ACT therapy: Cultivating psychological flexibility

At the heart of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) therapy lies the concept of psychological flexibility – an individual's capacity to adapt to life's circumstances with openness, awareness, and action guided by personal values.


Unlike traditional therapeutic approaches that aim to reduce the frequency or intensity of distressing thoughts and emotions, ACT encourages individuals to embrace these experiences as natural and inevitable aspects of the human condition.

6 core processes of ACT

Dr. Avigail Lev, a licensed clinical psychologist, elucidates the six core processes of ACT therapy, each serving as a pathway to psychological flexibility and emotional liberation:

1. Identifying values

Central to the practice of ACT is the recognition of one's core values – those deeply held principles and aspirations that guide meaningful action and purposeful living. Through introspection and reflection, individuals identify what truly matters to them and commit to aligning their actions with their values, irrespective of internal struggles or external obstacles.

2. Commitment to action

Armed with a clear understanding of their values, individuals embark on a journey of committed action, taking deliberate steps towards their chosen life direction. Whether it involves pursuing personal growth, nurturing relationships, or making meaningful contributions to society, commitment to action empowers individuals to live in accordance with their values, even in the face of discomfort or uncertainty.

3. Self as context or self as observer

A fundamental aspect of ACT therapy involves cultivating a perspective of self-awareness and self-compassion. By observing their thoughts and emotions from a place of detached curiosity, individuals create space for acceptance and non-judgmental awareness. The metaphor of "self as sky" and thoughts as passing clouds illustrates the transient nature of internal experiences, allowing individuals to develop a sense of perspective and resilience.

4. Cognitive defusion skills

Cognitive defusion refers to the process of disentangling oneself from the grip of unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. Through a variety of techniques, such as metaphorical visualisation or playful engagement with thoughts, individuals learn to relate to their internal experiences with curiosity and openness, rather than being overwhelmed or controlled by them.

5. Acceptance

Acceptance lies at the heart of ACT therapy, inviting individuals to embrace their inner experiences with compassion and non-resistance. Rather than striving to change or suppress unpleasant thoughts and emotions, acceptance involves allowing them to arise and pass without judgment or attachment. Through practices such as self-compassion meditations or emotion exposure exercises, individuals learn to cultivate a stance of openness and receptivity towards their internal landscape.

6. Present moment contact

Mindfulness forms an integral part of ACT therapy, fostering present-moment awareness and grounded presence. By anchoring their attention in the here and now, individuals develop greater resilience to past traumas or future worries, engaging fully with life's experiences without being entangled by ruminative thoughts or anxious anticipation.

Nurturing growth and transformation: Applying ACT principles in practice

In the therapeutic journey of ACT, individuals embark on a process of self-discovery and transformation, guided by the skilled support of a therapist. Sessions typically begin with a focus on clarifying values, exploring what truly matters to the individual, and identifying concrete actions aligned with those values.

Subsequent sessions delve deeper into the application of ACT principles in real-life contexts, examining barriers to valued action and developing strategies to overcome them. Through a combination of experiential exercises, mindfulness practices, and cognitive defusion techniques, individuals learn to navigate the complexities of their internal landscape with grace and resilience.

Partners and family members play a crucial role in supporting individuals undergoing ACT therapy, providing a nurturing and validating environment for growth and healing. By offering empathy, encouragement, and practical assistance, loved ones contribute to the individual's journey towards psychological flexibility and emotional well-being.

Embracing the journey: Cultivating resilience and meaning

In conclusion, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) offers a transformative approach to addressing internal struggles and fostering psychological flexibility. By embracing the core processes of ACT therapy – identifying values, committing to action, cultivating self-awareness, practising cognitive defusion, embracing acceptance, and fostering present-moment contact – individuals embark on a journey of self-discovery, growth, and empowerment.

Through the skilled guidance of a therapist and the unwavering support of loved ones, individuals learn to navigate life's challenges with courage and resilience, reclaiming their autonomy and vitality. As they cultivate a deeper connection to their values and commit to living in alignment with their authentic selves, they discover a newfound sense of purpose, meaning, and joy in the rich tapestry of life's experiences.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Stroud GL5 & Gloucester GL1
Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services
Stroud GL5 & Gloucester GL1

Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services
Hope Therapy & Counselling Services are dedicated to providing comprehensive and compassionate mental health and wellbeing support to individuals, couples, and families. Our team of experienced and qualified counsellors & therapists are committed to helping clients navigate life's challenges...

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