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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

The more our stories are driven by fear, the more imprisoned we become in our confined sense of self.” -Tara Brach-

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or “ACT” is a newer form of therapy that evolved from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The goal of ACT is to create a “values driven life,” or a life that is rich and meaningful, while learning to accept the pain that inevitably comes along with it. This therapy is about taking action in our lives that is guided by our values. It involves helping people to accept what is out of their control and to focus on what makes them feel deeply authentic. With ACT, we can find our way back to the essence of who we are when we're not entangled with our stories. 

ACT teaches mindfulness and acceptance skills as an effective way to handle struggles such as depression and anxiety. It is through mindfulness skills and the ability to step back from our thoughts and reactions that we can create a meaningful life. 

ACT aims to increase our "psychological flexibility." When we are more psychologically flexible, we are more connected in the present moment, connected to our personal values and goals, open to our experiences as they are, and engaging in committed actions that help bring us closer toward who and where we want to be. Unwanted emotions are a part of being human, but with ACT we can learn to relate to our emotions in more compassionate ways.

What Are The 6 core Processes Of ACT?


There's a saying that "what we resist persists." It's natural that we resist painful and unwanted emotions. Avoidance is a natural response to fear, pain and shame. We don't want to feel them. With avoidance, our lives can gradually narrow and we can get further away from what makes us feel like ourselves. When we have unpleasant emotions and thoughts, we usually fight against them. Acceptance doesn't mean that you learn to like something that's difficult. It means that you stop fighting against it. Acceptance means to let go of the struggle. 

Cognitive Defusion

This means stepping back and seeing your thoughts rather than being consumed by them. For example, you might have the thought "I'm not good enough" and start to feel sad. With defusion you would practice distancing from the thought. So, instead of being consumed by the thought you'd say to yourself something like, "right now I'm having the thought that I'm not good enough." The thought then becomes like a picture or object in our minds, and we can watch it pass by. 

Being Present

ACT promotes a practice of present-moment awareness. This means that you are focused on what is happening wtih you right now. When our minds are caught up in ruminating about the past or worrying about the future we are vulnerable to being triggered into our negative stories and the feelings that come along with them. Being present-focused helps us to get out of our stories of past or future worries, and become more psychologically flexible, resilient, and open.

Self as Context

In ACT this is often referred to as the "transcendent" sense of self. This is also known as the "observing ego." Beyond our thoughts, beliefs, stories, emotions, and reactions is a self that is always present. In ACT we work to cultivate this sense of awareness. The self can step back and notice our thoughts and how you react to what is happening to you. The idea of a transcendent self is a part of many therapies and traditions. In Yoga Nidra this is known as "witness awareness." There's a self that can witness the flow of our minds and emotions. In Internal Family Systems Therapy this is known as "self-energy." The collective idea is that we are not our thoughts, our feelings, our experiences, or our sensations. There is a self in all of us that trancends these. 

Defining Values

In ACT we use the term "values" to refer the deep inner longings that are the most important to us. Values refer to actions that give our lives meaning because they are aligned with our core selves. Values are not goals in that we never “accomplish” a value. Instead, values are like our North Star, as they help us make choices based on the direction in which we want to go in our lives. When we connect with our values, we are able to move our lives in meaningful directions, even in the face of difficult or painful experiences. Values are very personal. They are not based on what others expect of us, or what we think we "should" be doing. Values are the actions we take when we follow our hearts.

Committed Action 

Committed action means living in alignment with our values even when we have difficult thoughts and feelings. In ACT, we help people to notice, without judgment, whether their behaviors are going "toward" or "away" from their values. When we cultivate this awareness we can choose to take actions to build a values-driven life that is rich and meaningful.

ACT involves helping you to notice and name thoughts and make room for all emotions, instead of challenging and restructuring our thinking, which is a regular practice in CBT. As a mindfulness and yoga practitioner, ACT aligns with the processes of meditation: a practice of being open, curious, non-judgmental, accepting what is, and present-focused. The name ACT sums it up - it's about  a commitment to act in a way that is true to your heartfelt sense of self.