What's New New Groups are now forming. Signup Now
The Counseling Center Group Logo

How We Treat

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Are you on a journey to find effective ways to cope with challenging emotions and improve your interactions with the world around you? Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) could be the guiding light you need.

This innovative form of psychotherapy teaches you to accept your thoughts and emotions as natural parts of the human experience, and not as obstacles you need to overcome. By embracing your inner world without judgment, ACT empowers you to commit to actions that resonate with your core values, thereby encouraging a life of fulfillment and meaning.  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helps you break free from the cycle of avoidance and denial through the application of techniques grounded in mindfulness and behavioral changes.

Understanding Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that encourages individuals to embrace their thoughts and feelings rather than fighting or feeling guilty for them.

Unlike traditional therapy approaches that aim to directly change or reduce symptoms, ACT focuses on helping people create a rich, full, and meaningful life while accepting the pain that inevitably comes with it. The core of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy lies in six key processes: cognitive defusion, acceptance, contact with the present moment, observing the self, values, and committed action.

Through these processes, ACT teaches individuals to stop avoiding, denying, and struggling with inner emotions and, instead, accept that these deeper feelings are appropriate responses to certain situations that should not prevent them from moving forward in their lives.

By applying mindfulness strategies, individuals learn to live with their thoughts and feelings without feeling overwhelmed by them. This promotes mental flexibility, encouraging individuals to commit to actions that align with their values and goals even during difficult experiences. The goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is to help individuals live a value-driven life by building a meaningful existence over it, and not by eliminating pain and suffering.

The beauty of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is that it’s universal for treating many psychological issues, from anxiety to depression, as it teaches resilience and psychological flexibility. ACT’s approach to accepting what is out of control and instead committing to action that enhances life, offers a powerful tool for those looking to navigate the challenges of their inner experiences and the world around them.

Who Should Consider ACT

Core Principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is built on six core principles that work together to help individuals lead a more fulfilling life. These principles are:

Cognitive Defusion

This principle encourages individuals to change the way they react to their thoughts and feelings. Instead of taking them literally or allowing them to dictate actions, cognitive defusion teaches distancing and observing thoughts without becoming attached to them.

Acceptance

Rather than avoiding or denying negative emotions, acceptance involves embracing one’s feelings and thoughts as they are and allowing unpleasant experiences to exist without struggling against them.

Contact with the Present Moment

This is about being fully aware of the here and now and experiencing the present moment with openness, interest, and receptiveness. ACT emphasizes mindfulness and living in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Self as Context

Often referred to as “the observing self,” this principle helps individuals understand that they are not defined by their thoughts or feelings. It fosters a sense of continuity and perspective that there is a self beyond one’s immediate experiences.

Values

Identifying what is truly important and meaningful in life is central to ACT. Values guide actions and give them direction while helping individuals commit to living in ways that align with their deepest desires and goals.

Committed Action

This principle involves taking effective action guided by one’s values. It’s about setting goals based on what is important to the individual and taking steps to achieve these goals in the face of obstacles.

Benefits of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

  • Enhanced Psychological Flexibility: Improves the ability to contact the present moment more fully and change or persist in behavior when doing so serves valued ends.
  • Increased Mindfulness: Helps in developing a non-judgmental, present-moment awareness, allowing individuals to detach from cognitive distortions and emotional reactions.
  • Effective Emotion Regulation: Teaches strategies for accepting rather than avoiding difficult emotions, leading to greater emotional equilibrium.
  • Greater Clarity of Values: Assists in clarifying what is truly important and meaningful, guiding actions in a more purposeful direction.
  • Improved Stress Management: Offers tools for handling life’s pressures with greater ease, reducing the impact of stress on mental and physical health.
  • Resilience to Negative Thoughts: Cultivates skills to undermine the influence of negative thought patterns and beliefs through cognitive defusion.
  • Enhanced Relationship Quality: Promotes emotional openness, vulnerability, and communication, contributing to healthier and more satisfying relationships.
  • Commitment to Positive Action: Encourages the setting and pursuit of goals aligned with personal values, even in the face of challenges.
  • Reduction in Avoidance Behaviors: Reduces the tendency to avoid distressing situations, leading to more engagement in life activities.
  • Improved Self-Compassion: Fosters a kinder, more compassionate relationship with oneself, enhancing self-esteem and reducing self-criticism.

Differences Between ACT & CBT

ACT

  • ACT aims to increase psychological flexibility, allowing individuals to live a value-driven life. The focus is not on symptom reduction but on living a meaningful life in the presence of pain and suffering.
  • ACT emphasizes accepting thoughts and feelings as they are, teaching individuals to embrace their inner experiences and act in alignment with their values, irrespective of arising thoughts and emotions. 
  • ACT centrally integrates mindfulness to teach individuals how to connect with the present moment and cultivate compassion toward their experiences.
  • ACT places a significant emphasis on identifying personal values and committing to action that aligns with those values, even in the face of difficult or painful experiences.
  • ACT is based on relational frame theory, highlighting how language shapes our world interactions and supports acceptance, mindfulness, and values-driven living.

CBT

  • CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative or maladaptive thoughts and beliefs to alter emotional responses and behaviors. It operates on the premise that changing thought patterns can lead to changes in feelings and behaviors.
  • CBT aims to alleviate psychological symptoms by correcting cognitive distortions and changing behavior. The goal is symptom reduction.
  • CBT may incorporate mindfulness as a technique among many others to help manage thoughts and emotions.
  • CBT typically focuses on problem-solving and skills training to change behaviors that are contributing to a person’s distress.
  • CBT is based on the cognitive model, which posits that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected and that changing negative thoughts can lead to improved feelings and behaviors.

Yes, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is recommended for those with OCD. It helps by teaching acceptance of uncomfortable thoughts without engaging in compulsive behaviors, focusing instead on actions that align with personal values. Many find it a supportive and effective approach to managing their symptoms.

Yes, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is effective for managing anxiety. ACT helps individuals by teaching to accept their thoughts and feelings rather than fighting or feeling overwhelmed by them. ACT focuses on mindfulness, which increases awareness and presence in the current moment, and on commitment to actions aligned with personal values. By learning to observe their anxious thoughts without judgment and to engage in value-driven activities, individuals can reduce the impact of anxiety on their lives. Research has shown that ACT can effectively decrease the symptoms of anxiety and improve overall mental well-being.

Yes, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be effective in managing panic attacks. ACT helps individuals accept their feelings and physical sensations without trying to control or avoid them, which is a common response during a panic attack. By learning to observe their experiences without judgment and commit to actions that align with their values, individuals can reduce the fear and anticipatory anxiety that often trigger panic attacks. ACT teaches coping strategies that focus on mindfulness and psychological flexibility, which can help diminish the intensity and frequency of panic attacks over time.

Some common misconceptions about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) include:

It’s only about accepting negative feelings: While acceptance is key, ACT also focuses on taking committed action in line with one’s values, not just passive acceptance of difficulties.

It’s the same as traditional CBT: Although ACT falls under the cognitive-behavioral umbrella, it emphasizes mindfulness and values more than symptom reduction.

It doesn’t address the past: ACT does consider personal history but prioritizes how one’s past affects current behavior and choices, rather than delving deeply into past events.

It’s a quick fix: ACT requires ongoing practice and commitment; it’s about cultivating long-term skills for psychological flexibility, not a rapid solution to problems.

It ignores thoughts: ACT teaches individuals to change their relationship with their thoughts rather than the content of thoughts themselves, using techniques like cognitive defusion.

Understanding ACT correctly is crucial for effectively utilizing its principles and techniques to improve mental health and well-being.

 

In an ACT session, you can expect to engage in a variety of experiential exercises and discussions aimed at increasing psychological flexibility. Your therapist will guide you through processes of mindfulness, helping you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. You’ll learn to observe these experiences from a distance, reducing their immediate impact.

The sessions also focus on clarifying your values—what is truly important and meaningful to you—and using this knowledge to guide committed action in your life. Techniques like cognitive defusion, which helps to lessen the grip of negative thoughts, are common.

Overall, an ACT session is a dynamic space where you explore different aspects of your experience and learn how to live a more fulfilling life in alignment with your values.



Yes, mindfulness plays an important role in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It's foundational to the practice, as ACT emphasizes being present and fully aware of the current moment without judgment. Mindfulness in ACT helps individuals observe their thoughts and feelings from a distance, while reducing their immediate impact and influence on behavior. This awareness is key to developing psychological flexibility, allowing individuals to accept their internal experiences while committing to actions that align with their values. Through mindfulness, ACT helps people live more consciously and responsively, rather than being driven by automatic thoughts and emotional reactions.

 

We Can Help.

If you or a loved one can benefit from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), we are here to help.