Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) utilizes behavioral changes and pairs them with acceptance and mindfulness strategies. Mindfulness is a practice where individuals have the ability to know and understand what they are thinking and feeling in the moment. It is a strategy that prevents people from moving towards avoidance, distraction, or ignorance when it comes to their own emotions. Where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses more on changing or controlling certain ways of thinking and behaviors, ACT focuses on being present with emotions and accepting them for what they are. Instead of engaging in a tug-of-war with their emotions, they become more open to the way they feel in the present moment. ACT does relate to CBT in that it also helps people look at and move toward more desirable behaviors.
There are 6 core principles that make up Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:
- Acceptance. Unwanted internal experiences are a normal part of a person’s experience. Acceptance is allowing even the unwanted feelings, thoughts, and emotions to remain in an individual’s present awareness rather than avoiding those altogether.
- Cognitive defusion. It is a term to describe how a person can take the thoughts and feelings they have and separate them from reality. At times, everything people think and feel can be taken as if it is absolute fact when in reality that may not be true.
- Being in the present moment. It involves awareness of what is happening and what someone is experiencing in the moment. It is part of mindfulness that encourages people to be present with their own thoughts and feelings without the need to judge them or change them right then.
- Self as context. It is the ability to identify a person’s identity and self as they are. It allows people to view themselves for who they truly are rather than getting wrapped up in being defined completely by their experiences. Identifying the self helps people separate who they are from their own experiences.
- Values. These standards provide people with purpose and meaning with which they live their lives. They motivate and influence a person’s choices and behaviors.
- Commitment to action. It is about understanding and identifying goals and steps toward change. It involves action that not only leads a person to their goals and values, but also towards a life they find meaningful.
Utilizing these principles, people can learn to face their problems head on. With the amount of distractions available and the value placed on pursuing happiness above anything else, it can be difficult to face present issues. Avoidance, distraction, and numbing become a priority leaving hurting people with little to no awareness of what they are feeling and why they are feeling it. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy encourages people to step in front of their unwanted internal experiences and face them. Using mindfulness and self-compassion, people can learn to accept their feelings, focus more on present awareness, and learn how to separate themselves from difficult experiences. Once people are able to gain awareness and insight into their own internal world, they have power to change. Those changes can come from the values and goals a person has and lead them to the fulfilling and meaningful life they desire.