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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Learn more about how acceptance and commitment therapy techniques can help you manage your addiction or mental health disorder.

Table of Contents

Introduction

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five U.S. adults has struggled with at least one mental health disorder in their lifetime. Most people experience the numerous challenges associated with such conditions and are looking for ways to help themselves or their loved ones.1

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that 59.2 million people are currently struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of both medical and non-medical treatment options that can help you manage both mental health disorders and addiction. Acceptance and commitment therapy is one of the alternative non-medical treatment approaches that are quickly gaining popularity because it encourages the patient to embrace their thoughts and feelings as part of treatment.2

What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), also known as mindfulness act therapy, is a hands-on approach to psychotherapy that borrows heavily from cognitive behavioral and traditional behavior therapy. It encourages patients to embrace their feelings and thoughts instead of fighting or avoiding them.

ACT is based on the concept that suffering is a natural and inevitable experience. Effective acceptance and commitment training combines mindful act therapy skills with self-acceptance to help you develop psychological flexibility. By helping you overcome difficult emotions and thoughts, acceptance-based therapy helps you concentrate your energy on healing instead of negative thoughts.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Used to Treat?

While more research is needed to accurately compare the effectiveness of act therapy techniques, initial studies are showing promising results for ACT.

Based on current studies, acceptance and commitment therapy has proven beneficial in the treatment of various conditions, including:3

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Stress
  • Chronic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • ADHD
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

Six Core Processes of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

The six core principles of acceptance and commitment therapy provide a framework for patients to develop psychological flexibility. These principles are acceptance, cognitive defusion, self as context, being present, values, and commitment.4

Acceptance

In ACT, acceptance is the alternative to avoiding negative thoughts and feelings. Through acceptance, patients acknowledge that negative experiences exist for everyone, and you don’t have to deny or change them.

Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion is a technique that attempts to change how you react to your feelings and thoughts. The point of commitment and acceptance therapy is not to block negative experiences but rather to face them head-on.

Self as Context

Self as context provides patients with an alternative way of viewing one’s negative experiences. It allows patients to view themselves beyond their current experience.

Being Present

This is understanding your current situation without judging the experience itself too harshly. Being present helps you experience what is happening without necessarily having to change or predict the outcome of the experience.

Values

In acceptance and commitment therapy, values represent the qualities you work to achieve at any given moment. Everyone has values that direct their life choices. With ACT, patients develop tools to allow them to live according to their individual values.

Commitment

Commitment is a critical part of any ACT technique since commitment to long-term goals is key to maintaining a lifestyle that aligns with one’s values.

What to Expect from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Though mindfulness is a huge part of commitment and acceptance therapy, ACT differs from other mindfulness-based approaches. ACT mindfulness exercises help the patient develop nonjudgmental thoughts and feelings by staying in the moment instead of thinking about the past, trying to change the present, or focusing too heavily on the future.

In contrast, other mindfulness-based approaches work by more directly addressing the issues affecting one’s mindset; it could be the past, present, or future. While it might seem a bit counterproductive, focusing solely on the present can bring a person a sense of peace, purpose, and happiness.

Structure of an ACT Therapy Session

Whether you are seeking acceptance commitment therapy for anxiety, chronic pain, or another condition, each ACT model will follow a similar pattern. Though there are varying structures for different acceptance and commitment therapy techniques, most models will follow the structure below.

Building Rapport

At the beginning of each ACT implementation, the therapist will start building rapport with you by exploring why you chose to seek therapy. Typically, the first two sessions will develop a shared understanding of your past and current thoughts and feelings. It is also a great time to point out any previous interventions you’ve tried

Deeper Awareness

A considerable part of ACT counseling services is made up of learning to be mindful of your emotions and thoughts. Your therapist will help you develop deeper awareness by helping you to spot patterns or gain insights into your thought process and how you talk about negative experiences.

Core Values

ACT mindfulness exercises will help you clearly understand what you value most in life. It enables you to determine what is most meaningful to you and how you want to define yourself.

Actions

Once you have determined what you value most and become more aware of your thought patterns, the sessions will shift to teaching you how to create change. At this stage of ACT treatment, the therapist will outline a strategy to help you maintain positive actions that align with your core values.

Commitment

For ACT counseling services, commitment is vital to effective treatment. You must commit to your core values and continue using the strategies that will help you achieve your desired mental state. At the end of treatment, your therapist will help you develop this commitment through different mindfulness exercises.

Benefits of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

One of the primary benefits of ACT is its impact on psychological flexibility, which is the ability to focus on and embrace your present thoughts and emotions. This allows you to respond to your inner experience thoughtfully, which helps avoid short-term impulsive actions.

While it can be an effective treatment option, there are a few limitations to acceptance and commitment therapy. The most significant limitation is that it doesn’t look at the core issues that lead to negative experiences, such as genetics. However, the benefits can outweigh the limitations of ACT since it helps you to:

  • Focus on enriching your life regardless of symptoms
  • Become more psychologically flexible
  • Acknowledge that negative experiences are a part of life

How to Find an ACT Therapist?

Different mental health professionals offer acceptance and commitment therapy, including social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, or mental health counselors. At Soledad House, we employ an array of mental health professionals to help you achieve your desired lifestyle.

Our facility is a recovery program for women, and we offer highly effective treatments in a peaceful healing environment in San Diego. Acceptance and commitment therapies are often part of effective addiction treatment programs, though each program is tailored to meet the needs of all of the women in recovery here.

Reach Out and Begin Healing

Feel free to contact Soledad House today if you or a loved one could benefit from therapeutic healing. We will be here for you every step of the way.