So I’ve posted several blogs and quotes that all reference Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in some way, but I haven’t really gone into it too much yet. Let me start by saying how and why i fell in love with it.
A more advanced student in my program who practices a different type of treatment called Motivational Interviewing told at the beginning of my work at USC that you’ll discover that some psychological types of interventions or therapy styles will resonate with you more than others. She talked about how Motivational Interviewing was that for her. I was intrigued by the idea, but hadn’t had enough exposure at that point to realize what it was for me. Now that I have taken an Intervention course, I have been exposed to several different styles, from psychodynamic therapy to newer treatments, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and ACT. I realize now the importance of not only finding what type of treatment best fits my own personality style, but also the importance of clients and people in need of help to figure out the type of intervention that would best fit their own style. You may not always know what it is, but at least be aware that just because something doesn’t work, doesn’t mean that there isn’t something else out there that will. Just like how different people respond to different medical interventions, different people will respond differently to psychological interventions. So ACT is just one option and I will continue to discuss other options in later blog posts.
ACT was developed by Dr. Steven Hayes and is an empirically supported treatment with dozens of randomized clinical trials supporting its effectiveness within a number of areas, including grief, depression, and anxiety. It is even being studied for those with more severe mental illness including schizophrenia now.
What I love about ACT is that it is based on 6-core principles: (1) Defusion, (2) Acceptance/Expansion, (3) Connection, (4) The Observing Self, (5) Values, (6) Committed Action. Although I would love to describe each of these in detail, the goal of each of these is simply to increase “psychological flexibility.” “The greater your psychological flexibility, the better you can handle painful thoughts and feelings and the more effectively you can take action to make your life rich and meaningful” (Harris “The Happiness Trap“, 2011, p. 33). This type of treatment attempts to help create some awareness behind your thoughts. What are your thoughts saying – good or bad? Then working towards not trying to resist them, but just accepting them as what they are…just thoughts. Thoughts do not determine our actions.
The issue with humans is that our thoughts are connected to so many things. If a non-human hears A=B and B=C that is all they understand, but us humans create A=C, B=A, C=B, C=A. Our mind will go wild with thoughts, but the greater awareness we can bring to them, the less we feel the need to get sucked into these “mind tricks.” Then once we do this, we could hopefully work towards taking meaningful steps in the direction of our values and let our values guide us forward. So what do you want? Who do you want to be? What choices and actions will be aligned with those values? Answering these types of questions and taking action based on them does not mean things will automatically happen the way you want them to, but it means that regardless of the outcome, you did what you needed to do and are moving in the right direction. To help you, here is the ACT acronym:
A – Accept your thoughts and feelings, and be present
C – Choose a valued direction
T – Take action
A great resource to learn more about this type of therapy both as a clinician or as a patient or a self-help junkie or for just general knowledge, I HIGHLY recommend, “The Happiness Trap” by Dr. Russ Harris. It’s an easy to read guide that walks you through just the mentality of what this type of therapy is about and what’ it’s trying to do. I personally read it and took my time doing so. It offers a lot of great insights, especially if you do some of the exercises.