Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique and creative model for psychotherapy, based on an innovative, scientific use of mindfulness and values. The aim of ACT is to maximise human potential for a rich, full and meaningful life – helping people to become more centred, open and engaged in their daily lives. ACT (which is pronounced as the word ‘act’, not as the initials) helps you to cultivate health vitality and well-being through mindfulness and values-guided action. Although ACT was created over 10 years before ‘positive psychology’ existed, it is increasingly seen as a part of that movement.
ACT is an approach to psychology defined in terms of a particular approach to science, certain theoretical processes and a philosophical framework, not a specific technology. The scientific approach underlying ACT is also applicable to a more coherent and scientifically grounded understanding and evidence based application of psychopharmacology.
The general goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility is established through six core ACT processes (which may be simplified to three). These processes are conceptualised as positive psychological skills, not merely methods of avoiding psychopathology.
ACT gets its name from one of its core messages: accept what is out of your personal control, and commit to action that improves and enriches your life. The aim of ACT is to maximise human potential for a rich full and meaningful life. ACT does this by:
- teaching you psychological skills to deal with your painful thoughts and feelings effectively – in such a way that they have much less impact and influence over you. (These are known as mindfulness skills.)
- helping you to clarify what is truly important and meaningful to you – ie your values – then use that knowledge to guide, inspire and motivate you to change your life for the better.
Acceptance and mindfulness-based approaches are changing the landscape of psychology, mental health care, medicine, and society. They are based on a very old and radical idea, namely, that a good deal of human suffering is fed by efforts to struggle with and avoid our own psychological and emotional pain. New research from many sources now shows that this war tends to amplify our pain, takes enormous effort, doesn’t work very well, and can keep us stuck and suffering. So, what’s the alternative?
The alternative is this: paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment, with a quality of kindness and compassion (self and other), and with both eyes on living out your values, right here, right now. These are skills that we all can learn and many studies show that people who learn them report more vitality, less illness, better quality of life, and greater freedom too.
Instead of more struggle, we learn to open up to our experience just as it is (not as our minds say it is), to hold our thoughts more lightly, to connect with our values (what we care about in this life), and to carry our minds, bodies, and personal history forward into a more vital and valued life. This set of very simple ideas goes against just about everything we’ve learned, at least in the West, since kindergarten. That’s why they can be so powerful!