“No matter what we attempt to do, pain and suffering are inevitably going to creep into our lives, and the capacity to handle this pain is essential for fulfillment.”
Dr Todd B. Kashdan,
Author of Curious? and Designing Positive Psychology.
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
As opposed to other psychological approaches, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – or ACT (said as the word, not the initials) – is based on the premise that language underpins human suffering in general and many psychological disorders.
ACT is a relatively recent, mindfulness-based intervention, shown to be effective across a wide range of clinical diagnoses.
In contrast to other Western psychological approaches, the primary goal of ACT is not symptom reduction. This is based on the premise that attempting to get rid of symptoms can inversely create clinical disorders in the first place.
ACT supposes by labeling personal experiences as ‘symptoms’, this gives rise to a ‘struggle’ because by definition, a symptom is defined as something ‘pathological’; something we should attempt to get rid of.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy attempts to redefine our relationship with difficult feelings and thoughts so that they are no longer ‘pathological’ and instead, learn to view them as uncomfortable, but temporary and transient psychological processes.
ACT develops psychological flexibility, combining mindfulness skills with the practice of self-acceptance. In order to be self-accepting of your thoughts and emotions, commitment also plays a role. In ACT, you commit to facing the problem directly rather than utilizing avoidance strategies that further perpetuate psychological distress.
Quite simply, ACT aims to maximize the potential for living a rich and meaningful life by:
- teaching you psychological skills to effectively manage difficult feelings and emotions in a way that will decrease their level of control and influence over you;
- clarifying what is most important, meaningful and of value to you, and using this knowledge to help guide, motivate and inspire you to make life changes for the better.
Six Core Processes of ACT
ACT utilizes six core processes to develop psychological flexibility, including:
- Acceptance: The deliberate choice to accept rather than deny or avoid thinking about negative or potentially negative experiences.
- Cognitive Diffusion: techniques intended to facilitate changing responses to negative thoughts and feelings.
- Being Present: being aware in the present moment without judgment or negative evaluation. In essence, experiencing what is currently happening without desire to change or predict the experience.
- Self as context: based on the premise that we are more than the sum of our experiences and emotions. This offers the concept that there is a self separate to our existing experience.
- Values: the qualities we choose to work towards. In ACT, core values are explored and identified whether they are held consciously or unconsciously.
- Committed Action: Finally, ACT provides tools to help commit to action that is in accordance with our values to lead a more meaningful and rich life. Positive behaviour change is facilitated by increased awareness of how current behaviours perpetuate psychological distress.
A wide-ranging body of research has found evidence that ACT is effective at treating:
- Substance use disorders;
- Chronic pain;
- Eating disorders;
“If I had to summarise ACT on a t-shirt, it would read: ‘Embrace your demons, and follow your heart’.”
Dr Russ Harris
Author: Tara Pisano, BA (Psych) (Hons), M Psych.
Tara Pisano is a Brisbane psychologist with a special interest in early intervention in adolescents and young adults, as this is when three quarters of mental health conditions emerge. In her practice, she draws on a range of evidence-based therapies such as CBT, DBT, IPT, ACT and Motivational Interviewing, to promote recovery and positive outcomes.
To make an appointment with Tara Pisano, try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
- Bond, F. W. & Bunce, D. (2000). Mediators of change in emotion-focused and problem focused worksite stress management interventions. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5, 156-163.
- Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: An overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12, 4.
- Harris, R. (2009). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT Mindfully. https://www.actmindfully.com.au/about-act/
- Twohig, M. P., Hayes, S. C., Masuda, A. (2006). Increasing willingness to experience obsessions: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder. Behavior Therapy, 37:1, 3–13.
- Zettle, R. D., & Raines, J. C. (1989). Group cognitive and contextual therapies in treatment of depression. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45, 438-445.