Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a cognitive behavioral therapy approach in which you learn to stop avoiding, denying, or struggling with difficult feelings, physical sensations, urges, or thoughts. Instead, you approach your thoughts and feelings with a willingness to feel, openness to listen, and let go. With your increased awareness and distance from your thinking, you can choose a meaningful behavior. Acceptance and commitment therapy aims to increase psychological flexibility by teaching you techniques that support your ability to experience the present moment, allow the experience, and take meaningful action based on your values.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) uses metaphors, therapeutic paradoxes, and experiential exercises to increase cognitive and behavioral changes. ACT postulates that it is counterproductive to try to control painful emotions, physical sensations, and memories because suppressing those types of feelings can often lead to more distress. In acceptance and commitment therapy, you will use mindfulness, acceptance of your human experience, an understanding of your personal values, and your commitment to making a change to guide the therapeutic process.
Learning to accept difficult thoughts and memories and, at the same time, making incremental changes to problematic behavior, can help you engage in a meaningful life. In acceptance and commitment therapy, you learn to pay attention to how you talk to yourself about traumatic events, difficult relationships, and physical issues. ACT postulates that our language can trap us into suffering. Looking at thoughts and where they started helps to create new patterns and behaviors. We can use these skills to free ourselves and create behaviors in line with our values, to live our best lives, with all our experiences, with self-acceptance.
Renowned psychologist Steven Hayes defines acceptance as “active, nonjudgmental embracing of experience in the here and now.” Mindfulness meditation trains you to allow your thoughts and feelings and stop avoiding pain, both emotional and physical. This strategy can be effective for chronic pain because it cultivates the acceptance of pain that won’t leave your body and helps you find ways to live with meaning and purpose.
You learn to approach your problems in a different way to free yourself from suffering. The goal in ACT is to create flexibility in how you think, freeing yourself from the traps of language. This opens the door for new behaviors. For example, a person with chronic pain may think, “All I feel is pain; I can’t do anything because of this pain.” This statement creates more suffering and prevents living in the moment. By combining mindfulness skills, acceptance, and committed valued actions, you increase your flexibility in thinking and acting. The person with pain may now notice the pain, but they are no longer defined by it or controlled by it.
As you learn to observe, rather than be attached to, your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, you begin to see a different path forward. In acceptance and commitment therapy, you increase your self-awareness and develop a deeper understanding of your situation. You then commit to letting go of struggling or avoiding discomfort. The ultimate goal of ACT is the development of psychological flexibility by practicing mindfulness, willingness, and values-based living. Once you practice these skills, you will learn to live your life with self-acceptance, openness, and the power to choose the type of life you want to live.
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