Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

A diagram of ACT components, including: acceptance, cognitive defusion, commitment, values, self as context, and being present.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based therapy that focuses on helping us lessen our struggle by using mindfulness strategies and action steps like psychological flexibility and acceptance. When we can decrease our need to “get rid” of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts and learn to notice them, experience them, but not fully attach, nor always believe what our mind tells us, we can feel better.

How it works

Embracing Challenges: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) encourages people to embrace challenging thoughts, feelings, and memories rather than trying to change them. Instead, it focuses on developing a more positive relationship with these experiences. As a combination of acceptance, mindfulness, values, and commitment, ACT promotes psychological flexibility and helps individuals to lead more fulfilling lives.

Research shows ACT is effective for a range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, stress, and chronic pain. The ACT approach helps us to clarify individual values, achieve personal goals, and overcome guilt and shame. With greater clarity and motivation, we can create rich and meaningful lives while managing difficult thoughts, feelings, and life experiences.

ACT and a Mindfulness-based Approach

This therapeutic approach recognizes the importance of living in the present and being mindful of your own thoughts and feelings. By doing so, it can greatly enhance your mental and physical well-being and help you to:

  • Feel less stuck in unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that block you from reaching your goals
  • Lessen the stress and frustration you feel about things and situations in your life you don’t like and wish were different
  • Listen less to and learn to ignore the negative, critical voice in your head
  • Change the dynamics of your relationship with yourself
  • Realize what and who are most important to you and align your time, energy, and effort towards those things and people.

As a mindfulness-based behavioral therapy, ACT compassionately guides us to accept our personal experiences even when we don’t like them. ACT also asks us to commit to change through action steps so we can be more aligned with our values and make positive changes in our life. 

Grounding Questions in ACT Therapy

Using an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) perspective in therapy, you will often hear your therapist ask the following questions: 

  1. Who are the people in your life and the relationships in your life that you value the most? Think about who the closest and most supportive people are in your life.
  2. What in your life – your passions, interests, hobbies, beliefs, activities, things you do for fun – is most important to you? 

When we drift away from our core values —  “the who” and “the what” that is important to us – our mental and emotional suffering tends to intensify. When we are aligned with our values, we decrease our experience of suffering, and we can begin to feel better.

Guidance through the ACT Stages

Your therapist can guide you through the ACT stages and core concepts by helping you to:

  1. Develop new skills to deal more effectively with difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories
  2. Clarify your values by identifying how you want to show up as a person and who you want to be
  3. Unite with your values to ensure your behaviors, choices, and goals are aligned with what really matters in your life 
  4. Focus your attention on what is important to you and be intentional about how you spend your time and energy, being mindful of engaging in what brings you joy

The Core of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT focuses on increasing your ability to live in a way aligned with your values. The following six core ACT processes and interventions are designed to help you move toward your goals.

1. Acceptance

Acceptance means opening up and making room for painful feelings, urges, and sensations. We learn to experience disturbing thoughts and feelings and to allow them to come and go without a struggle. By acknowledging that we don’t have to become overwhelmed or get stuck in them, we are able to make room for internal experiences and release them.

2. Cognitive Defusion 

We begin by learning to detach from unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and memories to avoid getting trapped by them. Instead of trying to change or avoid these thoughts and feelings, we focus on observing, acknowledging, and feeling them, and then letting go. You will begin to recognize that thoughts and feelings don’t have to control what you think or believe. You will see that thoughts and feelings may seem and “feel true” – however, they are not always based in fact or true at all.

3. Being in the Present Moment

This means engaging fully with your here-and-now experience with an attitude of openness, curiosity, interest, and receptivity. When we are fully present and engaged in the now, we live less in the past and future. In the present moment, we can learn to let go of the worry, regret, anxiety, and negative beliefs about ourselves and the world. 

4. The Observing Self / Self as Context

The Observing Self is the part of you that is aware and can attend to things in your life. Our Observing Self allows us to be detached, but also aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions at any moment. This Self helps us be mindful and present without being fully fixed to our thoughts, feelings, memories, urges, and bodily sensations. When we realize we are feeling and experiencing our anger, chronic pain, depression, or grief, but that we aren’t our anger, chronic pain, depression, or grief, we can feel better and suffer less.

5. Values

Your core values, clarified through the ACT framework, become the guiding principles for meaningful and purposeful decisions, actions, and goals.

What matters to you, matters. By illuminating what is most important to you, what kind of person you strive to be, what holds important meaning in your life, what you stand for, and  who is most important to you, you can determine the right direction and actions for your life.

6. Committed Action

Creating goals with clear, actionable steps that align with your values enables you to face your problems or issues with a plan. Harnessing your courage and determination, you can take action on what matters – even when it is challenging, difficult, or uncomfortable.

With the help of ACT strategies, your therapist can assist you in identifying what and who matters most to you so that you can build a life more fully aligned with your core values and priorities.

Is ACT right for you? 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps us decrease our emotional and psychological suffering, learn new helpful behaviors, achieve our goals, reduce our distress, and improve our overall mental health. 

While it can feel challenging, accepting yourself and committing to what matters most to you is a powerful path towards healing and change.

Meet our Therapists

A quiet office with two round teal chairs.

What matters to you, matters.

You don’t have to suffer alone. Our therapists can help you Grow, Heal, and Thrive.