What Is Acceptance & Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that uses mindfulness-based strategies to deal with life’s many and often enduring challenges. As the name suggests, ACT can help a client commit to using psychological strategies in order to accept–rather than resist–their circumstances and learn to live in peace. By embracing harmful character traits and behaviors with a mind focused on positive change, an individual may achieve greater well-being and reduce avoidant coping mechanisms. As an acronym, ‘ACT’ also represents the three central areas of focus for this type of therapy: Accepting your reactions and being present. Choosing a valued direction for your life. Taking action.
What Is ACT Used to Treat?
Acceptance and commitment therapy is considered transdiagnostic, meaning that its underlying treatment principles can be applied across many mental health conditions without needing to change the protocol. ACT was not developed to treat just one disorder or a particular set of symptoms. Rather, this therapy was designed to address psychological processes that are common in many domains of human life. Symptom reduction is therefore a positive outcome of learning how to positively alter one’s mental state. Research shows that ACT is effective in treating many conditions, such as:
- Eating disorders
- Smoking cessation
- Substance use disorders
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Management of work stress
- Management of chronic pain
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Borderline personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
The Philosophy of ACT
ACT is guided by the idea that unpleasant experiences such as grief, disappointment, and anxiety are ordinary aspects of everyday life that should not be eliminated or suppressed. Attempting to do so leads to avoidance and “the unwillingness to remain in contact with uncomfortable [thoughts, feelings, and physiological sensations] by escaping or avoiding these experiences.” Some people avoid painful feelings by drinking or using drugs, which may bring temporary relief but will likely create greater dysfunction and distress in the long term. ACT can help an individual instead pursue a life that embodies their values and goals in spite of distressing thoughts or emotions. For instance, a client may have ambitions to create positive change in their community or build the career they always dream of. They might want to want to work on specific areas of personal growth or start a family. By developing key skills with a therapist in ACT, a client can come to realize their endeavors while being more resilient to setbacks.
Fostering Psychological Flexibility
In therapy, a client will work with their therapist to develop psychological flexibility in order to face difficulties with greater ease and improve their life. Psychological flexibility allows a person to be more fluid and responsive to the situation at hand so they can achieve the desired outcome. A client can accomplish this by working on developing the following six skills:
- Flexible Attention to the Present Moment: Intentionally remaining in the present moment by being thoughtful about how one feels and behaves, particularly during negative experiences.
- Self-as-Context: Maintaining a balanced and open perspective on one’s mental state, so that discomforting thoughts and feelings don’t trigger destructive avoidance behaviors (i.e. substance abuse, self-isolation).
- Values: Clarifying values and goals that are important to one’s wellness and life satisfaction.
- Committed Action: Committing oneself to take actions that support one’s values and goals.
- Acceptance: Willingly accepting negative feelings that necessarily accompany challenges as opposed to trying to avoid difficult internal experiences.
- Defusion: Seeing thoughts for what they are, particularly those that interfere with valued actions.
Helping You Manage Your Mental Health
Acceptance and commitment therapy is used to help individuals struggling with a number of different mental health conditions. In particular, ACT has been helpful in managing anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as stress from everyday interactions and tasks. Clients may also participate in this therapy instead of taking medication. Some prefer to work on the mental aspects of their condition and strengthen their mind. Individuals may prefer this action-oriented approach to other types of therapy because they have more autonomy and responsibility for their recovery outcome. This can be very empowering and reinforce positive patterns of thinking and acting.
Treating Psychological Aspects of Addiction
Individuals battling a substance use disorder or addiction to drugs or alcohol may also benefit significantly from this therapy. Long after the physical symptoms of withdrawal have passed, the psychological symptoms often endure. A person might harbor deep guilt for the financial and emotional pain they caused their friends and family. They might feel embarrassed about the years they struggled with addiction or ashamed of the fact that they still want to use substances despite the negative consequences. If left unmanaged, these ruminations regarding a person’s addiction can trigger a person to start using substances again. Moreover, even if a person has been sober for a long time, they may still have unresolved issues or traits that can make them vulnerable to relapse.
Mindfulness-Based Therapies at Casa Recovery
At Casa Recovery, we offer evidence-based psychotherapies, psychiatric services, and holistic therapies to our clients. Options are important because one modality may not address all aspects of a client’s concern. Sometimes, it takes several approaches to overcome addiction or manage a mental health disorder. Mindfulness-based therapies may be particularly useful for clients looking to nurture the relationship between their mind, body, and spirit. In addition to acceptance and commitment therapy, we offer the following mindfulness-based therapies and practices:
- Massage Therapy
- Experiential Therapy
- Nutrition Counseling
- Somatic Psychotherapy
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) <link to this page>
If you have questions about these or other services not listed, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a psychotherapy that is based on six mindfulness principles. This therapy is used to treat a number of mental health conditions including substance use disorders. Casa Recovery is a treatment center located in San Juan Capistrano, CA. To learn more about how ACT can help you strengthen your psychological resilience, call us today at (888) 928-2272.