Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, abbreviated as ACT, said aloud as the word act, is a cutting edge, modern approach to direct practice. ACT is used as a form of psychotherapy, counselling, and coaching. Applied to healthcare (especially mental health), performance issues in business, academics and athletics, for weight loss, grief and many more settings.
Although therapy is in the name, we sometimes refer to ACT as a training. This is because ACT's initial development and application was for health related issues typically treated with therapies. However, ACT's universality makes it useful in non-clinical settings. My favourite example is my co-author, Jessica Borushok's research (supported by a NIOSH grant) on ACT with sedentary workers, demonstrating that ACT was helpful in getting people moving and also had other benefits, for example them liking each other more at the end of the study.
Check out our award winning book (2018 Benjamin Franklin Gold Seal for Psychology) The ACT Approach, we're super proud of its success and know it's a great introduction to ACT. If you're looking for something more self-help focused, there's my free ebook, Life Map: Finding Meaning in Chaos to Make Change.
Let me tell you how ACT works because this is the coolest part. ACT is based on a completely unexpected scientific advancement that demonstrates acceptance, making peace with what you think, feel, sense, and remember is the key to overcoming our personal hurdles. That word acceptance is tricky for a lot of people so imagine that it simply means being present with aversive private stuff (physical pain, emotional hurt, difficult thoughts, intrusive memories) and not being governed by those difficulties. Therein lies the profound part of this approach, living a rich, meaningful life is possible—we don't have to be free from anxiety, chronic pain, worry, anger, trauma histories, or heartache to live well.
If you're noticing throughout this post that I'm describing ACT as an approach, this is purposeful. ACT is not a set of techniques or methods, although ACT metaphors and exercises have become popular and synonymous with ACT leading some to believe that ACT's techniques are what it is. They're not. They're just a manifestation of ACT. Which leads us to answer: what is ACT exactly? The simple answer is that it's a series of processes that once understood are incredibly empowering for clinicians and trainers. This leads creative people who learn ACT to innovate creating their own effective techniques and methods for doing ACT.
For example, thanks to the generous mentorship of Kevin Polk, the creator of the ACT Matrix, Jessica and I were able to innovate our own variation that we use with all of our clients in every setting we work in called the Life Map.
This is a part of why I'm all in on ACT. It can be adapted in an infinite number of ways to fit almost any situation. If you're eager to experiment more with ACT or you're curious to see questions this approach asks and practices it suggests, check out my playlist of brief ACT practices. These videos are based on the wildly popular ACT Deck, 55 practices based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for use in therapy, classrooms or at home. These cards ask tough questions, encourage meaningful action and provide new perspectives to help you let go of negative thoughts and live in the present moment.
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Find Your Zen
Tim is a social worker in Hamilton, Ontario; an award winning author, speaker, yoga teacher, and ACT trainer.