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ACCEPTANCE AND COMMITMENT THERAPY (ACT)

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WHAT IS ACT?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is an evidence-based treatment aimed at helping clients identify and overcome the barriers there are to reaching important goals by becoming "unstuck" and increasing psychological flexibility. Through these efforts, clients aim to live full and meaningful lives. Unlike other forms of therapy, like CBT, where the primary goal is to eliminate all negativity and emotional suffering, ACT helps clients to accept their emotional states, distance themselves from their thoughts, determine what they value most and then take actions that are in line with those values. Essentially, the goal of ACT is to stop fighting and start living.

IS ACT EFFECTIVE?

While we cannot guarantee any specific results for individual patients, ACT has been shown to be effective for the treatment of numerous disorders over the course of many scientific studies. This is known as "evidence-based treatment" and means that rather than ACT being based on what we THINK works, it is based on scientific evidence. Researchers have shown that ACT is effective for disorders including depression, anxiety, burnout, psychosis, PTSD, panic, chronic pain, disordered eating, ADHD, relationship difficulties, addiction, and sleep disorders.

HOW DOES ACT WORK?

ACT encourages clients to accept their thoughts and emotional experiences rather than trying to fight them. In doing so, the client is freed up to interact with the world fully in order to pursue goals that are most in line with an individual's more important values. ACT integrates mindfulness exercises to help patients to stay in contact with the present moment. An ACT therapist will encourage clients to accept their emotional experiences and to gain some distance from thoughts so they can be considered objectively. Working collaboratively, the ACT therapist and client will determine what values are most important to the client and subsequently the client will start taking committed action (making goals) in line with those values.

HOW DOES ACT DIFFER FROM OTHER TYPES OF TALK THERAPY?

While there are a wide array of therapeutic modalities available, ACT is noteworthy in that its effectiveness has been shown scientifically. Other therapy that you or your loved ones have experienced in the past may have been solely devoted to an exploration of your past or may have felt more like venting sessions rather than providing you with constructive tools and skills you can apply to your life. While you and your therapist may explore your past experiences, session are mostly present and future oriented. Unlike other evidence-based treatments like CBT or DBT, ACT therapists will not encourage you to find ways to eliminate or minimize negative emotional states. The focus of ACT is on fully experiencing and making room for all emotions in order to allow clients the space to live more fully in line with their individual values.

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL SESSION LOOK LIKE?

A typical session will begin with the therapist conducting a mindfulness exercise so that both therapist and patient are practicing making contact with the present moment. This is usually followed by reviewing any homework assigned at the previous session. The meat of the session will be devoted to working toward a client's goals. This may include learning new skills or tools. At the end of most sessions, the therapist will assign relevant homework to be completed prior to the next session.

HOW LONG IS THE COURSE OF ACT TREATMENT?

We do not like to predict how long a course of ACT treatment will take. Every patient and every journey is different. While our work is informed by research, we tailor each therapeutic experience to a client's individual needs. Client's should expect to commit to several months of weekly treatment in most cases.

HOW DO I KNOW IF ACT IS FOR ME?

If you are looking to live a full and meaningful life, but have had trouble getting unstuck from the thoughts and emotional experiences that you'd rather not have, ACT may be a good fit for you. It helps if you are willing to devote time and effort to engaging in homework in between sessions and are motivated to try new things. The biggest drawback of ACT is often that it SOUNDS more palatable to reduce or eliminate unpleasant emotional states than accepting them does. The problem with that viewpoint is that unpleasant emotions and negative thoughts often pop up regardless of what we want. ACT takes a different approach that frees people up from the need to stop what may be unstoppable and helps them to interact with thoughts and emotions in a different, more helpful way. ACT may also be a good fit for those who have tried CBT, but did not find it helpful.