Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps you accept the difficulties that come with life. ACT has been around for a long time, but seems to be gaining media attention lately. Categorically speaking, ACT is a form of mindfulness based therapy, theorizing that greater well-being can be attained by overcoming negative thoughts and feelings. Essentially, ACT looks at your character traits and behaviors to assist you in reducing avoidant coping styles. ACT also addresses your commitment to making changes, and what to do about it when you can't stick to your goals.

ACT focuses on 3 areas:

Accept your reactions and be present
Choose a valued direction
Take action.

Whether it be a situation you cannot control, a personality trait that is hard to change or an emotion that overwhelms, accepting it can allow you to move forward. Obsessing, worrying and playing things over and over keep you stuck. In this sense, asking why can leave you helpless. ACT invites you to accept the reality and work with what you have.

Some acceptance strategies include:

1. Letting feelings or thoughts happen without the impulse to act on them.
2. Observe your weaknesses but take note of your strengths.
3. Give yourself permission to not be good at everything.
4. Acknowledge the difficulty in your life without escaping from it or avoiding it.
5. Realize that you can be in control of how you react, think and feel.

Another aspect of ACT is the skill-set of learning how to cognitively defuse psychologically heightened experiences. Defusion involves realizing thoughts and feelings for what they really are, like passing sensations or irrational things that we tell ourselves - instead of what we think they are like feelings that will never end or factual truths. The goal of defusion is not to help you avoid the experience, but to make it more manageable for you.

Some defusion strategies include

1. Observe what you are feeling. What are the physical sensations?
2. Notice the way you are talking to yourself as these feelings are experienced.
3. What interpretations are you making about your experience? Are they based in reality?
4. Grab onto the strands of your negative self-talk and counter them with realistic ones.
5. Now re-evaluate your experience with your new-found outlook.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is not a long term treatment. The ACT experience of reworking your verbal connections to thoughts and feelings, known as comprehensive distancing, can be extremely helpful in the treatment of depression, anxiety and many other psychological disorders. For a good reference on ACT, link here.


Sarebear said...

Utilizing these things, and maybe talking about them in therapy, sounds like a useful way to come to terms with the post-surgical pain that has not gone away yet my left leg is completely healed; ie, now I am left with permanent pain, and I have a difficult time accepting that, dealing with the emotional weight of it. Well, I can accept it, it's just very emotional . . . also, I tend to set no goals for myself because I am afraid of failure. Perhaps that's why 6 years of therapy is taking me nowhere fast lol. That's not true it's been helpful. I've recently set two goals, one of which I'm failing spectatularly. Lol.

Anyway. They all sound like helpful principles for me!

Wanda's Wings said...

Sounds interesting.

TK Kerouac said...

this must take alot of practice

Xmichra said...

I suppose in some ways I have done this in the past. I think I called it all different stuff..lol.. but allowing yourself to feel without thinking on the feeling is one of the things that lets my head figure things out faster now. Like when I am in a pissy mood, just because. I don't warp it all out of context on all the the things that are going wrong or have gone wrong in my life and dwell. I just let the pissy be, and let it go (and appologize when needed!)!! Then it makes things easier to deal with, and easier to change my mood.

Angeliki said...

I'll read your recommendation. I find ACT very interesting but very difficult as well. I think it takes a lot of practice and well...commitment to change the way you relate to your thoughts and feelings. I'm surprised is not a long therapy.

HP said...

Interesting area and one I'm currently wading through myself... Great post, Deb. I've missed your blog,,,,,

And, yes, I'm back!

Dr. Deb said...

Acceptance can be very liberating. That being said, it isn't easy to get there. Chronic pain is so difficult to live with. I feel sad to learn you are suffering with it.

I like certain aspects of this treatment.

Definitely takes practice.


It is a short therapy in that you are taught the approach and then you practice it on your own. It will take a lot of practice, that's true. So in a sense, it is a long process.

So happy to see you!!!

Doll Mistress said...

Huh--maybe I need some of that!

Anonymous said...

I can think of many areas in life where this could be highly effective. I already do a fair amount of self-talk but this takes it a little further.

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Doll,
I borrow from all kinds of things. If you think it can work, why not, right?

Dear Mr. Writeon,
Self talk can be helpful if it's productive and positive. Negative self-talk, as you know from your counseling work, is often hurtful to our well-being.

Anonymous said...

I've kinda of been doing some of these principles for a while now. It's really a principles of budisium wrapped up for a modern generation.

The diffusion part is interesting though...

I.d been using this technique for a while with great success before someone pointed out that it was similar to ACT.