Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, more commonly known as ACT, is an experiential therapeutic approach focused on strengthening “psychological flexibility.” Psychological flexibility simply means the ability to be present, open, and act in ways in our lives that feel important and meaningful. It also means being able to acknowledge the pain and discomfort that comes along with life and the human experience. The intention of ACT is to support being able to navigate all parts of life in a flexible and connected way.
There are six primary processes explored in ACT that client and therapist can move between to explore this concept of increasing psychological flexibility. These six processes are:
- Contact with the Present Moment – Practicing bringing awareness to current experiences in our internal and/or external environments. Contacting the present moment through experiential exercises can build self-awareness and create a shift from a common norm of being engrossed in past and/or future thoughts without much connection to what we’re experiencing in the here and now.
- Acceptance – Making room for painful or uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, memories, experiences, etc. we might be having. The goal is not to “like” the uncomfortable or painful experience, but to create space for the knowledge that life encompasses a broad range of experiences, including painful ones.
- Values – Exploring what is important to us in our lives that we want to engage with in an on-going way. Exploring values can act as a guide for our actions and move us toward how we want to live.
- Defusion – Practicing ways to step back and create some space between ourselves and whatever challenging thoughts, beliefs, emotions, memories, etc. we might have.
- Self-as-Context – Also known as the “observing self,” which means the part of us that is aware and can take notice of what we’re thinking, feeling, and doing. When we’re able to observe ourselves we can bring more openness and curiosity to our experiences and approach them in a different way.
- Committed Action – Practicing moving in a direction toward the values we wish to engage with in our lives. This can look like whatever actions a client might want to begin to actively engage in in their day-to-day lives, or slowly beginning to practice within counselling sessions.
ACT aims to encompass client-centred themes of self-compassion, normalization of painful internal and external experiences, and non-pathologizing language. For example, in ACT an individual seeking therapeutic support is not seen as “broken,” but instead the focus might be on the stuck or fused rules, beliefs, etc. that have maybe served a good purpose in the past, but have started to hinder the ability to live life presently in a flexible way. The work done in session is aimed toward creating space for the helpful and the challenging parts of life. ACT is different from other typical talk therapies due to its very actionable focus and aim towards practicing new skills in session.