ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is a therapeutic treatment intervention that is based on behavioral therapy more specifically Relational Frame Theory (RFT). One of the essential components of ACT is to encourage values-guided action. ACT is also about taking mindful action.

When thinking about who you want to be or certain changes you want to make, ACT would present questions such as: “What do you want to stand for in life? What really matters, deep in your heart? [What are] your heart’s deepest desires for whom you want to be and what you want to do during your brief time on this planet.” (Harris, 2009)

ACT includes mindfulness skills as well as encourages one to take action that is based upon their own values and in ways that will ultimately enrich their lives.

ACT is different than many therapy approaches in that it does not focus much on symptom reduction. Rather, ACT believes that people can live fulfilling and enriched lives by using the ACT principles regardless of symptoms. Harris (2009) points out that ACT assumes that (a) quality of life is primarily dependent upon mindful, values-guided action, and (b) this is possible regardless of how many symptoms you have– provided that you respond to your symptoms with mindfulness.

The goal of ACT is “mindful, values-congruent living” (Harris, 2009).

The goal of ACT is not to reduce symptoms but this has occurred in “almost every trial and study ever done on ACT” (Harris, 2009). This idea of not focusing on reducing symptoms can seem a bit challenging to some professionals who come from disciplines and approaches that focus on this more heavily.

ACT assumes that human suffering is natural and normal and a common experience of all humans. ACT believes that this suffering is due to human language as our mind creates suffering through negative self-talk and undesired memories and thoughts arise.

One of the goals of ACT is to help people deal with the inevitable pain of human experience through the process of mindfulness.

Basically, as Harris (2009) describes it, “mindfulness means paying attention with flexibility, openness, and curiosity.”

The six core therapeutic processes of ACT include:

  • contacting the present moment
    • This process refers to being in the moment. It is very difficult for many human beings to be in the moment. People are often thinking about something other than what is going on in front of them or trying to multitask and not really paying attention to what they are doing.
  • defusion
    • This process refers to being able to separate ourselves from our thoughts. This is a matter of being able to step back from our thoughts and not cling to them so tightly. Instead, we should look at them as just thoughts, just words or pictures.
  • acceptance
    • This process means making room for negative experiences in our minds. We don’t have to like any of the painful things we have experienced or any of the unpleasant thoughts we have, but acceptance simply means allowing them to be.
  • self-as-context
    • This process refers to being able to understand the “observing self.” There are two different aspects to the mind, the thinking self and the observing self. Most people think of the mind as being the thinking self, the part of us that comes up with thoughts, beliefs, memories, and so on, but many people aren’t aware of the observing self, the part of our mind that is able to step back and simply observe the thinking self and the rest of our own being. This part of yourself is and always will be the same you whereas our thinking self and physical self can change.
  • values
    • This process encourages us to identify what we want to stand for, what truly matters to us. Identifying your own values can help you to make decisions in regards to taking action about behavior change. Values might also be referred to as “chosen life directions.”
  • committed action
    • This process is about taking values-congruent action. In this process, individuals make behavior change that is based upon their own values. There are many different behavioral interventions that can be implemented in this process, such as goal setting, skills training, self-soothing, and time management.

image credit: alexlmx via Fotalia

Reference: Harris, R. 2009. ACT Made Simple. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.