Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Admin February 12, 2024

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

What is ACT?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that falls under the umbrella of cognitive-behavioural therapies. It was developed in the 1980s by Steven C. Hayes and his colleagues and is based on the idea that suffering is a normal part of the human experience and that individuals can learn to live more fulfilling lives by accepting what is out of their control and committing to actions that are in line with their values.

ACT encourages individuals to acknowledge and accept their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without judgement or attempts to suppress them. This contrasts with many other forms of therapy that focus on changing or eliminating negative thoughts and emotions. It involves being open to experiencing discomfort and distress and recognising that these feelings are a natural part of life. ACT also helps people distance themselves from their thoughts by teaching them techniques to “de-fuse” or disconnect from unhelpful or distressing thoughts. By seeing thoughts as mental events rather than literal truths, individuals can reduce the impact of negative thought patterns.

ACT can be beneficial for various mental, emotional, and behavioural issues, including anxiety disorders, depression, stress, chronic pain, substance abuse, and more. It can help individuals:

  • Reduce the impact of distressing thoughts and emotions.
  • Increase psychological flexibility and adaptability.
  • Enhance self-awareness and self-compassion.
  • Improve relationships by fostering more effective communication and empathy.
  • Set and achieve meaningful life goals in line with their values.

It’s important to note that while ACT can be highly effective for many people, it may not be the best fit for everyone. The choice of therapy should be made in consultation with a qualified mental health professional who can assess an individual’s specific needs and goals.

Why and when ACT is helpful.

You should consider seeking acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) when you are dealing with specific challenges or concerns that involve your thoughts, emotions, behaviours, or overall well-being. Here are some situations and reasons when it might be beneficial to seek ACT:

  • When You Feel Stuck: If you find yourself repeatedly struggling with certain thoughts, emotions, or behaviours that seem resistant to change, ACT can help you break free from these patterns.
  • When You’re Dealing with Anxiety: ACT can be effective in managing anxiety by helping you accept anxious thoughts and emotions without judgement while acting in line with your values, even when feeling anxious.
  • When You’re Experiencing Depression: ACT can assist in coping with depression by teaching you to observe and accept depressive thoughts and feelings while taking steps towards a more fulfilling life.
  • When You’re Facing Stress: ACT techniques can help you manage stress more effectively by promoting mindfulness and values-based actions in response to stressors.
  • When You’re Dealing with Chronic Pain: ACT is often used as part of pain management strategies, helping individuals reduce suffering and improve their quality of life despite chronic pain.
  • When You’re Struggling with Addiction: ACT can complement substance abuse treatment by addressing the psychological aspects of addiction, helping you clarify your values, and committing to a substance-free life.
  • When You Have Relationship Issues: ACT can improve communication, empathy, and conflict resolution in relationships, making it a valuable tool for couples or individuals dealing with relationship challenges.
  • When You’re Facing Work-Related Stress or Burnout: ACT techniques can help you navigate work-related stress, make values-based decisions in your career, and achieve a better work-life balance.
  • When You Have Phobias or Specific Fears: ACT can be used to confront and manage specific phobias, such as fear of flying, heights, or public speaking.
  • When You’re Going Through Major Life Transitions: ACT can assist you in navigating significant life changes, such as moving to a new city, starting a family, or adjusting to retirement.
  • When You Want to Enhance Your Overall Well-Being: Even if you don’t have a specific mental health diagnosis, you can seek ACT to enhance your overall well-being, increase self-awareness, and live a more meaningful and values-driven life.
  • When You’re Looking for Personal Growth: ACT is not just for addressing problems; it can also be used for personal growth and development. It can help you clarify your values, set meaningful goals, and take committed action to achieve them.

The decision to seek ACT should be based on your specific needs, goals, and circumstances. It’s essential to consult with a licenced and trained ACT therapist who can assess your situation and determine whether ACT is an appropriate approach for you. A therapist can work with you to develop a personalised treatment plan and guide you through the process of developing psychological flexibility and improving your overall well-being.

Which techniques and strategies are usually used by psychologists and therapists?

ACT incorporates several techniques and strategies to help individuals develop psychological flexibility and make positive changes in their lives. Here are some of the commonly used techniques by psychologists and therapists during ACT sessions:

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques are central to ACT. Psychologists often teach clients how to be fully present in the moment, observing their thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judgment. This includes mindfulness meditation exercises and informal mindfulness practices in daily life.
  • Cognitive Difusion: Cognitive difusion techniques help individuals detach from unhelpful or distressing thoughts. This involves seeing thoughts as mental events rather than literal truths. Techniques may include repeating a troubling thought until it loses its impact, visualising thoughts as objects, or using playful language to describe thoughts.
  • Acceptance: Psychologists encourage clients to accept their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, even when they are uncomfortable or distressing. This involves letting go of the struggle to control or eliminate these experiences and allowing them to be as they are.
  • Values Clarification: Therapists assist clients in identifying their core values—the things that are most important and meaningful to them in life. This process helps clients gain clarity about what they truly want to pursue and prioritise.
  • Committed Action: Psychologists work with clients to set specific, meaningful goals that align with their values. They help clients develop action plans and strategies to take steps towards these goals, even in the presence of discomfort or fear.
  • Self-As-Context: Self-as-context techniques help clients view themselves from a more detached perspective. This can involve exercises that promote the awareness of the observing self, emphasising the idea that you are more than your thoughts and emotions.
  • Metaphors and Stories: ACT therapists often use metaphors and stories to illustrate key concepts and principles. These metaphors can make complex ideas more accessible and relatable to clients.
  • Experiential Exercises: Psychologists may incorporate experiential exercises into sessions. These could include role-playing, visualisation, or other activities that allow clients to practice new skills and approaches in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Values-Based Behavioural Interventions: Clients are encouraged to take concrete actions that align with their values. This may involve setting up exposure exercises where individuals face their fears or challenges gradually while keeping their values in mind.
  • Homework Assignments: Between sessions, therapists often assign homework to reinforce learning and practice ACT techniques in real-life situations. Homework assignments may include journaling, mindfulness exercises, or specific behavioural tasks.
  • Values-Based Decision-Making: Clients learn to make decisions and choices that are in line with their values, which can lead to more fulfilling and purposeful actions.
  • Relational Mindfulness: In the context of relationships, therapists may teach clients how to apply mindfulness and acceptance principles to improve communication, understanding, and empathy in their interactions with others.

These techniques are applied in a flexible and individualised manner, tailored to each client’s unique needs and goals. ACT therapists work collaboratively with clients to help them develop greater psychological flexibility and improve their overall well-being.

How many sessions of ACT are suitable, and how long does ACT stay effective to support your wellbeing?

The number of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) sessions required, and the duration of its effectiveness can vary significantly from person to person and depend on several factors, including the nature and severity of your concerns, your goals, your level of commitment to the therapy process, and the expertise of the therapist. Here are some general considerations:

  • Number of Sessions: The number of ACT sessions needed can range from a few sessions to several months or more. Some people may benefit from short-term therapy to address specific issues, while others may require more extended treatment for chronic or complex concerns. In many cases, ACT is considered a brief therapy approach, often lasting around 8–12 sessions. However, it’s essential to remember that there’s no fixed number of sessions that guarantees improvement, as therapy is highly individualised.
  • Frequency of Sessions: The frequency of sessions can also vary. Some individuals may have weekly sessions, while others may have sessions less frequently, such as every other week. The frequency is typically determined in collaboration with your therapist and may be adjusted based on your progress.
  • Maintenance and Relapse Prevention: After the initial phase of ACT therapy, some individuals may benefit from periodic “booster” sessions to maintain and reinforce the skills and insights gained during therapy. These can help with relapse prevention and provide ongoing support for your well-being.
  • Long-Term Benefits: The effectiveness of ACT in supporting your well-being can be long-lasting, especially if you have acquired and internalised the skills and strategies taught in therapy. ACT is designed to help individuals develop psychological flexibility and the ability to adapt to life’s challenges, which can continue to serve them well beyond the end of formal therapy.
  • Continued Practice: It’s important to note that the benefits of ACT are often tied to your willingness to continue practicing mindfulness, acceptance, and other skills in your daily life. Integrating these principles into your routine and decision-making can help sustain the positive effects of therapy.
  • Individual Variability: Keep in mind that people respond differently to therapy, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long it takes to see improvement or how long the benefits last. Your therapist will work with you to set realistic goals and expectations based on your unique circumstances.

To optimise the effectiveness of ACT, it’s crucial to collaborate closely with a trained and experienced ACT therapist who can tailor the treatment to your specific needs. Regular communication with your therapist about your progress and any challenges you encounter will help ensure that you are receiving the appropriate level of support and guidance throughout your therapeutic journey.

Seeking the support of a psychologist is a brave step towards self-improvement and overcoming challenges that may seem insurmountable alone. Psychologists are skilled in offering guidance, support, and effective strategies to help you build courage and navigate through psychological barriers. If you find that a lack of courage is impacting your well-being or limiting your potential in personal and professional realms, it’s time to consider reaching out for professional assistance.

At the American Wellness Center in Dubai Healthcare City, our Psychology department is dedicated to providing you with the support and evidence-based techniques you need to foster courage and resilience. Our team of trained professionals is here to guide you through the process, helping you to overcome obstacles and enhance your overall quality of life. Contact us today to begin your journey towards a more courageous and empowered self.