ACT is a therapeutic approach which incorporates elements of mindfulness, acceptance and behavioural change to encourage the development of psychological flexibility. This has been associated with enhanced quality of life and wellness.
ACT is an evidence-based approach that has been referred to as a third-wave behavioural therapy. It emphasizes aspects of mindfulness (i.e., being in the present moment), acceptance strategies, values-based work and committed action to allow individuals to live a more meaningful life.
This therapeutic approach invites individuals to accept difficult thoughts, feelings, and situations. When learning ACT, people make room for difficult thoughts and feelings through present moment awareness and learned skills of acceptance, awareness, and defusion (i.e., making space from thoughts and feelings).
The tenets for change within this approach are based on the idea that painful thoughts and feelings are experienced by everyone and we are unable to change their occurrence. What can cause individuals to get stuck is hooking into difficult thoughts and feelings and having strong, unhelpful reactions to them. Therefore, when engaging in this treatment approach, individuals discover how they can accept painful thoughts and feelings as a natural part of life. They also learn to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings, instead of fighting against them. Individuals also learn to defuse challenging thoughts by understanding how to shift one’s attention to things that are meaningful and are aligned with the person they want to be. In doing so, one develops a stance of psychological flexibility towards their thoughts and experiences. This can allow for a greater sense of well-being.
ACT also focuses on the idea that every behaviour has a purpose and a function. Therefore, during therapy in ACT, the purpose of one’s behaviour is explored. It is important to understand that our actions – even when they are not helpful – are carried out for understandable reasons.
In working with ACT, individuals gain a deeper understanding of their values and move towards things in life that are meaningful for them. In doing so, they will also recognize elements of their life that are keeping them stuck. They will learn to embrace these challenging thoughts and feelings as well.
At FTPS, we use ACT when working with many individuals. Some therapists integrate ACT into their approaches while others will use it as a stand-alone approach for a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, trauma, life transitions and self-exploration.