What is ACT & How Can It Help Me?

By Carli Wall, MFT Intern

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based therapeutic approach to help clients work through various life experiences.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT, short for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is a mindfulness-based therapeutic approach to help clients work through various life experiences. The goal of ACT is to help clients create a more rich and more meaningful life. The main premise is to focus on values rather than goals.

Goals vs Values

Goals are more of the checkboxes that people so often strive for. Examples of goals would be getting a good job, making a great salary, finding a partner, having a body you’re proud of, having kids, buying and driving a nice car, and owning a nice house. The list goes on and on.

When one achieves a goal, there is a moment of increased happiness. However, once that happiness wears off, the energy becomes focused on achieving the next goal. The happiness is fleeting.

Values, on the other hand, are personal beliefs. The core principles you live your life by. These values guide and motivate the actions you choose to take in life. Examples of values are as follows: Altruism, Dependability, Integrity, Generosity, Courage, Gratitude, Well-being, Sustainability, Family, Self-respect, Adaptability, Uniqueness, Assertiveness, Support, Open-mindedness, Personal growth, Flexibility, Frugality, Improvement, Self-reliance.

When we focus on living by our values, we enjoy the journey more instead of focusing on the result. For example, picture a goal you have in life. If you just focus on achieving the goal, you will be frustrated when obstacles arise between you and the goal. And, if you don’t achieve your goal for one reason or another, you will be sad.

However, if you focus on living your values, you can appreciate the journey as you head toward your goal. This way, you are living a fulfilled life on the way to achieving your goal. You are also more satisfied when you do eventually achieve your goal. And most importantly, you are satisfied living your life even if you never achieve your goals since you are intentionally living a life aligned with your values.

The goal of ACT is to help clients
create a more rich and more meaningful life.

The Six Processes of ACT (Positive Psychology, Russ Harris)

  • Acceptance: This process is about creating space for emotions, impulses, and feelings that
    we might otherwise suppress or avoid. This allows us to avoid over-inflating them or wasting
    too much energy on them so we can move on more easily.
  • Defusion: This mindfulness strategy involves objectively recognizing our psychological
    experiences rather than perceiving them as perceived threats or realities. Thoughts are
    thoughts and not necessarily true, clever, or important. 
  • Being Present: Awareness of how we’re currently feeling physically and mentally. Rather
    than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, connecting with the present is about
    engaging completely with ‘right now.’
  • Self as Context or The Observing Self: This process describes the mind. There are two parts
    to the mind: the thinking self – i.e., the part that is always thinking; the part responsible for all
    your thoughts, beliefs, memories, judgments, fantasies, etc. And then there’s the observing self
    – the part of your mind that can be aware of whatever you are thinking, feeling, or doing at any
    moment. Without it, you couldn’t develop those mindfulness skills. And the more you practice
    those mindfulness skills, the more you’ll become aware of this part of your mind and able to
    access it when needed. 
  • Values: A process in which we explore and clarify the things we hold personally
    meaningful. What you want to stand for. What do you want to do with your time on this
    planet? What ultimately matters to you in the big picture? What you would like to be
    remembered for by the people you love.
  • Committed Action: This principle is about goal setting. Committed action means taking
    action guided by your values – doing what matters – even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable.

When is ACT Useful?

ACT can be helpful in supporting people through a wide variety of life challenges. Below you will find a list (this list does not include every type of experience and challenge ACT can help with):

  • Stress regulation
  • Work stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Phobias (irrational fears)
  • Loss
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Psychosis
  • Eating disorders
  • Workplace stress
  • Chronic pain

ACT Mindfulness Exercises

“What you resist, persists. What you accept, transforms.”


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