Acceptance and commitment therapy is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique that draws heavily on mindfulness practices to help clients learn to accept and be present with difficult feelings rather than trying to eliminate them. This form of therapy can be especially useful to people who abuse substances. It’s also helpful for those that act in other destructive ways to numb or avoid emotions. According to the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, there are six core components of acceptance and commitment therapy, which include: Acceptance – Acknowledging unpleasant emotions and thoughts without judgment or an attempt to suppress them or rationalize them. Cognitive Defusion – Encouraging people to view thoughts as subjective phenomena that can be observed without acting on them or dwelling on them. Being Present – Encouraging people to stay fully connected with the present moment through mindfulness techniques like yoga, meditation, and mindful awareness. Self as Context – Focusing on the self as a concept that can be observed like a separate being, which helps people feel less defined by their thoughts and experiences. Identifying Values – Encouraging people to explore their intrinsic values without putting weight on external “shoulds” that may have driven values previously. They take steps to make these values a priority. Committed Action – Solidifying short- and long-term goals that align with one’s values and identifying actionable items to achieve them. None of these processes are separate – they overlap and interconnect. As clients participate in acceptance and commitment therapy at Promises, they’re introduced to these core processes gradually.
How Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Works
An ACT therapy program uses mindfulness skills to help clients develop psychological flexibility. It also helps them clarify and direct behavior that is value-guided. A key differentiator of acceptance therapy is that clients aren’t considered “damaged” or “flawed.” Their unwanted experiences aren’t seen as symptoms of problems. Instead, ACT resolves to define the function and the context of behavior in order to determine how workable they are for the ultimate goal of creating a rich and meaningful life. Behavior encompasses actions, memories, thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Acceptance therapy strategies may include letting feelings or thoughts happen without the impulse to act on them, observing weaknesses but taking note of strengths, giving oneself permission to not be good or perfect at everything, acknowledging difficulty without avoiding or trying to escape from it, and realizing that one can be in control of their reactions, thoughts, and feelings.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Treatment
When clients enter mental health and addiction treatment, they may be closed off. They’re unable to communicate, lost in their painful memories and thoughts. Acceptance therapy teaches them to be present in the moment rather than drifting off into ruminating thoughts. Mindfulness techniques encourage self-observance, bringing awareness to the five senses as well as thoughts and emotions. Acceptance and commitment therapy is also instrumental in helping clients open up and detach from painful thoughts (defusion). For example, if a client has persistent thoughts that they’re a worthless person, acceptance therapy helps them separate themselves from the thought, essentially stripping the thought of its negative charge. They may say, “I’m having the thought that I’m a worthless person.” Opening up may also involve taking a deep breath, getting oxygen into the lungs. By so doing, they make space for the emotion, thought or sensation without making it worse or minimizing its presence. Identifying values that are important, knowing what they believe in, and taking action that is guided by those values is a key component of commitment therapy. Clients participating in commitment therapy explore exercises that help them identify their chosen values. These can help serve as a compass or guide to direct their behavior.
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