Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
By Vanessa Gonzalez
Many branches of psychotherapy stem from traditional behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. In acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), clients learn to face their negative emotions and accept them head-on, rather than avoiding, denying, and pushing them aside. They learn to accept that while they may be facing something difficult in their lives, they will commit to behavior change regardless of the negative feelings they may face in the process.
In 1980, psychologist Steven C. Hays developed ACT based on his own. Personal experience and hardship. He stated that rather than running away from his difficulties, he would accept them for what they are and no longer avoid or run away from them, to tackle them head-on and overcome it. Through acceptance, mindfulness, and recognition of values, clients can make the behavior change needed to choose to live the life they want.
ACT can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions. These include:
- Substance Use Disorders
- Eating Disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
One of the primary purposes of ACT is to allow the client to develop flexibility and lower rigid thinking. In addition, It will enable the client to learn emotional openness to adapt their thoughts and behaviors to align with your values.
There are six aspects to promote flexibility:
- Acceptance: acknowledging and embracing all of your thoughts rather than avoiding, changing, or denying them.
- Cognitive Defusion: learning that you are not your thoughts. It changes how you react to distressing thoughts and feelings, and they learn to understand that they can be observed without judgment.
- Mindful in the Present Moment: Again, this involves observing your thoughts without altering them or judging them. Instead, by being aware and mindful of them, the client will learn to view behavior and thoughts objectively to promote change.
- Self as Context: You are more than your thoughts and feelings.
- Values: Everyone has their own personal values, and everyone is different. When you live your life by your values, your life is lived by your expectations and standards, no one else’s.
- Committed Action: specific and concrete steps to promote behavior change that aligns with your values.
What to Expect when working with an ACT therapist:
When working with an ACT therapist, you learn to listen to how you talk to yourself about your issues. Then, you decide whether the issues can be changed within your control or if you have to accept them for what they are. However, when you accept it, you also make choices and behavioral changes to modify the situation for whatever is within your control.
When you face and accept your challenges, you can choose to practice more adaptive behavior to change your situation based on your values and goals, rather than fighting your past, emotions, and situation.
The idea of Act is that you don’t get anywhere by trying to control or suppress painful emotions or memories. By doing so, you are creating more issues for yourself rather than tackling the problem at hand. By utilizing ACT, you learn to view that everything you are feeling is a valid response to your situation, and you can accept them for what they are and change your perspective.
By being mindful of your behavior, and committing to choose to live by your values, you can eventually change your emotions overall. It all starts with the willingness to accept and commit to your values each day – even when it’s hard.
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