Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT):
Don’t be put off by the name! It’s usually simply called ‘Act’ (rather than A.C.T.), which is a really appropriate name, as it’s a very active form of therapy: It doesn’t just involve sitting and talking, but also actively learning new skills that will help you to handle difficult thoughts and feelings, so they have less impact on your life, as a result, you’ll feel less pushed around by them. In addition, you’ll explore what’s really important to you, what matters, and what you would like to be doing and saying in life. This can then inform the action you take to build a life that’s rich and meaningful to you; helping you to be the person you really want to be in all areas of your life.
I suspect many clients don’t notice quite how radically different Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is from the majority of psychotherapy approaches. ACT is a relative newcomer, initially developed during the 1980s as a mindfulness-based behaviour therapy with a focus on taking action in accordance with your personal values. It has now gone on to establish itself as a well researched* therapy, able to help people with a wide range of difficulties, including anxiety and depression.
The following sentences give a bit more information about how ACT works, but remember it’s an active, experiential form of therapy. As such, reading about it is no substitute for experiencing it!
Western psychology has largely assumed psychological distress to be the result of a deviation from a ‘healthy normality’, and as a result, it has sought to relieve the symptoms of mental ‘illness’. ACT considers that normal psychological processes can be painful and damaging, and thus lead to distress and suffering, and also that efforts to be ‘symptom free’ can compound such pain and suffering. As a result, ACT does not have symptom reduction as a goal. But, paradoxically, symptom reduction usually occurs through the development of ‘psychological flexibility’ that arises from a combination of six core processes in ACT:
- Defusion - A process that enables us to be less ‘caught up’ in our thoughts, and thus less controlled or pushed around by them. A less technical term for this is 'unhooking' yourself from your thoughts; as soon as a thought pops into our mind we tend to get 'hooked' by it. We jump aboard a train of thoughts, and get carried along, which is fine if they're helpful thoughts, but when they're unhelpful to us, we can end up being taken for a ride. We end up limiting ourselves by buying into whatever our mind is telling us - and this may be about us ('I'm no good at public speaking') or the world around us ('people will think I'm stupid'). So this process is about noticing we're onboard an unhelpful train of thoughts, and deliberately getting off.
- Acceptance - A starting point and an active process, rather than a passive ‘putting up with’. It provides a healthy alternative to avoidance of difficult thoughts and feelings. Sometimes words such as 'acknowledging' or 'allowing' can better express the sense of this as the beginning of a process of change in our relationship with our experience.
- Present Moment - The only moment we truly have, yet we spend so much time caught up in the past, or worrying about the future that sometimes we're barely there as the moments of our lives pass us by. In this way we can end up caught up in anxiety about things that will never happen, or getting sad about times that have passed, completely missing out on our life as we're living it.
- Observing Self - An ever-present part of us, a continuity of consciousness that is able to notice thoughts, feelings or sensations, without actually 'being' the emotion, or being changed by it.
- Values - These guide us and help us to be the person we want to be, but are easily confused with rules or goals, but there's a big difference: A rule is inherently inflexible, and a goal can be ticked off the list when accomplished. Values are flexible and adaptable to any situations that arise, and are more like 'flavours' of actions we take, so they're always available, and cannot be 'accomplished'.
- Committed Action - Ultimately, ACT leads to committed action in line with our values and towards developing a rich and meaningful life. An if that action is a struggle, we go back to any or all of the above points.
As a therapist, I love the flexibility that ACT offers; sessions can be very fluid, moving through any or all of the above processes. It’s also very active, with experiential exercises that can often be practiced in-between sessions; in fact most sessions will end with something to take home and work with, or some positive action to take.
*Research studies from around the world have shown ACT to be helpful with a wide range of clinical conditions, either on its own, or as part of a larger treatment program, these conditions include anxiety, depression, OCD, stress, chronic pain, PTSD, anorexia, addictions (to substances such as marijuana and heroin) and schizophrenia. As of 2019 the evidence base includes around 250 randomised controlled trials and about 30 systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
If you would like to find out more about my practice, please click on the 'Home' link at the top of the page, or click on 'Services' to find out more about the range of problems and conditions I am trained to help with.
I am available for consultations by appointment at Delta House, 175-177 Borough High Street, SE1 1HR (near to London Bridge station). Late appointments are available until 10pm on some evenings, and week-end sessions are also offered.
Please call 07831-693684 for an appointment, or send me an e-mail (there's a link at the foot of this page).
Appointments last for up to one hour and cost £75.00, payable by bank transfer at the time of booking.
At least 24 hours notice is required when rescheduling or cancelling appointments, otherwise the full fee will be charged.
I will always try to accommodate clients who have difficulty in affording my fees as I believe a lack of funds should not prevent people receiving professional therapeutic help. In these situations, I offer reduced rates at certain times, please mention your needs when making an appointment.