What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
ACT (pronounced act, not spelt out) is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) related therapy that has over thirty years of research evidence to support its effectiveness. It has been shown to help people who are depressed, anxious, traumatised, or otherwise trapped by unhelpful patterns of behaviour; whether they be health, work or relationship related. ACT is not about cups of tea and nice cozy chats. Rather it involves individuals undertaking to approach their thoughts, feelings and behaviours in a way that is often difficult and challenging.
Most people come for therapy when they have exhausted all other possibilities – heart to heart chats with good friends or family, self-help books and sometimes medication. They are undoubtedly suffering and are usually completely stuck in their lives. The “stuckness” may arise from an overwhelming loss of some sort, from constant negative thoughts, from uncontrollable anxiety, from trauma or perhaps constant pain or some other debilitating medical condition; all of which manifest in some sort of “unhelpful behaviour(s)”.
Although ACT is related to CBT it differs fundamentally from the CBT emphasis on changing thoughts. Instead, ACT alters a person’s relationship to their private experiences (thoughts, feelings, memories, bodily sensations), so they are no longer entangled by them. People can learn to break free from life-draining struggles and quickly overcome ineffective behaviour patterns that prevent them from living a rich, full and meaningful life (however that might be interpreted), whilst effectively handling the psychological pain that inevitably comes up along the way. ACT is not about futile attempts at overcoming pain or fighting emotions – it is about actively embracing life and willingly feeling everything that it has to offer.
ACT therapy is a joint effort with both the individual and therapist working towards the same goals. Change does not happen just by thinking positive thoughts. If it were that easy everyone would already have done it.