About Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

 

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

William Shakespeare

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – ACT – will help you live more of your life in the present moment.  It enables you to focus more on your own personal values and unique goals, and less on your painful thoughts, feelings, memories, and fears.  ACT uses acceptance and mindfulness techniques to help you create distance between you and your undesired thoughts and feelings.  It creates greater psychological flexibility, self-compassion, and a sustained commitment to value driven, goal-directed behaviour.

 

When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.

Chinau Achebe

 

More About ACT

ACT is an empirically validated approach to psychological difficulties that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies to promote psychological flexibility, together with commitment and behavior change strategies to achieve a life of value.

Research indicates that it is extremely difficult to eliminate negative content of the mind – undesirable thoughts and feelings such as fear, sadness, low-self-confidence – using direct approaches.  You may have noticed that the more you try to get rid of your unwanted thoughts and feelings, the more they tend to stick around.  You also might find that although there are some strategies that have helped you in the short-term – like drinking to numb feelings, avoiding parties to prevent social anxiety, putting things off to ease your struggle with depression – over time, the problem seems to be getting worse.  Your life is kept on hold until you find a way to get rid of your negative thoughts and feelings.  Essentially,  “you trade control of your life for control of your feelings.”

ACT does not attempt to alter, diminish, or eliminate negative content of the mind.  Rather, ACT aims to create some distance between you and the negative content of your mind through the use of mindfulness practice and acceptance strategies.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness practice will help you make contact with, and approach life from, a sense of self that transcends the content of the thinking/feeling mind.  This leaves you free to pursue a life full of value without having to alter the content of your mind first.

Acceptance

Our Western culture promotes an ideal that can be referred to as “feel goodism” which is based on the assumption that healthy and well-adjusted people consistently feel happiness and rarely experience any form of mental distress.  ACT points out that it is natural and normal to experience the full range of human emotions, even those you find undesirable and painful to endure.

According to ACT, psychological suffering is caused by experiential avoidance (unwillingness to experience painful feelings), cognitive entanglement (taking your thoughts too literally), and the resulting psychological inflexibility (loss of room to maneuver in life).  These processes can be summarized by the acronym FEAR:

 

Fusion with your thoughts

–   taking your thoughts too literally

Evaluation of experience

–   good/bad, negative/positive, acceptable/unacceptable

Avoidance of your experience

–  unwillingness to have certain thoughts, or feel certain feelings

Reason giving for your behavior

–  believing that you cannot have or do certain things until certain thoughts and feelings go away

Acceptance and commitment therapy suggests the healthy alternative to FEAR is

to ACT:

Accept the content of your mind as no more or less than content of your mind.

Choose a personally valued life direction.

Take action and commit to pursue a life based on your own unique values.

As you let go of your struggles and begin to live a value based life, your struggles will begin to fade away and a great sense of well-being will be achieved.

 

References

     Hayes, S.C., Strosahl, K.D., & Wilson, K.G.  (1999).  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy An Experiential Approach To Behavior Change.  New York, NY:  The Guilford Press.

     Luoma, J.B., Hayes, S.C., & Walser, R.D. (2007).  Learning ACT An Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Skills Training Manual For Therapist.  Oakland, CA:  New Harbinger Publications, Inc..