ACT is one of the “third wave” of behavioural therapies. It is an evidence-based approach that does not explicitly seek to get rid of symptoms but rather reduces symptoms by helping patients live rich and meaningful lives, despite their difficult experiences.
If you’re confused about the point of ACT therapy since it doesn’t seek to get rid of symptoms, that’s a great question. According to Dr Steven Hayes, founder of ACT, the ongoing attempt to get rid of symptoms makes them worse, builds them up, and turns them into “clinical disorders.” Once we fight with our thoughts, emotions, or impulses, we turn on what is called the “struggle switch” and exacerbate the experience we’re trying to get rid of.
In ACT, painful experiences start to transform once we change our relationship with them by implementing six core ACT principles:
- Defusion – means learning to step back from our thoughts, images and memories, rather than getting caught up in them. When we hold onto these experiences lightly, we are less pushed around by them and more flexible in our attention.
- Acceptance – means dropping the struggle with our painful feelings, sensations, urges and emotions. Once we open up and make room for these experiences, give them some breathing space and allow them to be, we find that they are more tolerable.
- Contacting the present moment – means consciously connecting with whatever is happening at this moment. This is often challenging as our mind usually jumps all over the place. Contacting the present moment involves bringing our awareness to our experience of the external environment, our physical bodies, our psychological world, or all of the above.
- Pure Awareness – this is often the most difficult principle to get your head around. In ACT, there is the recognition that we have a ‘thinking self’ and an ‘observing self’. The thinking self is the part of us that generates thoughts, beliefs, memories, judgements, etc. The observing self can also be referred to as pure awareness, the silent self or the noticing self. It is the part of you that has always been there, never changes and that witnesses experience. By identifying with the observing self, it becomes easier for example to free ourselves from disempowering beliefs that are keeping us stuck such as ‘I am worthless’, ‘I am bad’ or ‘I am helpless’.
- Values – the whole ACT model moves us towards values-congruent living, otherwise known as a rich and meaningful life. Deep in your heart, what do you want your life to be about? Getting clear about what matters most, is what helps people to accept their pain, participate fully in life and follow through on challenging life goals that make life richer and fuller.
- Committed Action – means taking actions that truly matter, rather than just staring at the compass. Doing what it takes, while implementing the other principles, is what gives life vitality and meaning, even if that brings up pain and discomfort.
All these principles, when put into practice, move us forward in a way that reduces psychological suffering, whether it be anxiety, depression, trauma, chronic pain, or a wide variety of other conditions.
If you’re looking to address psychological challenges through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), do not hesitate to reach out to Mind Up and book a session with Greg Hack. Together, you can unlock the path to a more fulfilling and empowered life.