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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): What is it and How Does it Work

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, LPC

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that encourages people to accept and ultimately let go of their negative feelings and thoughts rather than seeking to avoid or eliminate them. It is a mindfulness-based strategy that invites people to push through the unpleasant situation and regulating their internal state while doing so. ACT has been effectively used to treat stress, depression, anxiety, and other medical illness such as chronic pain, diabetes, and substance abuse.

How does it work?

The process of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is based on the six core principles that work in conjunction with one another towards the main objectives of handling unwanted thoughts, hard experiences, and creating a mindful and vital life.

6 Basic Principles of ACT:

  •   Acceptance or Expansion
  •   Cognitive Defusion
  •   Contact with the present moment
  •   Self-observation
  •   Setting Values
  •   Committed Action

1.     Acceptance and Expansion

The biggest aspect of ACT is acceptance which is an alternative to experiential avoidance. The practice of creating room for unpleasant feelings, emotions, and urges, instead of avoiding or suppressing them. This therapy helps to allow all the unwanted emotions or experiences to come and go without struggling or fighting with them. Accepting this as a part of your personality, you can be kind and generous but strong enough to tackle the unacceptable situation.

2.     Cognitive Defusion

It allows you to step back from your thoughts and thinking processes to recognize them without trying any change or getting obsessed. Individuals take mental disorders such as stress, depression, or anxiety as a negative cognition. They do not accept things or understand thoughts but depend on others to evaluate them. The therapist helps the patient to get a clear perspective of these undesirable thoughts and understand actually for what they are. 

3.     Contact with the present moment

This Act therapy emphasis the principle of “being in the now”. It means that you are focused on what is happening with you right now instead of dwelling on the past and agonizing about the future.  For example, you may notice a crow flying overhead. You say to yourself: I see a crow flying in the sky and am well aware of its flying pattern.

4.     Self-observation

Self as context or observing self is the most significant aspect of our conscious. It is an access to a transcendent sense when an individual is aware of two processes occurring at the same time, one is thinking and the other is observing the thinking. The therapist helps you to pay attention to who you are and why you are distinct from your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

5.     Setting Values

Values are those things that we hold in the highest regard and ultimately serve as the motivation behind our actions. They play a crucial role in determining the direction our life takes . Mindfulness can be achieved if the action is guided by values instead of goals. This therapy helps you to recognize what matters to you the most and what you truly want out of life.

6.     Committed Action

The last principle of ACT encourages the development of effective and purposeful actions and behaviors that bring value to your life. This ultimately helps a person to enjoy a more satisfied and meaningful life. Examples include forming interpersonal connections with loved ones, employing self-care, taking leisure time, etc.

Benefits of ACT

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is used to treat a wide range of mental health disorders and has shown remarkable effectiveness for many people. This treatment allows you to overcome the psychological changes that are associated with distress or problems related to work, social, family activities, and intimate relationships. The six core principles of his therapy help you become psychologically more flexible in the way you think and feel through mindfulness exercises and training. 

If you are interested in learning more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT therapy), please reach out to our intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling today, and they can pair you with one of our dedicated counselors in Chicago.

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