All people face challenges, but it’s how they approach these challenges that often affects their overall health. Some people confront their challenges head on, no matter how hard. Others tend to ignore them, hoping that they’ll go away. That rarely happens, however, and problems can become worse as a result. If you have trouble facing challenges, you probably wish you could handle them better. With the right treatment, you can, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is one of those treatments.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) forms the basis for ACT. In treatment, clients gradually learn to stop the avoiding behaviors they often use when faced with problems. Instead of denying or ignoring difficulties, they learn to recognize and confront them. Only when they acknowledge an issue can they move forward.
Developed in the 1980s, ACT is a form of psychotherapy that helps clients accept that some things are simply out of their control. With therapy, they can begin to take actions that improve their emotional well-being.
ACT’s Six Main Principles
- Cognitive diffusion: Realize that thoughts are just thoughts, so you don’t have to stop them
- Acceptance: Accept all experiences, the good and the bad
- Mindfulness: Be fully present in the moment
- Self-Observation: Look at yourself objectively and recognize that the observant you is separate from your feelings
- Values: Acknowledge what’s most important to you, whether it’s family, career, or personal growth
- Commitment to Action: Take actions that are in line with your personal values, such as serving others, taking care of your family, or mentoring someone
Utilizing ACT in Treatment
Everyone has difficult days. Some problems are minor, such as getting a flat tire on your way to work. Others are major, like the loss of a loved one. While it’s only natural for people to want to avoid pain and painful situations, there is no way to completely avoid life’s challenges. ACT aims to help clients act when difficulties arise.
So, how can ACT help clients? Maybe an individual uses food as comfort when faced with painful thoughts. It just feels easier to eat instead of telling someone they’re hurt. Alternatively, perhaps an individual rigorously controls their eating since they feel like they don’t have control over anything else. Instead of expressing their feelings, they bury them.
With assistance from a skilled therapist, clients learn that it’s counterproductive to ignore their problems or suppress their emotions. They learn self-compassion instead of always judging themselves harshly.
The benefits of ACT include allowing clients to give themselves permission to make mistakes and move on from them, as well as teaching them to control how they react in various situations.