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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people live more meaningful and fulfilling lives. ACT is based on the idea that psychological suffering is caused by experiential avoidance, cognitive fusion, and lack of values clarity. Experiential avoidance is the tendency to avoid or escape from unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or sensations. cognitive fusion is the tendency to get stuck in unhelpful thoughts or beliefs, and to treat them as literal truths. Lack of values clarity is the tendency to lose sight of what matters most to us, and to act in ways that are inconsistent with our core values.
ACT teaches people to accept their inner experiences, such as thoughts and emotions, without judging them or trying to change them. ACT also teaches people to commit to actions that are aligned with their values, and to pursue their goals with flexibility and openness. One of the main goals of ACT is to help people achieve self-transcendence, which is the ability to go beyond one’s self-concept and connect with something larger and more meaningful. self-transcendence can be achieved by cultivating mindfulness, compassion, gratitude, and purpose.
self-transcendence is especially important for individuals who are working on self-improvement or personal growth. By transcending their self-limiting beliefs and narratives, they can access a deeper sense of who they are and what they want. Therefore, by transcending their self-centred concerns and attachments, they can foster a greater sense of connection and contribution. By transcending their self-defeating habits and patterns, they can unleash their full potential and creativity. ACT can help individuals working on self achieve self-transcendence by providing them with a framework and a set of skills to live more authentically and meaningfully.
History of ACT
ACT was developed in the 1980s by psychologist Steven C. Hayes, who was inspired by his own experience of panic attacks and his interest in radical behaviourism, a philosophy of psychology that emphasizes the analysis of observable and measurable events, including private events such as thoughts and feelings. Hayes collaborated with Kelly Wilson and Kirk Strosahl to create an approach that integrated both cognitive and behavioural aspects of therapy, as well as a pragmatic philosophy called functional contextualism, which focuses on the usefulness of actions in a given context.
ACT is based on Relational Frame Theory (RFT), a comprehensive theory of language and cognition that is derived from behaviour analysis. RFT explains how humans learn to relate events and symbols through arbitrary associations, and how this process can create both helpful and unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving. ACT uses RFT to understand how language can influence psychological processes and how to modify them for positive outcomes.
ACT differs from some other forms of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in that it does not try to teach people to control or change their thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories, or other private events. Instead, ACT teaches them to notice, accept, and embrace their private events, especially those that are unwanted or unpleasant. ACT also helps people identify their core values and commit to actions that are consistent with those values, regardless of the obstacles or challenges they may face.
Core process of acceptance and Commitment therapy
ACT consists of six core processes that promote psychological flexibility. These are:
- Acceptance: The willingness to experience one’s thoughts and feelings without trying to avoid or change them.
- cognitive defusion: The ability to distance oneself from one’s thoughts and see them as transient mental events rather than literal truths.
- Being present: The awareness of the here-and-now experience without being distracted by the past or the future.
- Self-as-context: The recognition of oneself as an observer of one’s thoughts and feelings, rather than being identified with them.
- Values: The clarification of what is important and meaningful in one’s life.
- Committed action: The taking of concrete steps toward one’s values, even in the face of difficulties or barriers.
ACT has been applied to a variety of mental and physical health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychosis, eating disorders, substance use disorders, chronic pain, and stress. ACT has also been used in various settings, such as schools, workplaces, sports, and health care. This has been supported by a growing body of empirical evidence that shows its effectiveness and acceptability for various populations and problems.
A typical ACT therapy session
A typical Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) session consists of six core processes that aim to develop and expand psychological flexibility. These are:
- Acceptance: This involves acknowledging and embracing one’s thoughts and feelings without trying to change or avoid them. Acceptance is an active and intentional process that helps reduce the struggle with inner experiences.
- cognitive defusion: This refers to the process of distancing oneself from one’s thoughts and seeing them as just thoughts, not facts or reality. cognitive defusion helps reduce the impact and influence of unhelpful thoughts on one’s behaviour and emotions.
- Self as context: This involves developing a sense of self that is separate from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories, roles, and physical sensations. Self as context helps create a stable and flexible perspective that can observe and accept one’s inner experiences without being attached or identified with them.
- Being present: This means being aware of and attentive to the present moment, both internally and externally. Being present helps foster mindfulness, curiosity, openness, and engagement with one’s experiences, rather than being distracted by the past or the future.
- Values: These are the areas of life that are personally meaningful and important to oneself. Values help guide and motivate one’s actions and choices, as well as provide a sense of direction and purpose.
- Commitment: This involves taking concrete steps to act in accordance with one’s values, even in the face of difficulties or challenges. Commitment helps create positive change and growth in one’s life.
In each session, the therapist will help the client apply these processes to their specific situation and goals. The therapist will also use various techniques, such as metaphors, experiential exercises, mindfulness practices, and homework assignments, to facilitate learning and change. The goal of ACT is not to eliminate or reduce negative thoughts or feelings, but to increase one’s ability to accept them and act on what matters most.
Acceptance and commitment therapy and self-transcendence
One of the main goals of ACT is to help people achieve self-transcendence, which is the ability to go beyond one’s self-concept and connect with something larger and more meaningful. self-transcendence can enhance one’s sense of purpose, fulfilment, and happiness. ACT promotes self-transcendence by encouraging people to identify their core values and act on them in various domains of life, such as work, relationships, health, spirituality, etc. By doing so, people can experience a sense of coherence and congruence between their actions and their beliefs.
Another way that ACT fosters self-transcendence is by teaching people how to detach from their thoughts and feelings and see them as transient and subjective phenomena. This process is called cognitive defusion. cognitive defusion helps people realize that they are not defined by their thoughts and feelings, and that they can choose how to respond to them. By creating some distance from their inner experiences, people can gain a broader perspective and access their true self, which is more stable and authentic than their self-image.
In summary, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy works to deliver self-transcendence by helping people accept their negative thoughts and feelings, commit to their values-based actions, increase their psychological flexibility, and detach from their self-concept. By doing so, people can experience a deeper connection with themselves, others, and the world around them.
Example use cases
Some examples of people who have used ACT to achieve self-transcendence are:
- A person with depression who learned to accept their sadness and pain instead of avoiding or suppressing them. They also discovered their values and passions in life, such as helping others, learning new skills, or expressing their creativity. They started to engage in activities that reflected their values and brought them joy and meaning, such as volunteering, taking a course, or joining a club. This led to them realizing that they are more than their depression and that they can live a fulfilling life despite their challenges.
- A person with anxiety who learned to acknowledge their fears and worries without letting them control their behaviour. They also identified their core beliefs and values, such as honesty, courage, or compassion. They began to act in ways that were consistent with their values and faced their fears gradually and safely, such as speaking in public, travelling alone, or meeting new people. Also, they recognized that they are not their anxiety and that they can overcome their obstacles and pursue their goals.
- A person with chronic pain who learned to accept their physical discomfort and limitations without judging or resisting them. They also clarified their values and priorities, such as health, family, or spirituality. They started to take actions that were compatible with their values and enhanced their well-being, such as exercising, meditating, or spending time with loved ones. This led to them realizing that they are not their pain and that they can enjoy life despite their condition.
Here are some links that discuss Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as used to deliver self-transcendence: