What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helps people let go of their torment and build a more vital, vibrant, and fulfilling life.
ACT recognises that life has two kinds of pain, clean pain and dirty pain. You can’t escape pure pain because it’s part of the human condition. For example, you cannot love without fearing loss, and you cannot succeed without worrying about failure.
It’s natural to feel sadness, hurt, fear and shame, but your mind can make it much worse.
The mind is often responsible for dirty pain because it usually judges and criticises you for what you’re feeling. It says things like, “you should be over this by now”, or “you won’t be able to cope if it goes wrong”.
Running, Fighting & Hiding
When you get entangled with your thoughts, you most likely try to run away from emotions, fight against them or hide from them. These actions tend to make your life worse, not better, which is why we call it dirty pain. You subject yourself to another layer of suffering by trying to escape, control, or fix your thoughts and feelings.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy shows you an alternative approach to life. Instead of relying on unworkable habits, you learn to live from the feet up, not from the head down.
The Six Principles of ACT
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) or ACT, rather than A-C-T, is about helping you do something differently. It focuses on teaching you six critical skills, which are:
- Allowing yourself to feel emotions.
- Letting go of unhelpful thoughts.
- Controlling your attention to notice the present moment.
- Transcending life-limiting self-stories through observational perspective-taking.
- Connecting with values that improve your life.
- Building and retaining habits that make improve your health and well-being.
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy good for?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is suitable for many problems. There are over 1000 trials that demonstrate its effectiveness in the areas of chronic pain, stress, depression and anxiety. Many ACT Therapists have written self-help books on self-esteem, anxiety, OCD, depression, perfectionism, relationships, anger, shame, and moral injury.
Many therapists and members of the public appreciate the refreshing nature of ACT. Many people feel like they have something wrong with them, so they seek a diagnosis. ACT helps you understand your suffering by connecting it to your learning history. Once you join the dots, you’ll appreciate your anguish in new ways, and ACT will show you how to transform your life so that your past no longer determines your future.
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy not suitable for?
ACT is suitable for many problems because it targets behavioural processes rather than psychiatric diagnoses. In other words, it doesn’t matter what problems you have. ACT can teach you new skills and help change your behaviour.
ACT may not be suitable if you want counselling, i.e., to talk and explore your past rather than learn specific strategies. In those circumstances, a psychodynamic or person-centred counsellor could work with you. Check out the Counselling Directory or Psychology Today for an alternative therapist.
How many sessions of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy will I need?
We do not place a time limit on therapy sessions because we prefer to work with you for as long as we need to do so.
It isn’t possible to say how many sessions you will need until you have attended a consultation and had several treatment sessions. A therapist would need to learn about your difficulties, determine how much it affects your life and work out what you want to accomplish. After several treatment sessions, you and your therapist will get a clearer idea of how many sessions you require.
Often it can vary from as little as six sessions to several years in therapy. On average, people usually come to therapy with us for approximately twenty sessions.
Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy a form of CBT?
Many people have heard of CBT because it has the most robust evidence base of all psychotherapies. CBT stands for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which looks at how thoughts, feelings and behaviours affect each other.
CBT is a collection of cognitive and behavioural therapies developed since the 1950s. Today, CBT includes:
Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, and Meta-Cognitive Therapy.
CBT and evidence-based psychotherapies continue to evolve in accordance with scientific research and cultural shifts.
Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy good for anxiety?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy effectively treats anxiety problems, including OCD, Panic, Social Phobia, Travel Phobia, Generalised Anxiety, and Health Anxiety. ACT uses traditional exposure-based interventions because they are highly effective and integrate them with mindfulness, acceptance and behaviour change processes.
See this summary for a more detailed look at the evidence base for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for anxiety.
What techniques does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy use?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy uses many different techniques. It uses mindfulness and acceptance exercises to help you with your thoughts and feelings. ACT helps you to explore your values, i.e. who and what is important to you, and build new healthier, wiser habits.
An ACT Therapist may use exercises from other therapeutic models such as chair work, written narrative exposure therapy and perspective-taking. ACT is a contextual behavioural approach and shares similar concepts with Systemic Therapy and Gestalt Therapy.
Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy better than CBT?
Some scientific trials compare CBT with ACT, and studies consistently show they are equally effective.
Although ACT is a form of CBT, these studies often compare Cognitive Therapy with ACT. Cognitive therapy is another type of CBT developed in the 1970s by Aaron Beck. Although it’s now commonplace to talk of Cognitive Therapy as being CBT, it isn’t quite right. CBT has evolved since the 1950s, and it has taken several forms. Today, CBT includes several different models, and according to Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs), it’s the most effective model.
Research into other factors also shows that therapy works better when two people have a strong therapeutic alliance. In other words, treatment will be more effective when a client and a therapist have a healthy relationship built on empathy and compassion where the therapy goals are clear and agreed upon.
Our therapists are here to help