Mindfulness & Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which includes an emphasis on mindfulness, can be a very beneficial complement to traditional psychotherapy. Psychotherapy emphasizes self-awareness and emotional and behavioral change. In contrast, ACT shifts the focus from addressing and/or solving problems directly, to developing a new stance toward life’s challenges so that they do not get in the way of finding fulfillment and meaning.
ACT can be especially useful when one is experiencing hardships that cannot be eliminated, such as medical illness, loss, or any life stress which one cannot prevent or control. Even in the face of difficulties that may be partially of our own making, learning to develop an accepting response toward our own struggles, and directing our energy toward meaningful action, can bring appreciable improvement in well-being. ACT has been widely studied and has been found to be effective for people suffering from a wide range of problems, including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and more.
ACT can be divided into two parts, as its name indicates:
Acceptance: As humans, we tend to believe that our thoughts are accurate and that our feelings follow naturally from our experiences and circumstances. However, this is often not the case, as our responses are strongly influenced by our personal perspective. The more we cling to our thoughts and feelings and try to control or solve them, the more they can color our experience. Through a variety of mindfulness approaches, we can learn to recognize our thoughts and feelings as products of our mind, rather than as “truth.” This shift allows painful thoughts and feelings to recede more quickly and makes space for other experiences.
Commitment: This component of ACT includes clarifying one’s most important values and dedicating oneself to choices and actions that express these values. When focused excessively on problems, we may believe that we must solve the difficulties before we can find more life satisfaction. While solving problems is an important and valid goal of therapy, ACT emphasizes the value of pursuing meaning and fulfilling activities even while problems persist.
ACT can be a beneficial and powerful addition to psychotherapy. Through the combination, we can address and ameliorate the difficulties that bring you to therapy, while also increasing wellbeing through greater self-acceptance and commitment to values and meaningful action.