What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
In my personal journey as a therapist, I have studied and used many different approaches, techniques, and therapeutic theories. The one approach that has consistently “spoken to me” or “felt like the truth” is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In my work, I do not dogmatically adhere to a single approach or theory; however, I have found that ACT, with its emphasis on mindfulness, acceptance of what is, and identification of personal values, fits my personal belief system as both a therapist and as an individual.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT approaches the human condition of suffering and pain by helping you move from suffering to engagement with life. Act helps you live in the now and live fully—with your memories, fears, and sadness. Healing is possible; past pain does not limit your ability to experience a full and meaningful life now. Research has shown that ACT can help address problems with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health concerns.
Some of the concepts in ACT are unconventional and include:
- Psychological pain is normal, it is important, and everyone has it.
- You cannot deliberately get rid of your psychological pain, although you can take steps to avoid increasing it artificially.
- Pain and suffering are two different states of being.
- You do not have to identify with your suffering.
- Accepting your pain is a step toward ridding yourself of your suffering.
- You can live a life you value, beginning right now, but to do that you will have to learn how to get out of your mind and into your life.
“The goal of willingness is not to feel better. The goal is to open yourself to the vitality of the moment, and to move more effectively toward what you value. Said another way, the goal of willingness is to feel all of the feelings that come up for you more completely, even—or especially—the bad feelings, so that you can live your life more completely. In essence, instead of trying to feel better, willingness involves learning how to feel better.” Hayes and Smith (2005), Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, p. 45
In other words, therapy is about becoming a better feeler! It is about embracing the joy (and pain) of being human. When we try and turn off our response to certain feelings (pain, sadness, etc.), we also affect our ability to respond to the feelings we want to experience (joy, love, compassion, gratitude, etc.). This can keep us from fully embracing life. If you think you are ready to move out of your painful past and into the joy of now, please contact me.
Most of the information in this article is from “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life” by Hayes & Smith and “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” by Hayes, Strosahl & Wilson. For more information on ACT please see my resources page.