What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

At the heart of ACT is the concept of “psychological flexibility”. The more psychologically flexible you are, the easier it will be to handle difficult thoughts and feelings, and the better you will be at taking action to make your life rich and meaningful. Psychological flexibility is developed in ACT by focusing on six key principles that work together. These are defusion, acceptance, contact with the present moment, the observing self, values and committed action.

Defusion means relating to thoughts differently, so they affect and influence you less. As you learn to defuse from unpleasant and unhelpful thoughts, such as harsh self-criticism and self-limiting beliefs, they will stop stressing, worrying and depressing you and will have a much-reduced influence on your behaviour.

Acceptance involves making space for unpleasant sensations and feelings rather than trying to ignore, suppress or push them away. As you open up and create room for these feelings, you will find they affect you far less and pass much quicker, instead of staying around and distressing you.

Contact with the present moment involves concentrating and engaging fully with what you’re experiencing or doing right here, right now, as opposed to dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

The observing self is a powerful part of the mind which Western Psychology hasn’t paid much attention to until recently. Getting to know this part of yourself additionally helps to change your relationship with difficult thoughts and feelings.

Values are an essential aspect of building a meaningful life. Your values reflect what is most important to you: the kind of person you want to be, what is significant to you and what you want to stand for in life. Values give our lives direction and motivate us to make changes that matter to us.

Committed actions need to be taken in order to create a rich and meaningful life. They are actions which are aligned with our values and are taken repeatedly, regardless of how many times we fail or go off track.

The first four principles presented here are termed in ACT “mindfulness skills”. I have written a post previously on what mindfulness is.

As you apply the above principles in your life, your psychological flexibility will increase. When psychological flexibility is present, we can adapt to situations with awareness, openness and focus, and take committed action which is guided by our values. A growing amount of research now shows the significant benefits of psychological flexibility in the workplace, in personal life and for physical and psychological health.

Please contact me if you would like to book an initial free 30-minute consultation to explore whether ACT could help you. I am able to offer sessions in Exeter or Newton Abbot.

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