What is ACT?
Most of us have known at least some joy in life, but as a human being it is certain you know what it is like to be confused, hurt, and for things to have gone horribly, terribly wrong. An ACT therapist recognizes they are in the same boat – someone stuck here in the thick of it trying to make the best of what is often an extremely painful and difficult life. What an ACT therapist has to offer is a willingness to team up with you to do the work of turning your mutual human struggles into something peaceful, worthwhile, and even fulfilling. This is what it means to Accept and Commit.
All psychotherapy involves deliberately setting aside time to give focused attention to your needs, healing, and growth. However, ACT challenges the Western idea that healthy human functioning means being free from pain. In fact, ACT suggests that uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are a normal part of being human, and the urge to rid ourselves of these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings (called experiential avoidance) is normal too. However, the struggle to rid ourselves of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can create unnecessary suffering in our lives. Done excessively, our lives can become more about eliminating discomfort than about family, friendship, community, contribution, or whatever else is really important to us.
Thus, unlike many other kinds of psychotherapy, ACT doesn’t try to eliminate symptoms. Rather, it helps people reduce struggle and refocus on the things that are most important to them. Your ACT therapist will use a scientifically validated and compassionate approach to help you discover more about your own nature, escape the pitfall traps of the mind, and make your own purposeful choices based on what is personally most meaningful to you.
How does ACT work?
There are well over one hundred randomized control trials and countless more scientific investigations supporting ACT as a useful way of improving well-being. Its success as a therapy is rooted in sound behavioral principles, and it is considered to be a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). As such, at its core ACT is about learning new life skills and engaging in more adaptive and fulfilling behaviors. However, whereas traditional CBT tends to focus on training rationality with the hopes of reducing symptoms, ACT gives greater focus to training mindfulness with the intention of increasing valued living. Mindfulness is a skill often associated with ancient Buddhist traditions, but in modern times mindfulness has been empirically shown to help resolve a variety of mental health concerns and increase well-being. Mindfulness training involves learning to turn your attention to the present moment without judgment, such that you gain perspective on your lived experience and develop a deeper awareness of yourself. This gain in perspective helps disentangle you from the struggle with your own thoughts and feelings. Once free, you will find yourself able to make more deliberate decisions based on your values (i.e., what and who you really care about) rather than being driven by fears, apathy, and empty desires. Your ACT therapist can guide you through this learning process while providing compassionate support, helping you clarify your own values, and joining you in building a more fulfilling life.