Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT Therapy is one of my favorite types of therapy because it takes into consideration a person’s sense of what matters most to them. As a seminarian, I was more interested in psychology, meditation, and identifying values than theology or ministry. I pursued a doctorate in psychology and religious traditions and became fascinated with ACT therapy when working with clients.
The goal of ACT is to fully accept your present circumstances and engage in behaviors that will help you achieve your goals. One of the big tasks of the therapist is to not only help clients identify their values, but also obtain from them a commitment to live by those defined values.
This model of therapy has also been supportive of my work with people recovering from various compulsions or destructive dependencies – alcohol, drugs, technology, etc. The good news is that these therapies are gaining popularity. I believe the ACT model has the capacity to help individuals who are in deep psychological pain and that mindfulness – nonjudgmental awareness – is something from which everyone can benefit.
Defining ACT Therapy
ACT is based on the theory that rigid attempts to control internal states, thoughts, and feelings, and other forms of experiential avoidance contribute to symptom development and maintenance of anxiety and self-injury. As Freud’s most famous student Carl G. Jung would say, “What we resist persists.”
The ACT method includes three components:
(a) LEARNING about the exacerbation of anxiety symptoms and problem behaviors through rigid attempts at experiential avoidance,
(b) INTRODUCING ACCEPTANCE and the willingness to experience anxiety-related sensations and cognitions as an alternative to experiential control, through the practice of intentional and non-judgmental paying attention to one’s thoughts, feelings, images, and bodily sensations (including aversive symptoms of anxiety) and learning to see thoughts as an ongoing process distinct from self rather than merely an event with literal meaning (cognitive defusing), and
(c) CO-CREATING in between-session exercises incorporating awareness of the present, internal experience, and cognitive defusion exercises while engaging in exercises that give rise to them (clinical trial, 2018).
“People become attached to their burdens sometimes more than the burdens are attached to them.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
Harris (2009) explains that cognitive defusion means:
- Looking at thoughts rather than from thoughts
- Noticing thoughts rather than becoming caught up in thoughts
- Letting thoughts come and go rather than holding onto them
Purpose of Cognitive Defusion
The general purpose of cognitive defusion is to:
- Notice the true nature of thoughts – they are words or images in your mind
- Respond to thoughts in terms of taking workable action – take action based on what “works” rather than what is “true”
- Notice the actual process of thinking – recognize that thoughts do not dictate behaviors
- Use cognitive defusion when thoughts are acting as a barrier to living in accordance with your true values
How attached are you to your thoughts? Cognitive defusion does not imply that your thoughts are somehow “bad.” The ability to think and process thoughts allows us to function effectively in life. Patterns of thinking become problematic when they are causing significant distress or struggle. You can make the choice to begin to consciously notice your thoughts, rather than becoming entangled and fused with them. Their “power” over you is a self-imposed illusion. How long are you willing to continue to struggle?
If you’re eager to practice working with your challenges with an ACT Therapy model, I’m here. I work with parents, couples, and teens wanting to connect with themselves and each other in more satisfying ways. My specialties include working with addiction-in-the-family/relapse prevention, couples needing discernment, and adults negotiating lifecycle transitions. I help clients increase their communication skills and strengthen their problem-solving strategies. For those in the second-half-of-life transition, she uses the psychospiritual discernment tool called Enneagram. My clinical degree in Couples and Family Therapy came from Northcentral University, my Master’s in Divinity from Princeton Seminary, and my Doctorate in Psychology and Religion from Drew University.
What are other compassion or mindfulness-based therapies?
According to Gerald Corey, author of the book Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, mindfulness and acceptance-based approaches include components like mindfulness, acceptance, spirituality, values, and meditation. Here, mindfulness and ACT Therapy go hand-in-hand. The goal is to accept reality as it is while being non-judgmental and mindful of the present moment
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a type of therapy sometimes used to treat individuals with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. It helps people with suicidal thoughts learn how to tolerate distress and regulate their emotions while maintaining meaningful relationships. Keep in mind that DBT has been demonstrated to help many individuals, including those who struggle with substance dependence, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and self-harm. MCS Therapists Kaitlyn Speer and Rebecca Williams are trained as DBT practitioners.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR was developed by Kabat-Zinn, who introduced Buddhist practices of mindfulness to western medicine. It’s an eight-week program that was initially created to help relieve medical patients of stress, pain, and illness. There is a heavy emphasis on formal and informal meditation practices. In some form or another, all MCS therapists utilize Mindfulness methods in their work with clients.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
MBCT is fascinating. There is a heavy emphasis on self-compassion and treating yourself with kindness. The therapy is popular to help those suffering from depression. The typical format is an eight-week group treatment, although it differs depending on the client’s needs. What I like about MBCT is that it helps you realize that your thoughts are simply thoughts, and you don’t have to react to them, because that usually increases your suffering. Learn more here.