Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an empirically-based psychological intervention where the objective is not to eliminate difficult feelings but rather, to be present with what life brings us and to move toward valued behaviour. It is about getting to know unpleasant feelings, then learning not to act upon them, and not avoiding situations where they are invoked. Its therapeutic effect is a positive spiral where feeling better leads to a better understanding of the truth. ACT aims to help the individual clarify their personal values and to take action on them, bringing more vitality and meaning to their life in the process, increasing their psychological flexibility.

As a simple way to summarize the model, ACT views the core of many problems to be due to the concepts represented in the acronym, FEAR:

  • Fusion with your thoughts
  • Evalunation of experience
  • Avoidance of your experience
  • Reason-giving for your behavior

And the healthy alternative is to ACT:

  • Accept your reactions and be present
  • Choose a valued direction
  • Take action

Core principles

ACT commonly employs six core principles to help clients develop psychological flexibility:

  1. Cognitive defusion: Learning methods to reduce the tendency to rely on thoughts, images, emotions, and memories.
  2. Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them.
  3. Contact with the present moment: Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
  4. Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging.
  5. Values: Discovering what is most important to one’s true self.
  6. Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.
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