When I work with young adults and families, my mission is to partner with them in a supportive way so they can take the lead in making positive changes in their lives. One intervention that I have found to be particularly effective over the years is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – especially with adolescents and teens.
People struggling with mental or behavioral health issues are often at the mercy of negative thoughts and feelings. These painful thoughts continually go through their minds, getting in the way of anything else. The more these individuals try to avoid or suppress the thoughts, the more powerful they become. Avoiding can be so distracting that people become stuck, unable to move forward.
How is ACT Different?
ACT, according to the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, “is a unique empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means contacting the present moment fully, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values.”
In essence, ACT is based on three main components
1. Accept difficult thoughts and feelings
2. Connect with what’s important in your life (your values)
3. Take action toward your values
I help my clients notice and acknowledge their painful experiences, feelings and thoughts so that they have space in their minds to consider what is truly important to them in life. Then, we work on strategies to achieve their best-life goals. By being open to the hurt, my clients are able to actively choose what comes next.
ACT stands apart from other therapeutic interventions because the main goal from the outset is not symptom reduction. Yet, by going through the process the painful thoughts and feelings lose their power to disrupt and may in time fade – especially as the individual experiences a richer and more fulfilling life.
Mental health professionals often talk about the ACT Hexaflex, which provides a framework for the six core concepts of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Acceptance – Through this practice, we help clients recognize that there are some things that are out of our control. If we let go of the struggle against those things, we can make decisions about the part we have control over – our actions.
Cognitive Defusion – Here clients learn to notice their process of thinking rather than getting caught up in their thoughts. ACT attempts to change the way individuals interact with or relate to thoughts. Adding new more helpful meaning to thoughts gives them less power over us.
Being Present – This is the process of becoming attuned to what is occurring right now, in the present moment. Noticing if our thoughts move to the future, past, a different place or a different person.
Self as Context – Clients work to observe themselves as separate from yet aware of their own thoughts, feelings and experiences, at any given moment, without attachment.
Values –Here, we help the client connect to a deeper sense of what matters so they can make active choices about their purpose and direction and the behaviors that will allow them to live their best life.
Committed Action – Finally, we work on strategies that will allow the client to take action toward valued goals while experiencing uncomfortable feelings and thoughts.
Each of these six processes is ongoing. They overlap eachother and help to create psychological flexibility. A personality trait anyone can develop at any stage of life, psychological flexibility helps people cope with the ebbs and flows of life while handling problems in unexpected and creative ways.
If you or someone you love is stuck, repeating destructive and painful behaviors, ACT can be an extremely effective intervention. I am here to help. Please contact me for more information.