Some Definitions

What is ACT?

‘ACT’ stands for acceptance and commitment training (or therapy).

Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) is ‘a unique empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. You can read more about psychological flexibility here.


Like any technical approach, ACT has its own jargon. We will try to avoid jargon as much as possible on this site but there are some words that it might be helpful for you to understand if you are to ‘get’ what this is all about. These words are:

1. Cognitive Fusion

This is where we get entangled with our thoughts and ‘pushed around by them’ (Russ Harris). We focus our attention on the contents of our mind (our thoughts, memories, assumptions, beliefs, images etc) rather than what we are experiencing through our five senses.  We then make decisions and take actions based on our internal experience (thoughts, memories etc) rather than what is  really going on in the world.

“In a state of fusion a thought can seem like:

  • the absolute truth
  • a command you have to obey or a rule you have to follow” (Russ Harris)

2. Defusion

This is where we can observe our thoughts and see them for what they are – just products of our busy minds.

“in a state of defusion, you recognise that a thought:

  • may or may not be true
  • is not a command you have to obey
  • is not a threat to you
  • is not something happening in the physical world – it’s merely words or pictures inside your head
  • can be allowed to come and go of its own accord” (Russ Harris)

3. Experiential Avoidance

This is where we focus on trying to avoid or get rid of painful thoughts and feelings and as a result avoid taking actions that are important to us (giving a speech, asking to be included in a project team, giving honest feedback). As a result our life gets narrowed down – we don’t take important steps to create the life we want.  Ths short video is designed to explain avoidance and its opposite – psychological flexibility:

4. Acceptance

This is choosing to adopt an open, curious and receptive attitude to internal experiences (such as thoughts, emotions, memories and urges) as they arise, even when they are unpleasant. There is a lot of good research that tells us this is likely to be a good idea. 

The theory in ACT says that is fine to control thoughts and feelings as long as:

  1. It is actually possible (which is usually in low stress situations!)
  2. It doesn’t get in the way of doing what matters and living a full life.

5. Willingness

Kelly Wilson suggests willingness involves deciding, ‘Where you want to go in life and then heading off in that direction, even if that means feeling some pain along the way’.

Russ Harris describes the process of willingness in his animation The Struggle Switch:

Please feel free to suggest changes to this page – contact Rob Archer via The Career Psychologist

13 thoughts on “Some Definitions

  1. I am so so happy I found this information. I am a client in ACT therapy and along with this therapy and my therapist my life has changed dramatically! I am still a work in progress lol however I have a whole new outlook on life and I feel so much better about my life my future and am not as depressed and anxious as I was when I started the ACT program! I Love it so much that I am working on using what I have learnt to help my children as they have all said they notice a big difference in me and are so happy to see me happy and they want to know what I have been doing and when I explain what my Amazing therapist has taught me they are intrigued and are listening to my advice and coming to me with questions! I HIGHLY reccomend ACT therapy as I am living proof how effective it is and that it really works! I am going to research as much as I can. reading the above definitions was so helpful because they pinpoint exactly what experiences I have had. While reading the definitions I saw a lot of myself and issues I have or have had within these definitions. In ACT therapy I have discussed all of these definitions it’s as is this information was written about me lol I now live a valued based life I practice mindfulness everyday , I carry my core values list with me and look at it touch it read it everyday and it is emotional looking at it for many reasons,but mainly because it is helping to change my life in a hugely positive way! I now am starting to have selfworth and take care of myself and still am learning to balance all my values and take care of myself and it makes me feel happy and proud! Did I tell you how much I LOVE my therapist? Lol My therapist and I also walk during our sessions and it makes the therapy that much better. I can’t say enough about the ACT program and am so so thankful that I am participating in this program it was a gift in my life! ❤️

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