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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that enhances psychological flexibility, allowing people to respond more effectively to life’s challenges.  It encourages people to acknowledge and make room for their experiences without any judgement, clarify what is meaningful to them, and make the changes towards those significant goals. There are several key components to help promote this flexibility and improve overall well-being:

1. Acceptance

ACT emphasises the importance of accepting our experiences, even if they make us feel uncomfortable. This includes our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and memories, all without any judgement or attempts to control or avoid them. Acceptance involves making room for the full experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and allowing them to exist without struggle.

2. Cognitive Defusion

This technique helps us create distance from our thoughts, seeing them as passing mental events rather than literal truths. By recognising that thoughts are just thoughts and not facts, we can reduce the negative impacts they have on our behaviours and emotional well-being.

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices encourage us to be present in the moment and fully engaged with our current experiences. It involves observing thoughts, feelings, and sensations with openness and curiosity. Practising mindfulness like meditation can help us increase our awareness and self-understanding

4. Values Clarification

ACT helps identify our core values, which represents what is truly important and meaningful to us. By reflecting on what matters most and aligning our behaviours with these values, we can experience a greater sense of purpose and fulfilment.

5. Committed Action

This part involves setting goals and taking meaningful steps towards them, even when times get tough. ACT encourages us to think whether our behaviours are consistent with our long-term goals and aspirations. And if not, what can we do to create meaningful change?

6. Contextual Understanding

ACT emphasises the importance of understanding our experiences within the border context of our environment and personal history. This part helps us recognise the influence of situational factors, social norms, and cultural values on our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

What can ACT help with?

ACT has been effective in treating a wide range of psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, chronic pain, addiction, psychosis, and eating disorders. Research has shown that by changing the relationship we have with our experiences (that is, to accept and be more mindful of them), we can experience decreased emotional distress and improved psychological functioning. It also equips us with practical skills and techniques for managing stress, coping with difficult emotions, and handling challenging situations, which increases our resilience to face adversity and bounce back from setbacks with more ease.

ACT is also beneficial for people seeking personal growth and greater overall well-being, even if they do not have a diagnosed mental health condition. This includes stress, burnout, and relationship conflicts. For example, by clarifying personal values and committing to values-based action or behaviours, we can strengthen our relationships and communicate more authentically with others. This also helps to foster more empathy, compassion, and connection with ourselves and others.

Overall, by teaching individuals to accept their experiences, people can be empowered to respond more adaptively towards difficult thoughts and emotions. Consider finding a counsellor or therapist who practises ACT and can provide you with tools and strategies to navigate life’s challenges more effectively.

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About the author Jowena:

Jowena has rich bicultural experience having grown up in the United States for over 16 years before moving back to Singapore permanently in 2014. Her professional experience expands over seven years and includes work as a behavioural therapist, associate psychologist, and assistant manager at a private counselling centre. She has worked with children, adolescents, and young adults from a variety of populations ranging from special needs to prison services.