When dealing with depression, anxiety, or relationship issues that commonly bring people to counseling, it can be helpful to have an approach that takes your experiences and values into consideration.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that focuses on acceptance and mindfulness. It is a flexible method of working through problems and encourages you to examine possible solutions in a way that lines up with what is important to you.
What is the Goal of ACT?
The aim of ACT is to help you live a rich, full, and meaningful life, while effectively handling the pain that inevitably comes your way. ACT recognizes that painful thoughts, feelings, and events are an inevitable part of life. Unlike CBT, which teaches people to challenge negative thoughts, ACT teaches people to see thoughts for what they are – thoughts – instead of objective truths that must be believed and acted upon. ACT teaches people to engage with the present moment and to sit with unpleasant feelings, rather than to avoid, distract, or push them away.
How Does ACT Work?
There are three steps in the process of ACT:
- Accept the emotion. Accepting the emotion includes being willing to feel things that might be uncomfortable, instead of avoiding painful feelings. It also includes observing your thoughts and being willing to question whether or not what you are thinking is the only way to see things.
- Choose a direction. With the help of your counselor, you consider your options and decide what action makes sense for you to take, based on what is important to you.
- Act. You and your counselor can create a plan of action that helps to bring you closer to the person you want to be, instead of allowing your painful feelings to keep you from success.
How Can I Accept Painful Emotions?
Often in daily life, you are presented with some heavy emotions that can be quite painful to process. ACT encourages you to accept these emotions as soon as they surface. The sooner you accept the feeling, the sooner you can move on from it. It’s important to remember that feelings aren’t facts and they can pass just as quickly as they come along. They only have power over you as long as you let them. ACT offers tools based in mindfulness to avoid having emotions overwhelm you.
Here are some reminders to consider while you process difficult emotions:
- You are in control of your own body even if you are not in control of your surroundings.
- You do not need to be perfect. It’s enough to do your best.
- Your strengths are more valuable than your weaknesses.
- You do not need to act on every single thought. Let them flow like a river back to its source.
- What happened years ago is not happening right now.
What Role Does Mindfulness Play in ACT?
Imagine being able to quiet those intrusive thoughts that plague you during the day and trade them for your surroundings. There’s a sense of calmness in this action. You feel lighter, perhaps even a bit more in control of your own body and breathing than you thought. Your shoulders relax, and your head starts to feel clear. You can hear yourself breathe through the silence surrounding you. This is what being mindful feels like. Focusing on the present moment can allow you to separate from the resentments of the past and the fears of the future that can keep you in emotional pain. Once you can separate yourself from those uncomfortable feelings, you can focus more on going about your day without them. Using ACT, you can become an observer of your thoughts and learn to accept what you cannot control. You can learn to tolerate your thoughts and symptoms instead of resisting them, avoiding them, or ignoring them.
How Do I Determine My Values?
Being mindful more often can help you clarify the important goals in your life that you would like to achieve. It could be completing a project you have been putting off or surrounding yourself with happier people. Maybe you want to go a full day without panicking, or you want to be able to get into your work without mental disruption.
Through ACT, you can discover your most valued desires. Clearing away negative emotions by being present can leave room for thinking about what matters to you and ways to achieve your goals. Shedding that emotional weight can make room for your commitment.
When Do I Commit?
Commitment starts from the very beginning. It’s hard work to make changes in your life, but ACT can gently guide you in that direction. Once you’ve become calm enough to identify what is important to you, you can start taking the steps necessary to achieve your goals. As much as ACT can help, it only helps those who are willing to dedicate their time to the practice. Consistent attendance of sessions with your counselor is the key to reaping the benefits of therapy. You deserve to be healthy and happy in your life. Always remember that when you are going through psychotherapy like ACT or CBT. Keep pushing forward because you deserve it.
How Do I Begin ACT?
If having a clearer mind and a healthier lifestyle sounds appealing to you, it would be beneficial to give ACT a chance. While the work might eventually be challenging, starting doesn’t have to be. To get yourself on track to getting help, contact Safe and Sound Counseling LLC to begin therapy with a licensed professional.
I have over 15 years of experience of working with individuals and families, first in child welfare, and then in mental health counseling. I have a Ph. D in Counseling, and am an Interfaith Minister. I work with clients desiring to include all of the aspects of the self in therapy-emotional and spiritual.