Acceptance & Commitment therapy
Updated: Jul 19, 2018
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, known as ACT (to act; to take action), is a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy that teaches mindfulness and acceptance skills to help people respond to each experience they encounter in chosen ways consistent with their values and goals.
Mindfulness skills are taught to help us purposefully, in the present moment pay attention to our internal and external experiences in a non-judgmental way. Acceptance skills are taught help us be open and remain present (or in contact) with whatever experiences we are encountering at any given time.
The goal of ACT is not to help us eliminate or change uncomfortable or unwanted thoughts, emotions or sensations. Quite the opposite outcome is sought. ACT teaches mindfulness and acceptance techniques designed to enable us to be more aware, open, familiar and accepting of all the thoughts, feelings and sensations that occur in our bodies so that we can continue to behave in ways consistent with who we want to be and the things that are important to us rather than reacting in unhelpful ways when unfamiliar, challenging and very uncomfortable thoughts and feelings occur.
ACT therapists don't see difficult thoughts and feelings as symptoms to be eliminated or lessened. Instead they are viewed as important experiences that when respected and explored can help us identify what is going on, what isn’t working for us at the time, what is important to us and what response to each experience we want to choose. ACT promotes openness and curiosity towards difficulty, struggle and distress to help people develop more flexible responses when they are most stuck or unable to move forward as desired.
psychologically flexible behaviours
In a similar way that physiotherapists and occupational therapists help clients increase a fuller range of functional movements after and injury or illness, ACT therapists help clients to increase their range of psychological behaviours to develop what is known as 'psychological flexibility'. ACT therapists do this by helping clients to be present and accepting of what is going on right now while also carefully introducing new behaviours or reconnecting with old ones they have become disconnected from. They do this according to the client’s willingness, ability and resources at the time. This is a gentle approach using small manageable behavioural experiments providing the best opportunity for clients to notice the functionality (or what is sometimes known as ‘workability’) of old and new behaviours in relation to what is important to them (their values and goals).
From an ACT perspective psychological flexibility is seen the clients ability to change their behaviour depending on how useful they see that behaviour being their lives long term. To the degree that a client is willing and able to commit to behavioural experiments they discover and develop psychological flexibility for themselves.
ACT uses what is called the ACT Hexaflex to teach psychological flexibility.
The ACT Hexaflex focus on six core processes that predict our effectiveness in developing psychological flexibility:
Accepting our automatic thoughts, sensations and urges as normal functions of human behaviour that if accepted can help us respond to each experience we encounter;
‘Defusing’ or ‘unhooking’ from our thoughts by observing them without believing them or allowing them to determine or direct our behaviour;
Experiencing ourselves as the context of our psychological experiences rather than our psychological experiences being experienced as us (we are stable beings who have a full range of thoughts and feelings that come and go, are helpful and not helpful, pleasant and not pleasant, but they are not us, they are experiences we have);
Giving attention to the present moment with self-awareness;
Articulating what is important to us (our values – the things we choose as desirable ways of behaving);
Committing to actions that are consistent with the things that are important to us even they are difficult and demanding.
ACT therapists work with clients to help them develop skills in each of these domains which together help the client live a more vital life consistent with their own values and goals.
ACT has strong research efficacy across a full range of psychological difficulties. Over 50 randomised controlled trials have shown ACT processes to be trans-diagnostic and ACT is increasingly being used by therapists in a diverse range of settings with excellent outcomes. The Australian Psychological Society recognises ACT as an approved therapy used by registered psychologists.
If you would like to know more about Acceptance and Commitment therapy the following websites provide the best resources: