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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT helps clients learn to stop avoiding, denying and struggling with emotions and, instead, accept deeper feelings as appropriate responses to life situations. Clients come to accept their hardships and commit to making necessary changes in their attitudes and emotional states, regardless of what is going on in their lives and how they feel about it.

ACT was developed in the 1980s by psychologist Steven C. Hayes, emerging from his own experience with panic attacks. Hayes vowed to accept himself and his experiences, stating, “We as a culture seem to be dedicated to the idea that ‘negative’ human emotions need to be fixed, managed or changed—not experienced as part of a whole life.” 

ACT theory suggests it is counterproductive to try controlling painful emotions or psychological experiences—suppression only leading to more distress. Through a step-by-step process, ACT provides valid alternatives to thinking a certain way. Acceptance, mindfulness and values are key psychological tools toward transformative change. 

Clients learn to listen to self-talk, specifically about traumatic events, problematic relationships, physical limitations or other challenges. With the therapist’s help, they can avoid repetitive thought patterns, address their issues through positive behavioral change or accept their issues for what they are. 

ACT can help treat:

ACT’s core processes 

A commitment to stop fighting one’s past or destructive emotions is a first step toward practicing more confident and optimistic behaviors, based on personal values and goals. ACT’s core processes involve the following:

Acceptance involves acknowledging and embracing the full range of thoughts and emotions, rather than trying to avoid, deny or alter them.

Cognitive defusion mitigates the harmful effects of distressing thoughts and feelings by distancing oneself or reacting differently. Techniques include observing a thought without judgment, singing the thought or labeling any automatic responses.

Being present practices mindfulness, while observing thoughts and feelings without judging or trying to change them. Experiencing events clearly and directly promotes behavior change.

Self as context expands notions of self and identity, recognizing that individuals are more than their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Personal values encompass striving to live according to chosen principles, in contrast to behaviors or actions dictated by a desire to avoid distress or adhere to others’ expectations.

Committed action aligns personal values with concrete actions toward positive change, involving goal setting, exposure to difficult thoughts or experiences and skill development.


Read more about Evidence-Based Treatments offered at CFI…



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