Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a third wave behavioural therapy that uses acceptance skills, mindfulness and commitment to behaviour change to develop psychological flexibility and helps clarify and direct values-guided behaviour. The aim of ACT is to maximise human potential for a rich, full and meaningful life.
ACT is based on Relational Frame Therapy, a comprehensive theory of language and cognition. ACT differs from traditional cognitive behaviour therapy in that instead of teaching people to control their thoughts, feelings, actions and other private events, ACT teaches us to notice, accept and embrace them while moving in the direction of your values. ACT teaches you to let go of ‘debating’ with thoughts. It does not attempt to directly change, challenge or stop unwanted thoughts or feelings (as in cognitive behaviour therapy) but to notice and let go of unhelpful and distracting thoughts while moving towards your values in life. Thus, Mindfulness and Values are key components to ACT.
The core conception of ACT is that psychological suffering is usually caused by experiential avoidance and cognitive entanglement. Accepting thoughts and detaching from them reduces human suffering. For example, if someone is getting caught up thinking, ‘’I’m a bad person’’ they might be instructed to say ‘’I am having the thought that I’m a bad person’’. This effectively separates the person from the cognition, thereby reducing its negative charge. As well as defusing from unhelpful thoughts it helps us to see that thoughts are thoughts driven by fear and not facts.