Topics Covered in This Post
- What is the goal of ACT?
- The link with rational framework theory.
- he difference between ACT and mindfulness.
- Can ACT be done alone?
- What are the benefits of ACT?
What is the Purpose/Goal of ACT?
The goal of ACT is to help us live our lives more fully. We waste too much time worrying about what we ‘should’ be doing rather than doing what we want to do. ACT is about identifying what is truly important to us (our values) so that we can prioritize. It recognizes how certain thinking patterns keep us trapped in a less than ideal life, and we learn how to deal with these thoughts. It teaches us how to accept the things we can’t control (acceptance) while efficiently directing our energy towards the things we do control (committed action).
ACT can be helpful for those of us dealing with issues such as anxiety, substance abuse, chronic pain, eating disorders, depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder. We will examine the benefits of this approach below, but let’s begin by looking at where it comes from and how it works.
ACT and Rational Framework Theory
Rational framework theory focuses on the link between human language and behavior (https://www.newharbinger.com/blog/professional/relational-frame-theory-101-an-introduction/ ). It looks at how language frames our experience of life in such a way as to make it more manageable. Unfortunately, this framing has negative consequences as well because it can keep us trapped in maladaptive behaviors and stuck in a limited view of life. ACT grew out of rational framework theory as an approach that can overcome the limitations placed on us by language (thinking patterns).
“The core of the ACT approach is built upon the idea that human language gives rise to both human achievement and human misery.”
Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, & Kelly G. Wilson - Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change
The Difference Between ACT and Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a way of relating to our mental life that has been around for thousands of years*. It is mostly associated with Buddhism where it was used as a tool to gain insight. ACT is a new therapy that was developed in the 1980s. It combines mindfulness with other therapeutic processes to help the client enjoy a fuller life (https://psychcentral.com/lib/whats-the-difference-between-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy-mindfulness-based-cognitive-therapy#2) . Traditionally, mindfulness is developed in formal meditation, but there is not need to meditate when practicing ACT.
*It is worth pointing out that mindfulness is something all humans do naturally and so it does not belong to any particular philosophy or spiritual practice (e.g. if you notice that you are easily distracted, you are being mindful). Approaches like Buddhism deserve credit because they were the first to deliberately utilize this ability. So when we say that mindfulness has been around for thousands of years, we mean the practice of mindfulness – the ability has been around for far longer.
Can ACT Be Done Alone? Can I Learn it From a Book?
There are some good books available that explain ACT, and many of the worksheets/workbooks can be found online for free. So, it is possible to make progress with this approach without a therapist. There are good reasons for not going it alone though.
ACT can be confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the territory, so having somebody there who can explain things is going to be a great help. More importantly, a therapist can guide you through the process and provide feedback on your progress. ACT is not going to be the best approach for everyone, so having a therapist there to assess the situation is important.
The Six Core Therapeutic Processes of ACT
- Contact with the present moment because the only thing that we can really change is what’s happening now.
- Acceptance is a key component of ACT, but it is not about accepting everything that happens to us. It is more about working with what cannot be avoided in a way that improves our situation.
- Cognitive Defusion is about changing the way we relate to our thoughts. It is about taking a backward step so we can be more objective about thinking.
- Self as context uses the perspective of the ‘observing self’. In spiritual circles this is sometimes referred to as ‘the witness’.
- Values are the things that give our life meaning.
- Committed action based on our values.
The Importance of Values in ACT
“ACT gets you in touch with what really matters in the big picture: your heart’s deepest desires for how you want to behave and what you want to do during your time on the planet.”
Russ Harris - ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Values are different than goals because they are about who we want to be rather than where we want to go next. There is not any end point with values - they are always there to guide our lives. The most important thing about values is that they are personal, so there is no right or wrong when it comes to identifying them.
Examples of values might include:
- To be honest.
- To base my life on what is important to me.
- To be an independent person.
- To focus more on experiences rather than possessions.
- To be intimate in my relationships (rather than guarded).
- To stand up for justice/fairness.
- To be a good friend.
- To keep challenging myself.
- To express my creativity.
- To have fun.
- To work hard.
- To lead other people.
- To connect with something bigger (spirituality).
ACT uses worksheets to help us to identify our values. It can include questions such as:
- What do you admire in other people?
- What do you want your life to be about?
- What motivates you?
- What do you want more than anything else?
- Who are your role models?
Values are important because we only have a short time on the planet, and basing our life on what matters to us will make the journey far more satisfying, rewarding, and enjoyable. These values can also be used as a motivational tool in ACT sessions and in life in general.
The Benefits of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- Because it is based around our own personal values, this approach is more likely to serve our needs and help take us to where we want to be in life.
- The ‘T’ in ACT can stand for ‘therapy’ or ‘training’. This means that we can approach it as therapy or training depending on our worldview and what we want to achieve.
- It can be used by anyone – it is not just for people dealing with issues like anxiety or depression.
- ACT aims to increase our mental resilience and makes us psychologically flexible (this flexibility is of huge importance because different situations demand different responses).
- It offers a way to regulate emotions and negative thinking patterns.
- The six core therapeutic processes in ACT provide us with a set of tools that we can use in response to what is happening. Different situations can require different tools. It also means that in ACT sessions we can focus on specific processes depending on where we are that day (e.g. if we are lacking motivation, the focus might be on values).
- It recognizes negative experiences as a part of life, and it teaches us how to deal with these challenges.
- ACT could be said to contain the best of both psychology and spirituality. It teaches acceptance where this is appropriate and commitment to action where this will improve the situation.
- It provides many of the benefits of mindfulness with the need for a formal meditation practice.
- It may be something we learn from a therapist or trainer, but we can continue this practice by ourselves for the rest of our lives. B
Begin Your ACT Journey at 180 Sanctuary
ACT is one of the therapies/trainings we offer at 180 Sanctuary. Our program can be tailored to fit your exact needs. You can begin your ACT journey while soaking up the natural beauty of Northern Thailand. Contact us now to find out more.