Whether or not we want to admit it, life is always going to be full of complicated and difficult situations, some of which are within our control but many of which aren’t. How we react to and perceive these situations can sometimes define the trajectory of our lives and lead us down a number of paths. The poet Robert Frost once said, “The only way out is through”, which seems to be a perfectly succinct metaphor for this journey we’re all on called life. Basically, it means, the only way to come out of a difficult situation is to face it with great conviction and work toward a positive outcome.

Through various forms of behaviour and thought altering therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), you can find the balance and strength you’ve been looking for to live authentically according to your personal core values.

What Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

We all have negative thoughts from time to time, whether they’re about ourselves, other people, or certain circumstances in our lives. This is perfectly normal.

CBT focuses on helping you identify, recognize, and ultimately work toward changing negative or destructive thoughts and understand that they’re just intangible thoughts and nothing more. This form of therapy postulates that it’s the individual’s interpretations of life’s events that lead to negative experiences and thoughts rather than the events themselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong or negative about the things that happen to us or in our lives. Instead, it’s our interpretations and relationships with these events that result in negative thoughts, emotions, and sometimes even actions. According to CBT, it’s our expectations and perspectives of the world around us that drive our behavioural motivations, whether they’re good or bad.

For instance, if you go through life with a constantly cynical outlook, then you’re more likely to attract negative experiences or only perceive events from a negative perspective. But if you actively try to see the positive side or silver lining in each situation regardless of how negative it may seem on the surface, then you have a higher chance of getting something good out of it. Allowing yourself to become utterly consumed in negative thoughts can lead to a lack of productivity and fulfillment. It’s a force that hinders you from moving forward in life and living authentically to achieve your personal and professional goals.

What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

ACT focuses on helping you recognize and identify negative and destructive thoughts or emotions without necessarily trying to change their impact or influence on your life. Rather, the goal is to simply accept these experiences and emotions as a normal part of life and in turn, confront them appropriately in a direct and natural manner.

The point of ACT is to encourage you to accept all of your emotions and thoughts regardless of whether they’re negative or positive and commit to living a values-based life. Under this form of treatment, the only way to achieve true happiness and contentedness is through acceptance and simply understand rather than trying to change or control the circumstances and how you relate to them.

ACT embraces mindfulness (living in the moment) and promotes psychological flexibility by encouraging individuals to accept all experiences as a part of life and feel every emotion and thought as they come. Through this form of therapy, individuals are also encouraged to define their personal core values and live authentically based on their personal experiences, thoughts, and emotions rather than suppressing these elements. One of the biggest benefits of ACT is that it helps people build the strength and confidence they need to face life’s challenges directly rather than shying away from uncomfortable moments or confrontation. It’s a form of embracing life as it is without trying to control every aspect of it.

ACT vs. CBT: Is ACT Part of CBT?

The short answer is that yes, ACT is a subsidiary of CBT. Both forms of therapy focus on our thoughts in relation to our life experiences and various perspectives of good or bad situations that we face.

The Serenity Prayer is a good example of striking a balance between CBT and ACT because it inadvertently acknowledges both concepts. It asks for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (ACT), the courage to change the things I can (CBT), and the wisdom to know the difference”.

Essentially, both CBT and ACT are designed to help individuals glean a deeper meaning out of their lives and make positive changes either through insight, action, or a combination of both.

What Does CBT Treat?

CBT is generally administered as a short-term treatment for a variety of emotional difficulties that are holding you back from living the life you were meant to live. As two life-altering treatments, there are a lot of similarities between CBT and ACT, which means that they can both effectively treat the same difficulties using slightly different or modified approaches. CBT has been proven to help individuals cope with the following difficulties:

  • Depression
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Various forms of stress
  • Anger management issues
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Panic disorders
  • Agoraphobia
  • Eating disorders
  • Marital difficulties
  • Childhood anxiety
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Chronic pain conditions
  • Stress associated with medical conditions and treatments

There are multiple forms of CBT, all of which can be modified to suit the needs of each individual person depending on their specific experiences and the difficulties they’re facing.

What Does ACT Treat?

Depending on the needs of each individual, ACT can start off as a short-term treatment but extend into long-term psychological care. ACT has the potential to effectively treat a variety of mental or emotional disorders that have the tendency to elicit irrational or negative thoughts, including:

  • Depression
  • Various types of anxiety including performance anxiety, test anxiety, social anxiety, general anxiety, etc.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Bi-Polar disorder
  • Various types of stress caused by work, school, or personal matters
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Chronic Pain
  • Substance abuse
  • Diabetes