Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

“To take a new direction, we must let go of an old one.” – Unkown

As a member of the Women’s Mental Health Consortium here in NYC, I frequently attend lectures and trainings aimed at helping therapists to enhance their skills and stay up-to-date on best practices.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

At the most recent training, we learned about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidenced-based model designed to help people attain greater fulfillment by accepting their struggles and committing to daily action. One idea that really stuck with me was this notion that “happiness is temporary”.

The training was unique in that there was a strong emphasis on a non-pathologizing view of mental health and a focus on accepting that human suffering is an inevitable part of life. The training also challenged the concept of normalcy and offered a more meaning-driven definition of health and wellness.

In a culture where we are often encouraged to suppress the bad parts or made to feel that our next purchase will be just the thing to finally make us happy– that once we get that promotion, that partner, that home, that…whatever we’ll finally be really happy—the tenets of ACT felt like a radical shift.

Philosophy Behind Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

The foundational goal of ACT is to help clients acknowledge and accept struggle in their lives AND make life-enhancing choices.

In a powerful demonstration, the trainer and a volunteer therapist (who shared her own personal struggle with anxiety) used a scarf to represent the relationship between her and her struggle while the trainer represented her actual anxiety. The trainer informed us that the ground in between them was a deep dark hole.

As they pulled the scarf in opposite directions, we observed the therapist’s problematic interaction with her anxiety. The trainer helped us understand that it isn’t about trying to change the fact that the anxiety exists or even how to get rid of it, but that she could feel the anxiety and still take steps toward a better future. She could notice that the anxiety is present, but not give it so much power in her daily life. Instead she could acknowledge that it’s there and choose to move in the direction of her values.

We all worry. You could experience worry about an upcoming presentation for example– Instead of focusing on the worry itself, focus solely on the value the talk will provide for your audience.

Act from an empowered stance and notice the importance and uniqueness of you. Exploring and identifying values is foundational in ACT. Uncovering what you truly value can help you move in a more positive direction and create deeper meaning in your life.

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