Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
About Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on the individual’s behavior and the context in which it occurs. In utilizing ACT, the therapist focuses on the presenting problems while also considering the person’s past and current environment. The goal of ACT is to get the person’s behavior to work successfully, according to the person’s values and desired ends in that person’s current context, while also taking into consideration the experiences that a person has had before then.
For example, an ACT therapist may assess contexts in which a certain symptom occurs and what the client does when feeling that symptom. Instead of focusing solely on decreasing the symptom as the only desirable outcome, ACT treatment emphasizes the client changes their relationship with the symptom in order to function more effectively in contexts where their current behaviors are leading to undesirable life outcomes.
The desired outcome in ACT is “psychological flexibility.” This is the opportunity for the client to either persevere or change their behavior while taking into consideration their goals and desired outcomes. ACT looks at six interrelated processes: acceptance, defusion, contact with the present moment, committed action, self as context, and values. Acceptance is often a misunderstood concept.
Acceptance does not mean a person has to like or want their experience or their current conditions. Instead, acceptance explores the concept of willingness to explore their experience “fully and without defense.” Given a person’s history, certain events are likely, inevitable, or out of our control. During therapy that utilized ACT, a client is invited to experience their feels as they are (just feelings) and not something to be avoided or suppressed. ACT embraces the concept of willingness and the client learns not to blame him/herself, not strain to change private events, and are willing to face unwanted psychological stressors while moving in a valued direction.
A few areas of clinical interest in which ACT has been proven to be successful include: depression, social anxiety disorder, substance abuse, agoraphobia, psychosis, work stress, chronic pain, smoking, trichotillomania, and self-harm.