ACCEPTANCE & COMMITMENT THERAPY

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, sometimes referred to by its acronym A.C.T, is a form of counselling, but you probably guessed that already right?

Basically, ACT is a psychological intervention that's based on empirical evidence, which means that it uses information provided by our senses (excluding Spidey-Sense) and it's a form of MBT (Mindfulness-Based Therapy). So much so that it's often paired with MBT during a bout of therapy. Want to know more? Just click (or touch) the headings below.

WHAT IS ACCEPTANCE & COMMITMENT THERAPY? . . .

Developed by Professor Steven C. Hayes in 1986, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy aims to help people 'accept' (hence the name) what they can control within their lives so they can 'commit' (see that they're doing here) to make changes that will improve it.
The idea is that instead of constantly trying to get rid of or suppress the pain and distress we feel - not to mention all the other shit life throws at us - which usually turns into something worse, we instead accept it. That's not to say we just give up or let it defeat us, instead by accepting it, we acknowledge it's there and make room for it in our lives and accept that those feelings will come and go.

HOW DOES A.C.T. WORK? . . .

The theory behind ACT is that it's counter-productive, and even emotionally painful, for us to try and control the experiences that life throws at us. By suppressing or avoiding these things, they will eventually take their toll on us. Instead ACT says that by accepting that there are valid alternatives to how you think about them and by changing your thought processes and behaviour, we can change both our attitude to them and the emotional state they produce. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy uses 6 principles to provide a framework to the person being treated. These include:-

  1. Acceptance
    It's human nature to try and avoid the negative (or potentially negative) aspects of life. At the very least, we try and put them off, usually indefinately, but that doesn't change them. The first step is to accept that these things are a part of life and avoid trying to change or ignore them. Acceptance itself isn't a goal of ACT, but the first step to creating an encoruaging action which will lead to positive results.
  2. Cognitive Defusion
    Sounds deep doesn't it? Basically this refers to a technique used within ACT that is design to change how a person reacts and / or interacts with their thoughts and feelings, rather than the nature of them. For example, you have the thought that you can't cope with your work so you begin to avoid it (taking sickies, etc. Instead of thinking "I can't cope with work", instead through cognitive defusion, we think "I'm having the thought that I can't cope with work". It's about defusing the thought from it being a literal truth. This way you can see it as just words and turn it into something you just notice, rather than something you believe.
  3. Being Present
    If you're familiar with mindfulness, then the notion of 'being present' won't be new to you. If you've just thought "WTF is mindfulness", then this section is for you. Being present can be described as paying attention to the now. It's about actively experiencing what is happening to you in this moment without judgment or trying to predict it. Noticing how you feel and what you feel at any time is a key aspect of ACT.
  4. Self As Context
    Who comes up with these names! Blimey! OK, this one sounds a bit 'hippy-dippy' but is really quite simple. It's about recognising and accept that you are not your thoughts. You are NOT your emotions. Instead, those are just things that happen to us, they're things we experience, but they don't define who we are.
  5. Values
    We all have values, those things that are important to us as individuals, some of them we hold consciously, others subconsciously. These values direct us despite them being different for many of us. Within the context of ACT, this principle is about applying processes and techniques that help us live a life according to those values.
  6. Committed Action.
    Once you've worked your way through these principles, this final one is about committing to actions that will further your own long-term goals which will help you live your life through positive changes to your behaviour that are consistent with your values.

WHO IS A.C.T. FOR? . . .

Both A.C.T. and the therapy it's related to, Mindfulness-Based Therapy, has been shown to be helpful in treating conditions like depression, anxiety and OCD. It has also been used successfully with poeple with addiction problems and substance abuse.
Due to the very nature of the treatment, it's more concerned with the person, rather than the condition. The whole point of ACT means you are committed to facing the problem, whatever it is, head-on, rather than avoiding it. By doing this, you have to commit to a list of actions that are designed to facilitiate a more positive life. Many people who have not been diagonsed with any mental illness use the principles of ACT as a life-affirming tool.