Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, known as “ACT” (pronounced as the word “act”) is a mindfulness-based behavioural therapy that challenges the ground rules of most Western psychology. It utilizes an eclectic mix of metaphor, paradox, and mindfulness skills, along with a wide range of experiential exercises and values-guided behavioural interventions. ACT has proven effective with a diverse range of clinical conditions: depression, OCD, workplace stress, chronic pain, the stress of terminal cancer, anxiety, PTSD, anorexia, heroin abuse, marijuana abuse, and even schizophrenia.
The goal of ACT is to create a rich and meaningful life, while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. “ACT” is a good abbreviation, because this therapy is about taking effective action guided by our deepest values and in which we are fully present and engaged. It is only through mindful action that we can create a meaningful life. Of course, as we attempt to create such a life, we will encounter all sorts of barriers, in the form of unpleasant and unwanted "private experiences" (thoughts, images, feelings, sensations, urges, and memories). ACT reaches mindfulness skills as an effective way to handle these private experiences.
ACT is one of the so-called “third wave” of behavioural therapies—along with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)—all of which place a major emphasis on the development of mindfulness skills.
Created in 1986 by Steve Hayes, ACT was the first of these "third wave” therapies, and currently has a considerable body of empirical data to support its effectiveness. The “first wave” of behavioural therapies, in the fifties and sixties, focused on overt behavioural change and utilized techniques linked to operant and classical conditioning principles. The “second wave” in the seventies included cognitive interventions as a key strategy. Cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) eventually came to dominate this “second wave”
ACT differs from DBT, MBCT, and MBSR in many ways. For a start, MBSR and MBCT are essentially annualized treatment protocols, designed for use with groups for treatment of stress and depression. DBT is typically a combination of group skills training and individual therapy, designed primarily for group treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. In contrast, ACT can be used with individuals, couples and groups, both as brief therapy or long term therapy, in a wide range of clinical populations. Furthermore, rather than following a annualized protocol, ACT allows the therapist to create and individualize their own mindfulness techniques, or even to co-create them with clients.
ACT is the only Western psychotherapy developed in conjunction with its own basic research program into human language and cognition—Relational Frame Theory (RFT).
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