Introduced in the 1980s, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an approach designed to help a person overcome perceived negative thoughts and feelings in order to accept a greater sense of wellbeing and purpose. The Association for Contextual Behavioral Science further defines this practice as using acceptance and mindfulness strategies paired with commitment and behavioral approaches. The idea behind this is that our perceptions are largely influenced by our language, which can contribute to a certain degree of “psychological inflexibility.” Our experiences and thoughts associated with particular events can be changed by identifying and accepting those emotions or events and moving through them, not necessarily past them.
The goal isn’t exactly to forget or eliminate those negative feelings, thoughts, or events from our history but merely to understand and manage them.
Acceptance and commitment therapy isn’t meant to be a long-term treatment approach, but it is meant to teach a person coping strategies to employ on a long-term basis. Rather than conceptualizing the past and future through our perceived reality, ACT teaches a person to live in the present and enhance psychological flexibility.
There are six main strategies or components to acceptance and commitment therapy. The first four, according to SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), are considered approaches to mindfulness – that is, our awareness in how we perceive and process our thoughts and feelings. The latter two are strategies geared to change or alter behavioral actions.
Rather than focusing on the past or future, as we frequently tend to do, ACT tells us to focus on the experience occurring in the present.
This component correlates heavily with the two before it in such that it tells us to alter our language and way of thinking about thoughts, feelings, and events. Our language should be used to describe events or feelings, not judge or predict them. All too often do we find ourselves attempting to determine an outcome rather than identifying what is currently happening. A person with obsessive-compulsive disorder, for instance, may feel that if he does not turn the door handle exactly five times, he will experience something bad. The preoccupation with what might happen overtakes sensibilities and thoughts. This approach aims to help a person focus more on how he feels about the event occurring and not what has happened or will happen.
Acceptance and commitment therapy has been shown to be effective in helping those with anxiety, depression, substance abuse and stress. According to NREPP, ACT also helps to reduce symptoms of depressive disorders and the intensity of certain anxiety disorders like OCD, relieve distressing symptoms associated with psychotic episodes (such as delusions and hallucinations), and improve general mental health.
At FRN, we are proud to have expert clinicians and counselors on staff, and we employ up-to-date medical practices to help with mental health disorders. Suffering from depression, anxiety, or substance abuse is no easy experience, and we know and understand that. Through a variety of therapies, our staff can help you overcome and move through the negative experiences and emotions that plague your day-to-day life. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you.