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Acceptance-Based Cognitive Therapy (ABCT)

A Cognitive Therapy Approach

ABCT is a relatively new and promising form of treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), one of the most common anxiety disorders—characterized by stress, tension and chronic and persistent worry—which is often nonresponsive to treatment. It is also used for depression and such negative emotion states as shame, anger or regret, as well as other transdiagnostic conditions. 

ABCT is based on the theory that individuals with GAD maintain anxiety by overreacting and over-identifying with problematic internal experiences, such as thoughts, feelings, urges, images and bodily sensations. This reactivity, felt as unacceptable, intolerable or threatening, can elicit strong urges to escape or avoid these experiences. Paradoxically, this in turn can increase internal distress and interference with everyday life. 

Research on ABCT

    • Individuals with GAD have higher levels of avoidance in the external world, compared to those without GAD. 
    • Individuals with GAD report living less consistently with their values and have a lower quality of life than do individuals without GAD. 
    • While traditional CBT can be effective for many with GAD, only about half of those treated end up functioning at a high level. 
    • Young individuals receiving ABCT have shown significant improvements in worry, anxiety symptoms, quality of life and GAD severity. 
    • ABCT has led to significant changes in accepting internal experiences, engaging in valued actions and improving quality of life.

ABCT treatment

“Acceptance-based” specifically refers to psychological acceptance of distressing thoughts, images, feelings and sensations, without attempts to diminish or avoid them. ABCT treatment helps young people with significant distress and psychosocial impairment develop a more accepting attitude and willingness toward these internal experiences, which ultimately decreases the negative reactivity and cycle of anxiety. They gradually become more alert about their internal experiences and increase their external engagement in school, work and life.

Learn more about Cognitive Therapies offered at CFI…



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