Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy (or ACT) is a form of behavioural therapy that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies to help increase psychological flexibility.


ACT therapy takes the view that by accepting negative thoughts and feelings, individuals can choose a valued direction in which to take action and make positive changes. In this way, acceptance and commitment therapy does not aim to directly change or stop unwanted problems and experiences. Instead it teaches individuals to develop a mindful relationship with them - promoting a psychological flexibility that encourages healthy contact with thoughts, reconnection with the here and now, realisation of personal values, and commitment to behaviour change.


How does Acceptance and Commitment therapy work?

Acceptance and commitment therapy involves a range of experiential exercises to subvert the power and significance of damaging emotive, cognitive, and behavioural processes. It aims to help individuals to change their relationship with negative thoughts and feelings that are taking over their lives and in some cases are greatly impacting their health and well-being.


The approach attempts to avoid or get rid of unwanted unpleasant thoughts and feelings - and offers a long-term solution to future health and happiness. This is usually applied in one-to-one sessions with clients, or in groups, where metaphors, visualisation exercises and behavioural homework will be used. The number and length of sessions will depend greatly on the needs of those taking part and the practicing methods of the counsellor. The overall duration of the treatment should be relatively short, however this factor will too depend on the client and counsellor.



There are six core processes that help an individual overcome their problems.

  • Acceptance - involves embracing painful feelings and private experiences without attempting to change their frequency or form, and thus let go of their internal struggle with these unwanted problems
  • Cognitive defusion - attempt to change the functions of negative thoughts and feelings, and how they affect an individual by encouraging the individual to externally observe their unwanted problems by giving it a shape, size, colour, speed or form.
  • Contacting the present moment - enabling individuals to experience the world more directly is thought to make their behaviour and thoughts more flexible, by encouraging clients to be psychologically present - making a conscious effort to connect with whatever is happening in the here and now.
  • The observing self - our 'observing self' mind deals with aspects of attention and awareness. ACT enables individuals to develop mindfulness skills - the ability to be aware of one's flow of experiences without attachment to them.
  • Values - variety of exercises are used to help clients choose a life direction in various domains, such as family and career, and the realisation of these typically comes from an individual's ability to follow through the processes of acceptance, defusion and contacting the present moment.
  • Committed action - the establishment of concrete goals that are consistent with an individual's chosen values. It is considered essential that the person taking part commits to these goals in order to foster the necessary changes to discover a greater sense of vitality, well-being and fulfilment.


How is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy beneficial?

Acceptance and commitment therapy can be beneficial for a wide range of individuals. The empowering message of the approach - to alter the function rather than the existence of unpleasant thoughts and feelings - makes it particularly useful in helping clients to cope with problems such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, trauma, substance abuse, eating disorders and even psychotic symptoms.


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