Over the past ten years I have spent a major part of my continuing professional training concentrating on cognitive behavioral therapies with a special focus on an intervention called Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT is one of the fastest growing, evidence-based psychotherapeutic interventions being used today. It has been shown to be successful in the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, chronic pain, aiding in the navigation of life transitions and other psychological challenges. ACT gets its name from one of its core messages: accept what is outside your personal control and commit to taking action that enriches your life. Taking a unique and creative approach to psychotherapy and behavior change, ACT merges Eastern and existential philosophy with Western oriented psychotherapeutic techniques and practice. From an ACT perspective, painful events and difficult challenges are an unavoidable part of our human experience; however, we cause ourselves to suffer when we rigidly adhere to unworkable behaviors in our effort to avoid, get rid of, and control painful thoughts, emotions, urges, sensations, and memories that arise during challenging and painful times in our lives.
In a nutshell, ACT’s main goal is to help people handle the pain and stress that everyday life brings by increasing their psychological flexibility. That is, rather than working at controlling, eliminating, and avoiding painful thoughts and emotions, the ACT therapist works with the client to learn new ways to relate to these painful experiences. Instead of getting better and better at avoiding, clients learn to face their pain with an attitude of openness and curiosity, learning to accept the present moment, working with it instead of against it, and making it their ally rather than their enemy. With a sense of compassion, openness and curiosity the therapist collaborates with the client to: 1) Become aware of one’s pain and the thoughts and feelings that accompany it (Mindful Awareness); 2) Identify what behaviors, internal and external, the client has been using in an attempt to temporarily, yet unsuccessfully, alleviate their pain (Unworkable Action); 3) explore what is important to the client, that is, what they want out of life and how they want to be in life (Values); and 4) learn new skills and techniques so that they may get “unstuck” and move in the direction of being the person they wish to be and having the life they desire (Committed Action).