Though acceptance and commitment therapy is a relatively new psychological therapy, numerous studies and evidence-based research have now highlighted the effectiveness of this treatment method for patients with a range of disorders and psychological problems.
Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based therapy that incorporates elements of Buddhist mindfulness meditation and newer behavioral therapy techniques. ACT differs significantly from CBT interventions in that rather than correcting negative thoughts, emotions and sensations, it teaches you to embrace and control them. This rationale is based on accepting feelings such as fear, frustration and anxiety that are a vitally necessary part of life and that allow you to be more involved in the things going on around you. By embracing these feelings so that you can more effectively reach and achieve your goals, the negativity can be reduced significantly. By trying to avoid negative feelings, the more they can persist in your life and influence it in unwanted ways. The goal is to control your reaction to these feelings in order to allow you to participate in life in an easier way. Research has shown that acceptance commitment therapy can have a dramatic impact on a whole host of problems, from anxiety and depression to chronic pain and a variety of other conditions.
There are six core principles involved in acceptance and commitment therapy that have been developed to improve psychological flexibility:
- Cognitive defusion: These are specific learning methods that allow you to reduce your habit of ‘buying into’ ineffective or harmful thoughts, emotions, images and memories. Changing the way we think about things can be ineffective, so this method offers you the choice of simply not buying into or engaging with thoughts that could be harmful to you.
- Acceptance: Here, you learn how to make space for your thoughts instead of spending energy trying to change them. This principle is applied to physical sensations and emotions as well as thoughts. Learning how to tolerate these thoughts allows patients to more actively pursue the things they want in life.
- Mindfulness: By making contact with the present moment, your experience becomes clearer so that you can take interest without judgment. Mindfulness teaches you to positively interpret things that happen around you in a more grounded way without painful interpretations that can be catastrophic to your experience.
- Self-observation: Transcendence allows you to experience an arena where positive and negative events occur but have no actual power to harm you. When we have anxiety or other painful internal experiences, it feels as though it is harmful to us if we allow it to be there. Unfortunately this results in trying to suppress or avoid these feelings, resulting in them getting more intense and unpleasant. By recognizing that these painful experiences do not actually harm us, but are just some of many internal experiences we have, it can help us to act in meaningful and not get too embroiled in managing our emotions.
- Values: By identifying the things that are most important to your true self, you can develop values that become the compass of your life without expectation of positive experiences. Every goal that you face will have unpleasant components but by making your values clear and acting in accordance with them, you will reduce avoidance and rather create more helpful strategies to handle them.
- Commitment: Your value-based goals can be more effectively committed to. Here, you make an effort to realize your values no matter how difficult they may be. Your life will become more meaningful when you are able to make a consistent effort towards your value-based goals.