Acceptance and commitment therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) uses a mix of mindfulness and acceptance strategies in conjunction with commitment and behaviour change strategies and has been developed by psychologist Steven Hayes to increase psychological flexibility in practitioners of ACT.

Hayes’ technique is based on the assumption that our mind has an observing self which is distinct from the thoughts and feelings we may be experiencing.
He calls this approach ‘comprehensive distancing’ and it differs from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which aims to teach people how to control thoughts and feelings in that it trains practitioners to notice, accept and consequently embrace whatever comes to their mind.

ACT takes the view that psychological processes of individuals have destructive tendencies signified by cognitive entanglement, and experiential avoidance which in turn leads to a rigid psychological mindset that prevents the individual from taking the necessary behavioural steps based on their core values.

The model is summarized by identifying the core of the kind of problems an individual is experiencing through the acronym FEAR:

• Fusion with our thoughts
• Evaluating our experience
• Avoiding our experience
• Reason giving for our behaviour

To counteract FEAR the alternative is to ACT:

• Accepting one’s reactions and being in the present
• Choosing a valued direction (goals)
• Taking action

In order to achieve psychological flexibility in individuals ACT employs six core principles, these include:

1. Cognitive de-fusion: Learning to perceive our thoughts, images, emotions, and memories for what they are, not for what they appear to be.
2. Acceptance: Allowing our thoughts, images, emotions, and memories to come and go without struggling with them.
3. Contact with the present moment: Developing awareness of the here and now with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
4. Observing of self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging.
5. Core Values: Discovering what is most important to one’s true self.
6. Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out with commitment and responsibly.

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