Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a psychotherapy that is grounded on the principles of Behaviour Analysis and Relational Frame Theory (RFT). It focuses on accepting circumstances, making a commitment for change and living a life in line with your values.
What does this all mean? There are six core principles to ACT
- Self as Context
- Committed Action
- Contact with the present moment
We will discuss these each in turn
This relates to our thoughts, that can have a strong impact on our lives. We have many thoughts throughout the day. When we become “fused” with unpleasant thoughts, for example “I am a failure”, “I am ugly”, “I am stupid”, then we can develop low self-esteem, depression or anxiety. ACT recommends different processes that help people defuse from these unpleasant thoughts. This does not mean that the thoughts or ignored or replaced, but accepted and changed in form or function. Using these processes the thoughts lose their power and allow people to work towards achieving change in their lifes. These take practise and change will happen gradually.
This is similar to defusion and involves allowing the unpleasant thoughts and feelings to flow. Trying to ignore these can make you feel unhappy, but if you accept that they are there and work on defusion then you may enjoy working towards your committed actions. After all, they are just a few words strung together and our minds are over-critical beings!
Self as Context
This is about being the true version of yourself. Pretending to be someone your not, can make you very unhappy! Many of us wear many different hats; we’re professionals, parents, spouses or partners, friends, sons and daughters and more. Living a life that is in line with your values can help you be the truest version of yourself.
Values relates to the person you want to be, how you want to treat others and what you want to achieve with your life. Success in your career may be important to you so professional development is a value. Or you may want to have a great relationship with your family so being kind to family members and making time for them is a value. Values are distinctly different to goals: goals have a completion or end and when they are achieved they finish, for instance promotions, buying a house or getting married. Values are something you strive for throughout you’re life. You continue to act in accordance of your values. This is important to realise what your values are within the ACT frame. Once you realise your Values, you can begin in making a commitment to act in a way that is in line with your values. Life is happier if you life a life that has value.
This relates to taking action towards your values. For example, if your value is to have a good career, then committed action would involve taking steps toward that. If you are focused on a promotion, which may or may not come, then you could spend months at work feeling dissatisfied. If you focus on your value to have a good career, and work on committed actions, whilst completing each project to the best of your ability, you may feel more fulfilled. Even if you don’t get the promotion, because you have enjoyed each step of the journey, and lived a valued life.
Contact with the present moment
This relates to being present and aware of your environment. So many times have I driven some where and can not recall some of the journey, or spaced out while someone was talking to me. Or noticed something on my street that I never noticed before. We spend so much time going through all the many thoughts in our minds, we forget to be present! Spending time focusing on what you hear, feel, see, smell and taste connects you more with your environment and stops the chaos in mind. This can be done through meditation.
Within the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) we are exposed to stressors, professionally and personally. And we pride ourselves on our field and usually look for answers within the principle of Behaviour to solve all our professional and personal issues. Steven Hayes has developed an amazing tool, ACT, to help us and it is founded on the principles of ABA and Relational Frame Theory (RFT).
I have struggled with my own mental health, which I discussed previously in another entry in this blog, and over the past three years have attended talking therapy (including CBT), read self-help books, started running and attending yoga classes and also started meditating at home. ACT incorporates all of these aspects in one treatment. This approach will have positive effects on many people, even people who do not have mental health issues.
This is a basic overview and introduction, but you can learn more about ACT by reading the following resource:
The Happiness Trap
There is also a great selection of books in this Amazon wish list that I put together, from self-help books for personal use to text books for professionals. I hope this will give you a overview of the selection available, and give you an idea of which book you’d like to read!
If you have any questions or comments about this topic you can leave a comment below, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or Private message me on Facebook. I am happy to answer any questions about the theory within this blog, or any personal queries.
Bohlmeijer, E. T., Fledderus, M., Rokx, T.A.J.J, Pieterse, M. E. (2011). Efficacy of an early intervention based on acceptance and commitment therapy for adults with depressive symptomatology, Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49, 62-67.
Clarke, S., Kingston, J., James, K., Bolderston, H., Remington, B. (2014). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy group for treatment-resistant participants: A randomized controlled trial, Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science.
Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (1999). Acceptance and commitment therapy: An experiential approach to behavior change. New York: Guilford.
Hayes, S. C., & Wilson, K. G. (1994). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Altering the Verbal Support for Experiential Avoidance, The Behavior Analyst, 17(2), 289-303.