Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Are you thinking about trying Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT Therapy)? Have you tried other things that didn’t help as much as you were hoping, and you still feel like you aren’t achieving your goals in life? Do you set up a plan and then, almost immediately feel your negative thoughts and emotions sabotaging your efforts?
Does it feel like your thoughts are monsters that can pop out at any time and derail your best intentions? Do you feel like you are driving along FINALLY making some good progress, blink and you are on the side of the road completely stopped and giving up?
What is ACT Therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT Therapy) is almost the exact opposite of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). We won’t be trying to define the type of bad thinking you are doing, find alternative/ balanced thoughts or setting up experiments.
We will work on acceptance of your current thought patterns and ways to defuse from those thoughts – not change them or stop them – but accept the thoughts and help your brain learn that a “thought is just a thought”. The power or emotional punch those thoughts use to have can be decreased or reduced completely. You will also start noticing that these emotions are not bad. It is okay—dare I say—normal to feel emotions when situations arise.
At some point in time, your mind and body decided the best way to cope was thinking passively or negatively. We will work with the negative thoughts – deeply accepting them and allowing them to stick around but not have as much energy as before.
You will learn several mindfulness techniques to help you stay in the present moment. Most of our thoughts are about the past or future. We can be depressed, regretful, or humiliated by past events. Our mind wants to worry over and try to protect us from experiencing these emotions in the future. We do not think anything will turn out the way we hope in the future. In ACT Therapy, we will learn to be mindful of those thoughts as thoughts, accept those thoughts, and come back to the present moment where none of the bad things have happened.
We will practice accepting ourselves as we are and who we are becoming. We will discover the difference between reality and fantasy—leading to psychological flexibility about ourselves. Who we really are now—not our “conceptualized self” that is either negative or unrealistic about what transformations we can make in the next 3-6 months. We will learn to change a few things at a time.
We will learn about the difference between goals and values. We will practice pursuing our values rather than checking goals off our lists. Goals have a place, but it is in the pursuit of our values that we find meaning and peace.
Who should use ACT Therapy?
Does it feel like no matter how much you try to control your emotions, they become more intense? Do you find yourself haunted by the same thoughts over and over, no matter how you try to stop the thoughts and just think positively? Do you mock the positive thoughts you try to have? Do you find yourself so stuck and unable to get moving toward your life’s dreams?
It can be so difficult to keep a positive outlook and keep moving toward your vision of a great life. You try to whip yourself into shape and keep moving, but you find yourself again off on the side of the road feeling so discouraged. Your anxiety gets the best of you, and you want to run, fight, or shut down all at the same time. All those depressive thoughts just weigh you down, so you cannot get off the couch to do what you promised yourself you would do tonight.
Control is the problem. You stop everything to fight with your own emotions or thoughts which either drives up your anxiety or sends you down the slide into depression. Using ACT Therapy, we can teach you how to stay on the path and not “try” to control your thoughts or emotions. Soon you will stop feeling stuck.
Good new! ACT Therapy can be helpful to feel fulfilled as you pursue your values of relationships, family, recreation, leisure, spirituality, education, or citizenship/ environmental issues.
What does a typical ACT Therapy session feel like?
The first session is an intake when the therapist asks many types of questions to get to know you as a whole person in addition to what you are specifically concerned about addressing during therapy. In knowing more about you, it can save time in the long run to make us aware of any potential areas that might interfere with your progress.
In the first few ACT Therapy sessions, we will be talking about ways you have tried to control your feelings and thoughts. We will use metaphors to learn how control does not work, and that language tends to make things worse. There are some experiential exercises to help you get in touch with how your mind tries to help—but does not. One of these experiential exercises is called “Tug-of War with a Monster” in which we will see how it feels to fight with our own thoughts.
Next, we will work on acceptance and defusion. I know you want to change things, but acceptance…I mean radical acceptance is the key to feeling free. We will explore the difference between pretend acceptance that still tries to control your mind and truly accepting things as they are.
Values are the fun items to explore in ACT Therapy! How well do you know what you truly, deeply value in your life? Not the things you think your parents want, or what your friends or society says, but what works for you—who you were created to be. What is your life purpose?
Then, we will keep weaving these together so you can continue actively accepting your thoughts & emotions. You will be able to stay committed to your values and drive that bus down the road with peace, joy, and love.
Will there be any homework?
There are no specific worksheets or reading you have to do in ACT Therapy. Often, clients will tell me that the experiential exercises we did together in session stayed with them, and they kept pondering about them throughout the week. Also, the use of story and metaphor carries through the week with clients longer than just talking. If you like worksheets, of course, I have a few that you could use to remind you of our work together. Some other worksheets can help you explore your values. This is your therapy, and we can customize it to fit your preferences.
What is ACT Therapy useful to treat?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was originally researched to treat deep mental suffering and the avoidance that goes with it. Here are a few of those places where we experience profound pain that could be helped with ACT Therapy:
OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Addiction, substance use
Can ACT Therapy be harmful?
This is a gentle approach to any of your concerns. At worst, clients have expressed some frustration because it takes their brain a little while to stop all the analyzing and practice accepting themselves and life. The harm is continuing to suffer by not being aware of your values and continuing to please others at the expense of your true self.
Can I just do ACT Therapy on my own?
Sure! There are many good workbooks out on the market that can lead you through all the steps of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. And what I have noticed is that people who do those books, still wind up coming in to talk to a therapist. They tried to do what the book is saying, and it is just not working. They are still anxious and still having negative thoughts. Often, it takes a therapist to observe and ask skilled questions to get to the root of your habits when it comes to your thoughts and feelings and attempts to control both. Remember—Control is the problem. When you purchase that workbook to do it yourself, that might actual be the problem rather than the solution.
Will ACT Therapy work for me?
Yes! Many people have found it extremely helpful to be able to do these mindfulness exercises to catch themselves more quickly when they try to control their inner experiences. They can stop, notice thoughts and emotions, so they can move to acceptance. They can greatly reduce their suffering, enjoy this moment, and embrace their values!
We work so hard to eliminate suffering by eliminating anything that causes us pain. As a skilled ACT Therapist, I will help you learn the difference between those things that need to be accepted, those that can be changed and how to do both.
I would be happy to consult with you further so that together we can explore your negative thought system that keeps you stuck, and help you stop engaging with the thought monsters. Let’s work together to start you driving down the road to the life that has purpose & value to you.