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