Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Developed by psychologist Steven C. Hayes, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of contextual cognitive therapy that utilizes elements of CBT and mindfulness to help individuals develop greater psychological flexibility, which is a marker of mental health. Furthermore, ACT invites each person to reconnect with cherished values. This process leads to creating a healthy vision for one’s life in recovery. By committing to this vision through behavioral change, good things can happen, and URC will be with you every step of the way.

ACT is a third-wave cognitive behavioral therapy approach that focuses on staying in contact with the present moment, even when that moment is ambivalent, unpleasant and/or despairing. Developed by Steven C. Hayes to address the issue of experiential avoidance, ACT observes our tendency to resist, wrestle with, and eliminate negative or painful thoughts and feelings and how these behaviors impact the intensity and rigidity of what we are trying to avoid. The opposite of this rigidity and avoidance is psychological flexibility, which Hayes calls a marker of mental health. When we act with psychological flexibility, we understand that thoughts and feelings aren’t necessarily real or true, and we consider the functionality or usefulness of a particular thought/feeling.

ACT is called a contextual cognitive therapy in that it recognizes how we engage in cognitive distortions that impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In the language of ACT, we become very fused to certain beliefs. The process of changing one’s thoughts – or one’s relationship to those thoughts that cannot be changed – is called cognitive defusion. The act of defusing from rigidly held beliefs must be done with willingness and acceptance.

Emphasizing mindfulness, ACT seeks to create the observing distance and space necessary for us to remain in contact with uncomfortable thoughts (i.e., I want a drink/I hate myself) and feelings (i.e., depression/anxiety) without trying to change them (i.e., taking a drink/using a substance). Pushing away thoughts and feelings is known as experiential avoidance and, according to ACT, this avoidance leads to increased suffering (i.e., increased substance use).

Once we have accepted acceptance, so to speak, we can begin to turn our recovery focus to identifying our deepest values. Or what we might think of as our individual True North. Identifying one’s values is the first step of a three-fold process. Next comes the work of creating a vision of where you want your life to be, based on those values. And, finally, each of us must determine how vested are we in committing to making the changes necessary to achieve that vision. We call this approach to recovery “the 3 V’s.” Values. Vision. Vested.

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