Ciao to everyone 🙂
Are you looking out for some insights on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy? Well, that’s great because you have landed on the right page! Here you will get a good introduction on what acceptance and commitment therapy means. From its basic principles to its techniques, we will explore them all!
But before diving directly into the topic, let me give you some build-up and establish a basic understanding of this term.
As I grew up, my parents always gave me this advice – “Running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from any problem is to accept it and commit to solving it.” Inspiring right?
Let me emphasize on the term ‘Acceptance’ for now, with the help of an example. Let’s say, you and I have gone for a cup of coffee, and in the middle of our conversation, I by-mistake spill the coffee on your jeans. I instantly stand up and blame myself saying: “Oh God! I am such an idiot! Why am I always such a mess?”
Is this called acceptance?
Coming to ‘Commitment’ – suppose I do an extensive workout to get myself in shape for a day, and think to myself that now since my muscles look toned up, I will be fit throughout the year.
Is this commitment to stay fit and healthy?
Well, the answer to both the above questions is a big NO. The reason being, in the first instance, blaming myself does not mean accepting things. Acceptance is when I know that it is alright to make mistakes, and consciously make an effort to be careful the next time. Whereas, in the second instance, commitment is not a day thing. It is a long term and dedicated investment in a subject that you care about – like relationships, hobbies, interests, fitness, etc.
Thus, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) encourages people to embrace their thoughts and feelings rather than fighting or feeling guilty for them.
Now that we have laid a foundation and a bit of understanding of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, let me take you a step forward.
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a third-wave cognitive behavioural intervention aimed at enhancing our psychological flexibility (Hayes et al., 2006). It is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy that stems from traditional behaviour therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). (If you want to know more about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, click here to read my article). However, ACT differs from CBT. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy challenges distressing thoughts by looking for evidence and coming up with a more rational response. Whereas, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behaviour change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. By psychological flexibility we mean consciously contacting the present moment, and based on the situation or circumstances, changing your behaviour or adapting yourself in the service of the chosen values.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was developed to make people understand that psychological pain is normal, and we can learn ways to live healthier, fuller lives by shifting the way we think about pain. It is through mindful action that we can create a meaningful life, and overcome all sorts of barriers in the form of unpleasant experiences (thoughts, memories, sensations, feelings, visuals, etc.)
How does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Work?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy works on six principles, or six core processes, that guide patients through their therapy, and provide a framework for their psychological flexibility. Each of the core processes work in tandem with others to create a mindful and positive life, by handling negative thoughts and emotions effectively. These six principles are –
- Cognitive Diffusion
- Being Present
- Setting Values
- Committed Action
Let’s look at these six principles in brief –
Cognitive Diffusion refers to the techniques required to change an individual’s reaction to their thoughts and feelings. As humans, we sometimes don’t accept things as they are, rather depend on our thoughts to evaluate them. This state is known as cognitive fusion, where we take thoughts as the truth and reality. Therapists help patients get a clear perspective of these thoughts, and help see them for what they really are.
Acceptance is also known as Expansion. It creates room for unpleasant feelings, negative emotions, sensations, or any other urges. Instead of pushing them away or trying to suppress them, acceptance helps to open up and allow the patient to feel these emotions. This process is an alternative to our instinct to avoid thinking about any negative or unpleasant past experience. It is thus an active choice to allow unpleasant experiences to stay, without trying to deny or change them.
Self-Observation is the most significant aspect of human consciousness. To connect with it is to access a transcendent sense of self that is unchanging and unable to be harmed. During self-observation, when we become aware of our thoughts, it gives rise to two processes. The first one is thinking, and the second one is observing the thinking. The therapists draw the patient’s attention to the distinction between the thoughts that arise and the self that is observing them.
4. Being Present
Being present is the practice of being aware of the present moment. It includes feelings, thoughts and sensations, without judging the experience. We often indulge ourselves in things without being thoroughly involved. This is because we are not fully “connected” with what is happening in the present moment. Thus, to achieve mindfulness we must stay connected to the present rather than dwelling into the past, or worrying about the future. In this practice, the therapist might give his patient an activity that requires him to focus on the given task without diverting his thoughts anywhere else.
5. Setting Values
Values, in this context, are the qualities we choose to work on at any given moment. As humans we hold values, consciously or unconsciously, that direct us in every step of life. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy uses tools that help patients live their lives. It also helps patients set their long-term goals by the ground values they hold.
6. Committed Action
Lastly, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy aims to help patients commit to their chosen actions. These actions will help them to achieve their goals and to live a life supported by their positive values. The goals remind the person of the actions that will help him arrive at the visualised goal. In the end, it is on the patient to stay committed, and to supply the energy and the will to reach his desired goals.
When to go for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been effective in treating stress, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, eating disorders, psychosis, also medical conditions such as substance abuse, diabetes, and chronic pain.
What to Expect?
Compared to techniques used in other psychology fields, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is still a relatively young form of therapy. If you happen to visit a therapist, he might ask you to listen to your talking about specific traumatic events, or about anything that is causing you stress and trouble. You can then decide for yourself if that issue requires immediate attention, or you need to make any behavioural changes to address that issue. You can become aware of what worked or not on you in the past, and accordingly, build your values to commit to an actionable behavioural change. Once you have accepted your current issues, you can commit to stop fighting your negative emotions, and start practicing more actionable and optimistic behaviour based on your values. This is how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy will work on you. Obviously, the therapist may twist and club the core processes mentioned above to cater to your specific needs. Still, the result will be to help you accept and commit to actions for a better future and increased mindfulness presence.
You can even have a glance through my article ‘Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy’. This methodology works very similarly to ‘how to manage your negative thoughts’ explained in this article. I am sure that article will further add benefits to your healing path.
If you found this article interesting and want to go deeper into this topic, I would suggest you a great book from one of my favourite teacher and healer Albert Ellis :