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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Third Wave Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Calm Woman

From: Psychology Today


Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy that stems from traditional behavior and cognitive behavioral therapy. Clients learn to stop avoiding, denying, and struggling with their inner emotions and, instead, accept that these deeper feelings are appropriate responses to certain situations that should not prevent them from moving forward in their lives. With this understanding, clients begin to accept their hardships and commit to making necessary changes in their behavior, regardless of what is going on in their lives and how they feel about it.

When It's Used

ACT can help treat many mental and physical conditions. These include:

The six core processes that promote psychological flexibility are:

1. Acceptance

Acceptance involves acknowledging and embracing the full range of your thoughts and emotions rather than trying to avoid, deny, or alter them.

2. Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion involves distancing yourself from and changing how you react to distressing thoughts and feelings, which will mitigate their harmful effects. Techniques for cognitive defusion include observing a thought without judgment, singing the thought, and labeling your automatic response.

3. Being Present

Being present involves being mindful in the present moment and observing your thoughts and feelings without judging or trying to change them; experiencing events clearly and directly can help promote behavior change.

4. Self as Context

Self as context is an idea that expands the notion of self and identity; it purports that people are more than their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

5. Values

Values encompass choosing personal values in different domains and striving to live according to those principles. This stands in contrast to actions driven by the desire to avoid distress or adhere to other people's expectations, for example.

6. Committed Action

Committed action involves taking concrete steps to incorporate changes that align with your values and lead to positive change. This may include goal setting, exposure to complex thoughts or experiences, and skill development.

How It Works

The theory behind ACT is that it is counterproductive to control painful emotions or psychological experiences; suppressing these feelings leads to more distress. ACT adopts the view that there are valid alternatives to changing the way you think, including mindful behavior, attention to personal values, and commitment to action. By taking steps to change their behavior while, at the same time, learning to accept their psychological experiences, clients can eventually change their attitudes and emotional states.

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