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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is a type of therapy that is beneficial for a variety of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders.  Those who founded Acceptance and Commitment Therapy believe that pain and suffering are universal human experiences, and that it is possible to lead a life of value, despite experiencing pain and suffering, by living in the present moment.

How Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Works

One of the first steps to practicing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is to accept your negative and uncomfortable emotions as being normal. These emotions are something that all humans experience from time to time. This means accepting that it is both normal and okay to feel anxious, sad, angry, lonely, or any other emotions you may be experiencing.  These emotions are part of your experience and you don’t have to judge yourself for having them.

The next step in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is to pay attention to the language you use towards yourself and your experiences, as the way we speak to ourselves can create or enhance overwhelming negative emotions.  These negative emotions often lead us to avoid situations that trigger our negative thought cycles and negative feelings, which leads to a very unfulfilling life.

ACT therapists believe if we can change the language we use towards ourselves and our experiences, we can prevent negative emotions from becoming too overwhelming, thus preventing avoidance behaviors. In turn, we can experience an improved quality of life and alleviate of anxieties.

Another step in practicing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is to become practiced in mindfulness. Mindfulness is a skill people can use to help them stay in contact with the present moment. Because disorders like anxiety, depression, and substance abuse are fueled by thoughts of the past and future, ACT strives to help patients live in the present moment.

If Acceptance and Commitment Therapy sounds like something that you may benefit from, here are a few techniques you can try on your own:

Cognitive Defusion: Practice questioning your thoughts

  • Instead of getting frustrated with yourself for having racing anxious thoughts, thank your mind for doing its job
  • Imagine your thoughts as if they are monsters on a bus that you are driving, and they are trying to steer you off the road you’re on. Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat, so you get to decide where the bus goes.
  • Use flexible language to comment on your thoughts and feelings, such as “I’m just noticing I’m having a craving right now” or “I guess I’m buying into the idea that I have to get high today”

Mindfulness: Practice staying in the moment

  • Use your five senses to observe your environment and locate five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste
  • Look around the room you’re in and try and identify an object for each color of the rainbow
  • Keep a small object, like a coin, in your pocket.  When you notice your thoughts straying into the past or future, pull out this object and make as many comments as you can about its appearance.

Because Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can often be hard to grasp on your own, consider working with a therapist who is trained in this type of therapy. At Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare, we have therapists who are knowledgeable and trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Our team of therapists and psychiatrists can help you learn how to use this type of therapy to manage uncomfortable feelings and live a more fulfilling life.

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Sources: Hayes, S. C., & Smith, S. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life: The new Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

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