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Sometimes incredibly difficult circumstances arise in our lives, causing stress, anxiety and/or depression. When these situations occur, a natural human response is to remove oneself as far from the cause of the stress as quickly as possible, or to numb it all together. 

Unfortunately, if left to its own devices, this response to stress can lead to a variety of unhealthy coping mechanisms, compulsive behaviors and addictive or reckless choices. Which could result in a potentially even bigger problem. 

So how can these behaviors be properly addressed, and correct responses to stress and anxiety trained? Through a technique known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). 

What is acceptance and commitment therapy? 

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is another method of therapy like CBT or motivational interviewing, which gives clients the opportunity to recognize the situation they find themselves in and, instead of running from it, accept it with all the emotions and discomfort involved. In short, it’s letting go of what one can’t control and instead focusing energies on things which enrich and better one’s life. 

Through ACT, individuals learn to stop fighting with these feelings and instead accept them as appropriate, natural responses to certain situations. This enables them to move on with their lives, free of guilt, shame and regret.

How does ACT work?

ACT focuses heavily on a term known as psychological flexibility, that is, the ability to adapt to the ever-changing realities of the world in which we live. Strong psychological flexibility gives individuals the strength to adjust to realities as simple as unexpected guests for dinner to things much more complex and challenging, like being laid off from work. 

In order to grow in psychological flexibility, the six core practices of ACT must be present: 

  • Acceptance –  Whereby one must learn to let painful or unpleasant experiences exist even though it’s a behavior quite contradictory to human nature. 
  • Cognitive defusion – In which less focus is placed on the negativity of challenges and more attention is paid to the neutrality of the fact that said challenge is present. This allows clients to change the way in which they respond to their feelings about the situation.
  • Being present – Clients are taught to simply be in existence with a struggle. They do not attempt to change the experience, nor do they pass judgment on it. The feelings and emotions aroused from the struggle are acknowledged as being present, but not judged or even acted upon.
  • Self as context – This part of ACT focuses on the truth that individuals are not their experiences, struggles or trauma. What happened to them, while it’s part of their experience, is not a defining characteristic of who they are. This core helps to minimize shame and guilt.
  • Values – Values differ from person to person, but they give clients something deeply personal to work towards. They are the goals which offer meaning to life and the guiding light towards the kind of life clients hope to craft for themselves.
  • Committed action – Once clients accept the truth that they cannot alter what they can’t control, committed action comes into play whereby they set to work taking the steps to meet the goals and live by the values they set for themselves.

Obviously, individuals cannot walk themselves through the process of ACT, even though they can educate themselves on it. Recovery through ACT is best done alongside a licensed professional in a therapy setting. 

Who does ACT benefit? 

ACT has numerous benefits, both immediate and long-lasting, including:

  • A growth in psychological flexibility, meaning individuals become stronger and more resilient to when things don’t go as planned 
  • More control over emotions and emotional responses as an outcome of increased psychological flexibility
  • A greater commitment to, and belief in the possibility of, crafting a meaningful life geared towards one’s personal values 
  • An acceptance of the fact that negative experiences are a part of life and an understanding of the truth that avoiding the problem might make it worse

Because of this, ACT benefits individuals who battle a variety of mental health conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Substance use disorder 
  • Psychosis 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder

Get in touch with an ACT therapist today 

While ACT is beneficial to individuals battling addiction and other mental health disorders, it can also benefit individuals who find themselves combating everyday stressors, like job loss, divorce, workplace difficulties or family dilemmas. Regardless of what challenges are present, ACT’s focus on creating and striving towards a meaningful life offers freedom and relief for many individuals.

To learn more about ACT, or get in touch with an ACT counselor, reach out to Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare today at 678-274-4936.

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