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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based approach to developing psychological flexibilities. Moreover, ACT is a behavioral intervention that leverages mindfulness skills, self-acceptance, and coping strategies to overcome mental health challenges. The ACT approach acknowledges that all of us experience challenges or negative emotions and we have an instinctive reaction to control them; however, more often than not, we do this is a counterproductive way.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Dr. Steven Hayes developed the Relational Frame Theory, ultimately leading to the wide adoption of ACT. Dr. Hayes is clinical psychologist and has served as president of Division 25 of the American Psychological Association(APA), of the American Association of Applied and Preventative Psychology (AAAPP),the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT), and the Association for Contextual Behavioral Sciences (ACBS).

ACT offers a unique therapeutic modality for individuals to over come mental health challenges. The approach works within an evidence-based framework, however, individual practitioners mold the framework to meet the specific needs of their clients, ensuring a personalized and effective technique. Mindfulness-based practice is an essential component of ACT, allowing individuals to think inward, recognize their emotion, be open, and ultimately accept themselves.

ACT is rooted in psychological flexibility. Its approach can be broken down into six core processes that exist to promote positive behavioral change.

1.   Values: Each individual holds values that are unique to them. These can range from family to social connections to spirituality to professional development. Assessing values and deriving goals from these values occurs at the beginning of ACT in order to tailor the approach and understand the needs and appropriate path for each individual.

2.    Cognitive Defusion: Defusion is a termed developed from ACT that refers to the ability for one to change how they react to, process, and understand emotion. Specifically, defusion exists to lessen the negative impact of words on behavioral processes—instead of accepting all thoughts as true, one is able to acknowledge them simply as thoughts through evaluating and processing.

3.    Acceptance: Acceptance is a critical component of ACT. This process allows individuals to experience struggle, pain, or negative thoughts without instinctively avoiding it. It is important to accept negative emotions as normal and allow them to occur. The conceptualization of acceptance progresses individuals towards their goals, or what they uniquely value.

4.    Present Moment Awareness: This process is rooted in mindfulness-based practice, allowing the individual to focus on the present as opposed to distractions from the past or potential future. Awareness of the present emphasizes the idea of not being a culmination of your past experiences but being an active participant in your current experience.

5.    Self as Context: Closely connected with present moment awareness, self as context refers to the ability for one to notice themselves as a ‘noticer’. This allows for an individual to acknowledge and detach from an emphasis on their perception of self and focus on positive actions and choices instead.

6.    Committed Action: The final, and most significant, process of ACT involves committed action. This refers to an individual making an active and committed choice to bring themselves closer to their values. Ultimately, committed action becomes a pattern of cognitive behavior to reinforce all processes of ACT, allowing for a happier, mentally stronger, and more meaningful quality of life.

It’s critical to acknowledge that ACT is a healing process, and it can take time for each individual to meet certain milestones and goals on their path towards wellness. Additionally, ACT employs a unique approach for everyone—it’s important to recognize that tools and strategies that are effective for some, may not apply for others.

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Charlie Health offers ACT, in combination with many other evidence-based therapeutic approaches, for teens and young adults in order to achieve sustainable healing. Charlie Health’s team of licensed professionals tailor all treatment programs to meet the unique needs of each individual. If you or your loved one is struggling with mental health, it’s important to reach out for help. You are not alone—Charlie Health is here to support you.

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