We all experience unpleasant and sometimes downright unhappy thoughts or events throughout our lives. This is perfectly normal. How we react to and perceive these thoughts and events, however, can have a lasting impact on the state of our mental health. The core values of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are designed to help us understand these feelings. Unlike cognitive behavioural therapy, the goal here isn’t to change these feelings and experiences; rather it’s to embrace them for what they are and learn how to live in the moment while also understanding the fundamental role that language plays in how we perceive things.
What Is the Theory Behind ACT?
The abbreviation ACT is very fitting for this type of therapy. Pronounced like the word “act”, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy embodies the core values of mindfulness. Essentially, this means that it encourages clients to learn how to live in the moment and focus on what’s happening in the present.
While this seems like a fairly simple concept, the practice can be quite challenging for people who are afflicted with anxiety, depression, and other emotional or psychological difficulties. In most cases, clients tend to struggle with, and avoid unpleasant thoughts, feelings in attempt to be rid of such challenges. ACT encourages clients to not only face these difficulties head on, but to also realize that they’re a part of being human. Avoidance is not the key to finding a resolution, rather, establishing a different relationship with our presenting challenges is.
What Are the Six Core Principles Of ACT?
Whether you need ACT for anxiety, depression, or any other experienced difficulty, the following six core principles are instrumental in helping you truly live in the moment and appreciate everything that life has to offer—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Here are the six core principles of ACT:
- Willingness. In this context, willingness relates to you opening up to all of your thoughts and feelings, regardless of how uncomfortable they may be. When we are able to do this, we establish an alternate relationship with our thoughts and feelings, thus leading to a values directed and meaningful life.
- Acceptance. A central part of ACT is to help you learn to accept what’s happening in your life, rather than trying to control everything. That includes allowing yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling in any given moment without feeling ashamed or guilty and trying to control your feelings.
- Cognitive defusion. This aspect of ACT is designed to help you understand that feelings, thoughts, and your perceptions are a product of the limitations of human language. These are passing events in your life. Nothing is permanent (except death). Things that you perceive to be threatening are just unpleasant experiences that can be overcome.
- The observing self. You are not the sum of your thoughts, emotions, memories, or life experiences. You are a cognitive functioning being—the one constant thing in your life.
- Values. These are the things you hold dear, understanding what’s most important to you personally, and what makes your life meaningful.
- Committed actions. Committed actions are directly related to your personal core values. After you’ve figured out what’s most important to you in life, you can then set actionable goals to achieve.