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How ACT Helps You Create a Meaningful Life

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is a relatively new form of therapeutic intervention which was invented in the 1980s. Since then, it has proven to be effective in treating various psychological issues. Studies continue to explore the benefits of using ACT in various fields.

If you're curious about how it works and what the key advantages are, this article will explain them for you.

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ACT is designed to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and actions in order to make positive changes in their lives.

What is Acceptance Commitment Therapy and How Does it Work?

Acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that combines elements of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. It is designed to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and actions in order to make positive changes in their lives.

ACT encourages people to accept the things they cannot change while also committing to taking action towards their goals. Through this process, people can learn how to better manage their emotions, reduce stress, and build healthier relationships with themselves and others.

Russ Harris from explains ACT in simple terms:

"ACT is a type of therapy that aims to help patients accept what is out of their control, and commit instead to actions that enrich their lives."

ACT focuses on helping individuals become more psychologically flexible. It is based on the idea that psychological flexibility is the key to living a meaningful life. The hexaflex, or six core processes, of ACT are:

  1. Acceptance

  2. Cognitive defusion

  3. Contact with the present moment

  4. Self-observation

  5. Values

  6. Committed action

6 Core Processes of ACT

These six core components of ACT work together to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and to take action in line with their values. With an understanding and application of the six core components of ACT, people can be guided towards a life full of purpose and satisfaction.

  1. Acceptance: Embrace and accept your thoughts, feelings, and emotions without judgement or trying to change them. Acknowledging them is the first step of the active process of acceptance. It means embracing what happens in life and accepting it for what it is, without feeling the need to change it. This helps us move forward instead of dwelling on things we can't control.

  2. Cognitive Defusion: Cognitive defusion is a set of techniques that help one gain more control over their cognition and emotions. Cognitive defusion helps you distance yourself from your own thoughts, so you're not getting caught up in what they mean. It involves seeing every thought or emotion as just that: just an idea, without the additional weight or importance your mind attaches to it.

  3. Being Present : Being present means having the ability to be conscious of the moment, without judging it. Thus, being present implies experiencing what is happening without attempting to guess or change the experience.

  4. Self as Context: This involves learning to see your thoughts about yourself as separate from your actions. An individual is not just their experiences, thinking patterns or emotions. In other words, there is something more to a person than these thoughts and emotions.

  5. Values: are the principles that we choose to live by and abide by. Sometimes these values are conscious and at other times, they become part of our subconscious. In ACT, we use various techniques to live in line with these values which help us make better choices in life.

  6. Commit to actions: Aim to carry out activities that work towards achieving your long-term goals and live life in line with what you deem important. It is not possible to make any improvements in behavior without being aware of how a certain action impacts us.

ACT is one of the many behavioural therapies, yet it stands out by focusing on acceptance rather than avoidance. This approach to treatment can be attributed to Stephen C. Hayes, the founder of ACT, and his background in mental health.

The Benefits of ACT for Mental Health and Wellbeing

ACT is an effective therapy for a variety of mental health issues, whether they exist on their own or together. According to research from 2020 it may be even more beneficial if someone is dealing with multiple mental health problems simultaneously.

It has been found to be beneficial for mental health and wellbeing by helping people to cope with difficult emotions and life challenges including:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Eating disorders

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Stress

  • Substance use

  • Psychosis

One core benefit of ACT is the impact it has on psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility is the ability to embrace your thoughts and feelings when they are useful and to set them aside when they are not. This allows you to thoughtfully respond to your inner experience and avoid short-term, impulsive actions, focusing instead on living a rich and meaningful life.

Psychological flexibility can improve your ability to accept and function with symptoms of conditions like anxiety or depression. Often, those symptoms may lessen significantly as a result of this increase in psychological flexibility.

Anxiety and stress and ACT

ACT is not intended for eliminating stress factors or getting rid of all anxiety. On the contrary, it recognises that such experiences are normal for humans and encourages us to accept them as part of our lives.

“Having negative thoughts and feelings means I’m a normal human being.” Russ Harris

ACT is here to help you cope with anxiety and stress better by teaching you valuable skills and strategies. It shows you how to shift your attitude towards life's challenges.

For example, social anxiety can make it difficult to build strong relationships. Nevertheless, there are certain techniques and strategies you can use to interact with people more confidently and ease into conversations, even if fear of judgement or rejection is present.

ACT does not prioritise reducing anxiety as the sole objective of therapy. However, it is possible that decreasing one's anxiety may come about as an unintentional effect of being exposed to more collective circumstances. The goal lies in building the life you desire, which may involve more social connection and emotional intimacy.

Substance Use Disorder and ACT

Experiencing a high doesn't necessarily have to be done with the use of substances. According to research, opioid users may take opioids not only for getting high but also to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Addiction interventions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), focus on teaching individuals the skills they need to resist triggers that may lead to cravings. Whereas, ACT works to help those struggling with substance misuse to understand how they might have used these substances as a means of avoiding uncomfortable emotions and provide an alternative path. It allows them to learn ways to tolerate and accept painful feelings without attempting to run away from them or block them out with substances.

Depression and ACT

ACT theory suggests that by taking action that are consistent with your core values, you can create meaning and purpose in life, even if it doesn't necessarily bring you instant pleasure. To rephrase it, you don’t need to let depression and its symptoms hold you back from doing the things that are important to you.

ACT can be a great help if you're struggling with feelings of hopelessness, shame, or regret. It provides tools to help you separate your current emotions from your long-term values and enables you to live with greater purpose.

One 2018 study compared the benefits of CBT and ACT for 82 people with major depression. According to the results, 75% of people who tried ACT reported remission of their depression symptoms and improvement in their quality of life. These benefits held up through the 6-month follow-up point.

There Is Nothing "Wrong" With You

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps you accept emotional distress, rather than perceiving it as something "wrong" with you. This therapeutic approach recognses that the most intense emotions are a universal part of being human.

Adopting this approach empowers you to lead a meaningful life despite outside matters that are beyond your control, such as disease, pain, grief and intense mental health problems.

A typical session might lasts 60 minutes, with treatment typically taking place over the course of 6 to 12 sessions.

A Take-Home Message

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a powerful tool that can help bring about major improvements in people's lives - not just those dealing with mental health issues, but everyone.

There is no need to suffer from pain in life, as ACT therapy has been highly effective in relieving it. Thanks to the evidence-based research available, you can now easily explore this option and decide if it works for you or your loved ones.



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