust to difficult situations. The goal of ACT is to develop “psychological flexibility”, by helping us contact the present moment as fully conscious human beings, without needless self-protection and persisting with chosen behaviours that move them towards the things that matter to us most.
ACT doesn't provide a specific set of techniques or a specific therapeutic protocol but instead focuses on 6 core behaviours processes, as seen in the diagram below, to creatively help us to identify unworkable behaviours (causing difficulty and struggle) and develop more workable behaviours (supporting us to do what is important) and achieve desired goals even when we continue to experience struggle, pain and discomfort. ACT calls this development of more workable behaviours psychological flexibility.
ACT uses both traditional behaviour therapy techniques (defined broadly to include everything from cognitive therapy to behaviour analysis), as well as others that are more recent "3rd wave" methods, and those that have largely emerged from outside the behaviour tradition, such as cognitive defusion, acceptance, mindfulness, values, and commitment methods.