According to research, nearly 85% of Americans believe everyone has a deeper purpose in their lives, while only 65% could articulate what theirs was. It appears that a large group of individuals could benefit from integrating a bit of mindfulness training into their lives.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) could be the solution you need. This type of psychotherapy was developed in the 1980s by Steven Hayes, focusing on helping individuals develop psychological flexibility as reactions to stress and anxiety.
By learning to accept thoughts and feelings, clarify values, and take committed action, ACT may help you lead a more fulfilling life, free of the panic that some of us experience in the face of stressful situations.
Are you looking for a way to manage your thoughts and feelings effectively? Are you struggling to find meaning and purpose in life? If the answer is YES or you are curious to learn more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, read on.
In this article, we'll explore what ACT is, how it works, its benefits, and how you can apply it to different aspects of your life.
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, also known as ACT, is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help individuals develop psychological flexibility. This is achieved by focusing on values and goals, rather than getting trapped in negative thoughts and feelings.
The therapy is based on six core principles: acceptance, cognitive defusion, contact with the present moment, observer self, values, and committed action.
How Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Works
Step-by-Step ACT has an evidence-based six-step approach to help individuals develop psychological flexibility as a reaction to stress-induced anxiety or panic. ACT interventions employ one or more of the following 6 processes.
Understanding and accepting thoughts and feelings, rather than trying to suppress or change them.
Distancing yourself from negative thoughts, seeing them as thoughts rather than reality.
Contact with the Present Moment
Staying focused on the present moment and not getting lost in unhelpful thoughts and feelings.
Self as Context
Becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.
Identifying and clarifying values and goals.
Taking steps towards living a more fulfilling life based on values and goals.
The Benefits & Development of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT has been found to be an effective treatment for a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. It has also been shown to improve physical and mental well-being and enhance emotional regulation and resilience.
ACT in Action
Client: “I want to ask my boss for a raise, BUT I am too nervous about what he will say.”
Therapist: “You want to ask your boss for a raise, AND you are nervous about what he will say.”
We tend to separate ourselves from the problems that affect us. By changing how we word the things we say, however, we can being to accept the reality of our troubles and come to terms with how we feel about them.
Using ACT interventions, we can circumvent experiential avoidance associated with mental traumas and call upon the 6 core processes to become more psychologically flexible in how we respond to stress and anxiety.
These emotions are normal and useful as a mechanism to identify creative solutions to the problems we face. The issues arise when we experience stress and anxiety for prolonged periods of time. In fact, prolonged anxiety has been known to develop into panic attacks, which can be overwhelming and exhausting to deal with.
Fortunately, the ACT approach was created by Steven Hayes and honed as a mindful revelation for him to overcome his own anxiety and bouts of panic. You can rest assured this therapy works. You can learn more about the state of the evidence here at the Association of Contextual and Behavioral Science.
In the TED Talk below, Hayes shares his process for developing ACT therapy.
Applying Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in Different Aspects of Life
ACT can be applied to all areas of life, but the areas where we experience most of our stress include our work, our relationships, and our own personal growth.
How do ACT interventions help?
- At Work: ACT helps individuals handle stress and setbacks in the work environment.
- In Relationships: ACT can help improve relationships by teaching effective communication and presence.
- For Personal Growth: ACT can aid individuals in identifying values and goals and taking steps towards achieving them.
ACT Intervention Breathing Technique
When you feel the tinge of stress creating an anxiety storm within you, try this anchored breath technique to bring yourself back to center.
Imagine that you are a kite, floating above the clouds, feeling relaxed and safe. The air is calm and you sail without turbulent thoughts or fears.
Attached to the kite is a string tied to the Earth. It is strong and keeps you exactly where you want to be. Away from everything but the delight of the clouds.
Our physical bodies are like the kite, anchored to the Earth, allowing us to focus. Our lungs capture the air channeled through our nose and mouth. Our belly controls how much air we take in.
Take back control of your kite (body) by focusing in on your breath, using your hands to measure the depth at which you breathe in and out. Focus your breath on your belly as you slowly breathe in deeply.
With a controlled breath, release your diaphragm and allow your belly to push the air out of your lungs slowly. Use your nose to control your exhale.
Your hands feel the rise and fall of your ribs as you breathe in and out. Try this deep breath for ten repetitions at least.
You may find that, like the kite, your mind begins to wander. Remember the string as it is attached to the Earth, and ground yourself back to the present. Allow yourself to fully experience all emotions you feel without judging yourself for having them.
Is ACT a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
No, ACT is a distinct form of psychotherapy that places a greater emphasis on acceptance and mindfulness. CBT, on the other hand, focuses more on changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.
Can ACT be done online or through self-help books?
While online resources and self-help books can provide information on ACT, it's best to work with a qualified therapist. A trained therapist can tailor ACT to your specific needs and provide support throughout the process.
How long does ACT typically take?
The duration of ACT varies from person to person. Some individuals may need just a few sessions, while others may need ongoing therapy.
In conclusion, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a powerful and effective approach to treating mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and panic disorders.
Through its six core processes and emphasis on acceptance, mindfulness, and committed action, ACT empowers individuals to develop greater psychological flexibility and resilience. Whether you are looking to improve your work environment, relationships, or personal growth, ACT can be a valuable tool to help you get your life back on track.
It is important to remember that while self-help resources and online information can provide valuable information, it is best to work with a qualified therapist who is trained in ACT to get the most out of this approach. With the right support and guidance, ACT can be a transformative experience.