Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in London
What is ACT?
ACT is a cognitive behavioural method of psychology that emphasises processes such as mindfulness and acceptance in helping individuals overcome the obstacles in their lives. A critical assumption of ACT is that pain and suffering are a normal and unavoidable part of human experience and that it is our attempts to control and avoid these experiences that actually lead to more long-term suffering. It differs from traditional cognitive behavioural therapy in that instead of teaching people to control their thoughts, feelings and actions, ACT teaches us to notice, accept and embrace. Fundamentally, accept what is out of your personal control and commit to action that improves and enriches your life. As such, the goal of therapy is not to eliminate certain parts of your experience, but rather to learn how to deal with these painful experiences and help clarify what is truly important and meaningful to you as a way of inspiring you to change your life for the better.
ACT views the core of many problems in our lives to be down to the acronym FEAR:
- Fusion with your thoughts
- Evaluation of experience
- Avoidance of your experience
- Reason for your behaviour
The healthy alternative is to ACT:
- Accept your reactions and be present
- Choose a valued direction
- Take action
What does ACT look like in practice?
ACT can be delivered in many different ways; it can be long or short term or ultra brief depending on what you and your therapist decide together. During the session, ACT uses three broad categories of techniques:
- Mindfulness: bringing one’s attention to the present experience and learning to perceive thoughts, memories and emotions as what they are not what they appear to be
- Acceptance: Allowing these feelings and memories to come and go without struggling to control/avoid them
- Commitment: Discovering what values are important to oneself and be committed to carrying them out.
During ACT therapy you and your therapist will work closely together, in a 50-minute session, to enable you to accept and act on your inner thoughts and beliefs. Through metaphor and experimental exercises you will learn how to make contact with your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and memories that you would have previously feared or avoided. You will learn the skills to recognise, recontextualise and eventually accept these events which will then allow you to develop greater clarity about what values are important to you and commit to the desired behaviour change.
What is ACT best suited to?
ACT is a relatively new form of psychotherapy which was pioneered in the mid 1990s and developed out of behavioural analysis and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It can be used to treat a variety of different psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders. In particular, it is considered a highly effective treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), due to its use of acceptance of the event, rather than attempting to change the feelings that occur because of it. It is also commonly used to treat pain whereby it helps individuals to accept pain and take the appropriate action to deal with it.
- 'ACT Made Simple: An Easy-to-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy' (2009) by Russ Harris
- 'The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free From Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy' (2008) by John Forsyth and Georg Eifert
- 'ACT with Love: Stop Struggling, Reconcile Differences, and Strengthen Your Relationship with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy' (2009) by Russ Harris