What is Acceptance and commitment therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) was originally developed in the 1980s by Steven Hayes, Kelly Wilson and Kirk Strosahl. Since then, research appears to suggest that ACT can be beneficial for people experiencing a wide range of problems including; depression, chronic pain, physical health, eating disorders, anxiety, stress, self-harm, substance abuse and psychotic symptoms. It is a third wave behavioural therapy which uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, alongside commitment and behaviour change strategies to increase the individuals psychological flexibility. Through these techniques clients learn to make healthy contact with their thoughts, feelings, memories and physical sensations which they have previously avoided or feared. They learn the skills to accept and clarify these personal events and commit to changing their future behaviour in order to have a better life.

How does it work?

ACT seeks to develop the individuals psychological flexibility through six core processes:

  • Connection – connecting with the present moment, being in the now and embracing what is happening right now.
  • Defusion – learning to detach oneself from unhelpful thoughts, worries and memories and to let them come and go without them having a negative impact on the individuals life.
  • Expansion/Acceptance – making room for painful feelings and sensations rather than trying to suppress them. Allowing the painful thoughts just to sit there without getting caught up or overwhelmed by them
  • The Observing Self – this is the part of the mind which is aware of what you are thinking or feeling or doing at any moment. This is the part of each individual that is necessary in order to develop mindfulness skills, which can help the individual to access this part of the mind
  • Values – thinking about what you want your life to be about, your beliefs and what you want to do with your life
  • Committed Action – taking action guided by your values even if this may be difficult or unconfortable

When all these core processes are put together an individuals psychological flexibility increases which opens up the individuals mind to the present moment and what really matters meaning that their quality of life can be improved greatly.