It is January. A time to refresh and plan for a fulfilling year in 2024. How can we go about that? ACT interventions can provide you with strategies and techniques to focus on what matters to you most in life.
Focusing on our mental health can improve our relationships, mood, energy, activities and overall quality of life. Read on to learn about a treatment approach that can help you grow and flourish in 2024!
You might have heard about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) interventions and wonder, what is this approach? Acceptance Commitment Therapy is a psychotherapy approach which involves aspects of mindfulness, acceptance and behavioural change to encourage the development of psychological flexibility. It has been proven time and again as an effective evidence based treatment approach for anxiety, depression, trauma and so much more. ACT techniques can also be used to enhance our overall mental health and well being.
In this blog, we will review 10 ways that ACT techniques can benefit our mental health and lead to a fulfilling year in 2024.
1. Core Concepts of ACT Interventions
ACT therapy interventions enhance an individuals’ quality of life and overall well-being. It is an approach that focuses on an individual’s values. One’s values are about what matters the most to that person. It can be easy to be pulled away from our values when faced with anxiety, low mood and other difficult emotions. ACT counselling can help an individual to focus on the present moment and move towards what matters to you, instead of away from it.
There are six core processes within ACT counselling. These processes include: present moment awareness, self as context, cognitive defusion, acceptance, values and committed action. Although we will not explore each one in depth, these core processes help an individual to be present with emotions and thoughts that are difficult and make space for things that are painful. In doing so, we begin to observe our thoughts rather than get hooked into them.
When an individual is able to achieve present moment awareness they are able to label and recognize their emotions, thoughts and behaviours. This presents an opportunity to recognize difficult thoughts and feelings and still do what matters to us (i.e., instead of getting hooked into thoughts). An individual who uses ACT techniques of self as context and cognitive defusion is often able to see their thoughts as being less “sticky” and observe their thoughts as thoughts and not necessarily facts or truths. The work of acceptance opens up space for difficult thoughts and feelings, allowing values and committed action to be more likely to happen.
Working with a mental health professional can help you to understand how to embrace these core concepts and utilize them in your daily life. When you are able to navigate these processes and move in the direction of your values, you are often able to live a much more fulfilling life.
2. ACT for Overcoming Fear
ACT interventions for anxiety have been found to be highly beneficial. During ACT therapy for anxiety, your therapist will want to understand what triggers your anxiety and how you find you often respond in terms of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. What are the consequences of these behaviours? Can we look at these situations differently? Are there other behaviours that we can do instead of the habitual ones that often lead to avoidance when we are anxious? When we act differently, we begin to learn what is called psychological flexibility.
We speak about the idea of psychological flexibility in acceptance and commitment therapy. This is a core concept that is part of ACT counselling and ACT for anxiety. When we navigate the world with enhanced psychological flexibility, we are more able to manage difficult psychological events that may happen to us. Therefore, strengthening this important psychological muscle can be very helpful. Using ACT for anxiety in 2024 is definitely very worthwhile!
3. ACT in Personal Relationships
Is there a role for ACT techniques when it comes to our partner and our friends? We can easily react to people who we are close with. Sometimes it is about an issue within the relationship. However, it can also be about our quick reactions and not entirely about the person in front of us or the situation taking place.
ACT interventions provide us an important way to create space from difficult thoughts and feelings that we carry with us. When these thoughts and feelings emerge without our immediate awareness, we often act in ways not consistent with our values.
But using cognitive defusion, we might be able to unhook from difficult thoughts and feelings and see the situation differently. This can help with our personal relationships and allow us to see the situation for what it actually is, not what our thoughts or feelings are suggesting during heightened emotions.
4. ACT for Parenting
How can we bring ACT therapy techniques into our parenting world in 2024? Parenting can bring so many challenges! Many parents will talk about frustration and sadness when they “lose their cool” with their child. Can ACT counselling help with this?
Some research has started to be done on this very topic and initial findings are promising. A recent systematic review collated all existing ACT interventions that included aspects of parent therapy for treating different childhood issues. Twenty-seven individual studies were looked at and the results were encouraging:
“The majority of studies reported improvements on either parent report symptoms regarding child physical or psychological functioning as well as parent-reported measures of stress, depression, and anxiety. Similar improvements were noted on a number of ACT mechanisms of change outcomes, including mindfulness, acceptance, and cognitive fusing.”
Being more mindful of our responses during parenting is highly beneficial as it presents parents an option to react in a manner that is not automatic. In doing so, parents are then provided with an opportunity to make space from difficult thoughts related to their child and move into a different place with acceptance and understanding. Although this can be a big ask of parents at times, it can help to improve the relationship with your child. Prioritizing the relationship with your child is so important. It can be difficult to do things when we feel frustrated, of course. But it certainly pays off in the long run!
5. Enhancing Mindfulness with ACT
At the core of ACT principles is what we call present moment awareness. This refers to being grounded in the current moment, without evaluation or judgement. It is about noticing what is happening without necessarily trying to change it.
ACT therapy techniques encourage us to pay attention to what is happening in the current moment – in terms of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Through ACT interventions, we can learn to pay attention to our bodies and our minds. We can learn to notice without judging and be aware without rushing to complete an action. Enhancing mindfulness with ACT is an excellent strategy for 2024.
6. ACT for Coping with Stress
How can ACT therapy interventions help us with stress management and anxiety? Some forms of therapy will teach us skills to reframe our thoughts and modify our thinking patterns. ACT techniques approach difficult thoughts and feelings using a different perspective.
ACT therapy interventions do not encourage individuals to modify their thoughts and feelings. Instead, we can learn to be present with difficult thoughts and feelings and make space from them using an ACT technique called cognitive defusion. If you are practicing cognitive defusion, there are different ways to make space from difficult thoughts and feelings. One such approach is to change the internal dialogue that you experience when you are hooked into a difficult thought. Here is an example:
- Person experiencing difficult thought: I am anxious and I can’t do this.
- Person using cognitive defusion: I am having the thought that I am anxious and I can’t do this.
- Person using enhanced cognitive defusion: I am noticing I am having the thought that I am anxious and I can’t do this.
With each step in the process, you are able to make more space from difficult thoughts. This process can help when one is coping with stress and anxious thoughts!
7. Values Clarification in ACT
When using the ACT therapy model, your therapist will help you to sort out and clarify your values. When we are acting consistent with our values, we are doing what matters most to us in life. Why might it be important to clarify our values?
In our day to day life, we don’t often stop to think whether our actions are consistent with our values. And what exactly are “values”? Values represent what matters to us in life and what is important to us. ACT techniques will speak to the idea of seeing our values like the directions on a compass. You can never fully reach “north”; it continues forever. However, you can accomplish a lot of destinations on your way to travelling north. In doing so, you are always moving towards a “direction” or your values. We can complete many goals, but we never fully finish completing our values.
When we have clarity on our values, we can also begin to realize what we might be missing out on as a result of anxiety, stress or depression. A conversation during ACT counselling about what is important to you and what matters can help you to start to shift your perspective regarding how you spend your time and what might be getting in the way.
8. ACT in Virtual Settings
Like many other forms of psychotherapy, ACT therapy interventions are conducted effectively in virtual settings! Your therapist can provide you evidence-based ACT counselling from an easily accessible location, such as your home or office. In doing so, you will not need to commute and can find an ACT therapist who focuses on what you need, even if they do not live close by.
You will want to ensure that your ACT therapist is well trained in ACT core principles and can conduct therapy effectively and securely. These are all important things to ask about when starting therapy. ACT therapy in virtual settings can work perfectly for teens, adults, couples and families.
Does FTPS provide ACT in virtual settings in Ontario? We do! We also provide ACT during online therapy in Nova Scotia, BC and New Brunswick. Contact us to learn more!
9. Commitment Strategies in ACT
As you progress through ACT therapy interventions you will learn many skills, as we have reviewed. These will include present moment awareness, cognitive defusion, self as context and values clarification. Once you have been able to embrace these different processes, you will be able to focus on committed action. In doing so, you will be able to set reasonable goals for yourself that will move you in the direction of your values. These types of strategies will more readily take place once you have mastered some of the other processes within the ACT therapy model.
When we are in a stage of committed action, we are living a life in the service of our values. Although difficult thoughts, feelings and behaviours will also emerge we want to try and let them be there and not get hooked into them. Once we are hooked we often make choices that are not aligned with the person we want to be. Unhooking from difficult thoughts and feelings allows us to make space to be the person we want to be and to live the life that we want to live.
10. Self-Compassion Through ACT
We wanted to end this blog with such an important manner in which ACT therapy techniques can be used. And that is for self-compassion.
What is self-compassion? Self-compassion, in a nutshell, is when we show the same level of genuine kindness to ourselves that we would readily show to other people. It is often very easy for us to display kindness and understanding when others make mistakes, are hard on themselves or feel that they have not done a good job. However, when it comes to ourselves, our standards seem to be different. We often believe that we should, somehow, be better than others and do not provide ourselves with as much flexibility and understanding.
ACT techniques can provide us with strategies to show ourselves self-compassion. Present moment awareness can allow us to realize when we are being hard on ourselves and not get hooked into thoughts of harsh judgement and evaluation. Cognitive defusion can allow us to make space from unhelpful thoughts and, instead, thank our mind for sending these thoughts our way and let them pass in and out of our minds. ACT therapy interventions have a lot of experiential exercises that you can engage in with your therapist to allow you to grow your self-compassion stance. In doing so, you can start 2024 with a gentler and kinder stance towards yourself!
Where Can I Find ACT Therapy Interventions?
Does FTPS offer ACT therapy techniques? We absolutely do! We offer virtual ACT therapy services in Ontario and virtual ACT therapy services in BC. We also conduct online therapy using ACT in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. We have associates who are well-trained in ACT and are ready to work with you regarding ACT for anxiety, ACT for OCD and so much more. We hope you will contact us soon and we can start 2024 together!
DISCLAIMER: This content is meant for informational and educational purposes only. Only a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose a mental health disorder. The content of this website is not meant to be a substitute for therapy. Visiting this website should not be considered to be equivalent to a relationship with FTPS. Mental health concerns should only be discussed in the context of providing professional services after the consent process has been completed with a qualified FTPS associate outside of our website.