An Introduction To Acceptance And Commitment Therapy

An introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy
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There are many different types of therapy out there, so we appreciate it can get pretty confusing for clients to know which is which. Truth be told, we can get pretty confused ourselves as therapists!

We've recently come across Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which was founded by a man called Professor Steven Hayes. It's commonly shortened to ACT and pronounced as the word 'act'. We really like it as an approach. So much so, we thought it might be useful to do a series of posts outlining the approach.

So, whether you're a client or therapist this series will hopefully help you decide whether the approach is something you'd like to know more about 🙂

What's ACT all about?

Well, let's backtrack for a second because it's probably easier to explain ACT by way of comparing it to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

A common aspect of CBT is helping clients to identify negative thought patterns and negative core beliefs. Therapists will then generally try to help clients dispute these negative beliefs by looking at the evidence for and against them.

In comparison, ACT does not dispute the negative thoughts/beliefs that people have. In fact, it goes as far to say that it's not really helpful to label thoughts as 'positive' or 'negative'. We've put these labels on thoughts according to how desirable we feel them to be.

So if we're not disputing negative beliefs in ACT, then what ARE we doing??

Instead of disputing thoughts/beliefs, the ACT approach encourages clients to 'make room' for such beliefs, letting them come and go as they please. The tools and techniques taught in ACT never have the aim of getting rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Rather, the aim is to be able to sit with unwanted thoughts and feelings, whilst continuing to live a meaningful life according to the things that are important to us; termed in ACT as our 'Values'.

But who wants to have to put up with unwanted thoughts/feelings??

Of course, nobody wants to have unwanted thoughts and feelings. They make us feeling awful and can stop us doing the things we want to do, if we get hooked into them.

However, what you've tried to do to get rid of all these unpleasant thoughts and feelings over the years? You might have tried distraction techniques; over-compensated for negative thoughts by, for example, working even harder if you're feeling inadequate at work; or even used drugs and/or alcohol.

While these things might have worked in the short term, more often than not they don't work in the long term and the difficult thoughts and feelings return with a vengeance.

Time for something a little different?

Taking this into account, would you be willing to try something different from what you've tried before?

We'll be drawing upon the brilliant Russ Harris and his book The Happiness Trap. We highly recommend giving it a read; it's really a accessible guide to ACT and the tools and techniques you'll need.

If, however, you want a whistle stop tour of ACT before you buy the book, keep an eye out for further posts in this series 🙂

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