Have you ever felt like a therapist has tried to invalidate and/or eliminate your feelings? One of the major deterrents to seeking counseling is the perception that our emotions will be scrutinized. So we feel that we will simply be treated like bugs under microscopes. Unlike other types of such treatment, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy encourages you to explore your feelings. This way, you can figure out more constructive ways of approaching difficult situations.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is quickly becoming a popular method for treating depression, anxiety, and addiction disorders. Although this term might sound relatively new, ACT has been around since the 1980’s. It bears some resemblances to other types of therapies, such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and functional analytic psychotherapy. However, ACT goes a step further in challenging individuals’ self-perceptions and in-the-moment self-awareness.
What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an off-shoot of Relational Frame Theory (RTF). It provides a behavioral account of higher cognition and human language based on the Radical Behaviorist theory espoused by B.F. Skinner.
It is also comparable to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which tries to provide more guidelines for how to control unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Instead, ACT encourages you to more deeply explore your feelings and thoughts without scrapping them in favor of more positive substitutes.
A Brief History of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
ACT was initially developed by Stephen C. Hayes in 1982. Hayes, contrary to what is dictated by most Western philosophies, claims that positive emotions are not the norm for human beings because of how we process language. Instead, painful, negative emotions are part for the course with how we human beings process the things that happen to and around us.
In 1985, Robert Zettle put ACT to the test and began to develop it into a workable theory. So this one grew into by the late 1980’s. Currently, there are different ACT protocols used to target certain behaviors. One of them is the focused acceptance and commitment therapy (FACT). This one is a condensed version of ACT used in behavioral health settings.
How Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Works
The best way to understand the approach ACT takes is to break it down into two acronyms. The first, FEAR, means:
- Fusion with your thoughts;
- Evaluate your experiences;
- Avoiding experience;
- Reason-giving for your behavior.
This is followed by the acronym ACT, which means:
- Accept your reactions and be present in them;
- Choose the most valid direction;
- Take action.
Essentially, ACT emphasizes a confrontation with and awareness of your thoughts and feelings. In this process, you assess them instead of simply avoiding them. You are encouraged to find the reason(s) for your behavior. Then, you focus on accepting your thoughts and feelings. The next step is to take action in the direction you feel is best for yourself.
To be more precise, ACT has six principles that work cohesively together in helping you approach and deal with your negative emotions and thoughts. These six core principles are:
- Cognitive Diffusion (which involves learning how to decrease your tendency to treat an abstract belief as if it is a concrete reality);
- Expansion and acceptance (letting all thoughts occur without avoiding them);
- Connecting to the present moment and staying there;
- Practicing self-observation;
- Discovering and clarifying your own core values;
- Committed action (which means setting and accordingly carrying out realistic goals).
Who Benefits from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Multiple studies have evaluated Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in comparison with similar types of psychotherapy. They have found it to be effective for individuals living with various issues. More specifically, it works for treating individuals with depression, PTSD, panic disorder, epilepsy and those who smoke. Also, it has been a treatment option for those who abuse substances like heroin, and those with compulsive hair-pulling and skin-picking disorders like trichotillomania.
ACT has also been used to help treat those who are suffering from professional burnout, diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. Employers have found that ACT works well in encouraging workplace innovation and participation of employees.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Options
There are different Acceptance and Commitment Therapy treatment options available for different populations. ACT can be effective brief tool that specialists might use for:
- Intervention in behavioral settings;
- Treatment of physical and emotional trauma;
- Managed care settings;
- Within schools where it can work for for students, parents, and even teachers and school staff members.
Also, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy doesn’t merely benefit clients. Specialists have noticed that it works well for therapists who are dealing with therapy-related burn-out. This is because working as a therapist can lead to feeling stressed out, depressed. It can even generate feelings of hopelessness. These appear when we feel that we cannot help every client who comes through the door.
Examples of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in the Media
Over the past decade, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has garnered a significant amount of media attention. So in February of 2006, O Magazine ran an article by American sociologist Martha Beck. The article was on how avoiding avoidance is important in dealing with our fears. Also, ACT plays a role in getting us to confront those fearful thoughts and stimuli.
Steve Hayes remains active in promoting tenets of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Moreover, he has participated in multiple podcasts, including one on self-acceptance. He has also been a guest in The Self-Acceptance Project. In the project, Tami Simon speaks with leading authority voices on self-acceptance techniques, including ACT.
Over the past three decades, researches have proved that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is effective. This also applies to confronting negative human emotions associated with psychiatric disorders like depression. It might not work for everyone. However, results show us that there is hope for gaining acceptance and learning how to better interact with your thoughts and feelings.
Of course, this article is not a definitive source on ACT. So if you show interest in receiving this kind of therapy, you should contact a licensed professional. Make sure that you find one who specializes in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
The images are from depositphotos.com.