Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, and (Dis)Ability
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lena Horne
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based action-oriented approach to counseling that stems from traditional Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It also uses concepts of value, forgiveness, acceptance, self-compassion, mindfulness, and transcending sense-of-self. As such, ACT challenges most traditional Western approaches to therapy. It was developed by psychologist Steven C. Hayes who stated the following in a Psychology Today post:
We as a culture seem to be dedicated to the idea that ‘negative’ human emotions need to be fixed, managed, or changed-not experienced as part of a whole life. We are treating our own lives as problems to be solved as if we can sort through our experiences for the ones we like and throw out the rest. Acceptance, mindfulness, and values are key psychological tools needed for that transformative shift.
Through ACT, you learn how to acknowledge, face head-on, and accept your thoughts and feelings for what they are rather than avoid or deny them, struggle against them, or feel guilty about them. In other words, you learn that suffering is a part of life and that your thoughts and feelings are appropriate given what you’re going through. You also learn that your thoughts and emotions do not need to prevent you from moving forward in your life. With this shift in perspective toward accepting and embracing your adversities, you learn how to commit to meaningful actions that will help you experience any challenge with less distress and greater peace.
What can ACT help with?
- Stress (Coping with Stress and Life Transitions)
- Anxiety disorders (Managing and Treating Anxiety Disorders)
- Depression (Overcoming Depression)
- Obsessive-compulsive Disorder
- Eating disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Chronic pain
- Trauma (Healing from Trauma/PTSD)
How does ACT work?
ACT teaches you how to pay attention to your negative thoughts. Such negative thoughts may be about traumatic experiences, difficult relationships, or physical limitations you’ve had or are currently dealing with, for example. With greater awareness of your negative thoughts, ACT prompts you to ask yourself if your situation is something you can or can not change. If it is something can or must accept, you acknowledge and stop repeating actions that have not been helpful and identify and take actions that would be helpful. Generally speaking, you develop greater mental flexibility – the ability to adapt mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally in a way that reflects your values and goals – which has the bi-product of reducing your symptoms and improving your quality of life.
Specific ACT Interventions
- Through acceptance, you become more self-aware of your negative thoughts and emotions and learn how to embrace them rather that avoid or fight them.
- Cognitive Diffusion
- Cognitive diffusion helps you to distance yourself from your thoughts and feelings, which allows you to change your perspective of them and reaction to them.
- Being Present
- By being present, or mindful in the moment, you’re able to observe your thoughts and emotions non-judgmentally, which reduces the negative impact they have on you.
- Self as Context
- Self as context teaches you how to see yourself separately from your thoughts and emotions, to see that your thoughts and emotions do not define who you are and do not need to stop you from moving forward.
- Values involves you attending and living according to what matters to you, which stands in contrast to those actions that have been counterproductive and contributing to your struggle.
- Committed Action
- Through committed action, you take concrete steps that align with your values and promote positive change.
The theory behind ACT is that it’s counterproductive to control painful experiences, that the avoidance or struggle against negative thoughts and emotions actually makes them worse. By accepting the painful experiences of life, you can actually live a richer and more fulfilling life.
If you’re coping with stress, anxiety, depression, trauma or (dis)ability-related concerns and think Acceptance and Commitment Therapy could help you, let’s connect. Contact me today for a free consultation.