What is Acceptance & Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) gets its name from one of its core messages: accept what is out of your personal control, and commit to action that improves and enriches your life. It’s one of a new generation of CBT approaches.
The aim of ACT is to maximise human potential for a rich, full and meaningful life. ACT (which is pronounced as the word ‘act’, not as the initials) does this by:
- a) teaching you psychological skills to deal with your painful thoughts and feelings effectively – in such a way that they have much less impact and influence over you (these are known as mindfulness skills).
- b) helping you to clarify what is truly important and meaningful to you – i.e your values – then use that knowledge to guide, inspire and motivate you to change your life for the better.
The ACT View Of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a “hot topic” in Western psychology right now – increasingly recognised as a powerful therapeutic intervention for everything from work stress to depression – and also as an effective tool for increasing emotional intelligence. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a powerful mindfulness-based therapy (and coaching model) which currently leads the field in terms of research, application and results.
Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, focus and openness – which allows you to engage fully in what you are doing at any moment. In a state of mindfulness, difficult thoughts and feelings have much less impact and influence over you – so it is hugely useful for everything from full-blown psychiatric illness to enhancing athletic or business performance. In many models of coaching and therapy, mindfulness is taught primarily via meditation. However, in ACT, meditation is seen as only one way amongst hundreds of learning these skills – and this is a good thing, because most people do not like meditating! ACT gives you a vast range of tools to learn mindfulness skills – many of which require only a few minutes to master.
ACT breaks mindfulness skills down into 3 categories:
1) defusion: distancing from, and letting go of, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and memories
2) acceptance: making room for painful feelings, urges and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle
3) contact with the present moment: engaging fully with your here-and-now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity
These 3 skills require you to use an aspect of yourself for which no word exists in common everyday language. It is the part of you that is capable of awareness and attention. In ACT, we often call it the ‘observing self’. We can talk about ‘self’ in many ways, but in common everyday language we talk mainly about the ‘physical self’ – your body – and the ‘thinking self’ – your mind. The ‘observing self’ is the part of you that is able to observe both your physical self and your thinking self. A better term, in my opinion, is ‘pure awareness’ – because that’s all it is: just awareness, nothing else. It is the part of you that is aware of everything else: aware of every thought, every feeling, everything you see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and do.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique and creative approach to a change in behaviour which alters the very ground rules of most Western psychotherapy. It is a mindfulness-based, values-oriented behavioural therapy, that has many parallels to Buddhism, yet is not religious in any way; it is a modern scientific approach, firmly based on cutting-edge research into human behavioural psychology.
With thanks to Dr Russ Harris for this content