Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) has an ultimate goal of increasing psychological flexibility in a patient. ACT encourages people to recognize that some pain and suffering are inherent aspects of life, and rather than spending time and energy fighting against certain inevitabilities, we are better off focusing our efforts on creating rich, full, and meaningful lives through our actions. Thus, the “acceptance” portion of ACT focuses on accepting our limitations and the inherent difficulty of being human, while the “commitment” portion addresses our ability to commit to taking actions that are consistent with the values which give our lives purpose and fulfillment.
To give some context to this, think of whether you have ever experienced an emotion about an emotion. Have you ever felt anxious, then became angry at yourself for feeling anxious, saying to yourself, “What’s the matter with me, why can’t I just deal with this?” Have you ever felt sad, then experienced guilt for not feeling happier during a certain occasion? If you have experienced a similar situation, then you have felt first hand how the lack of acceptance of our emotions, situations, and experiences can lead to unnecessary suffering. ACT in these instances would help us find room to accept and tolerate these initial feelings so they do not inspire other unpleasant emotions, do not last as long, and do not feel as intense.
ACT focuses on six core principles: acceptance, cognitive diffusion, being present, self as context, values, and committed action. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, an emphasis is placed on mindfulness exercises aimed at increasing awareness and acceptance of the present moment. Through this, we can begin to see that we do not have to be fused to our thoughts. Instead of identifying with our thoughts and feelings, we can observe them coming and going just as if we were watching leaves float down a stream. And as we come to develop a new type of relationship with our thoughts and feelings, or private events as they are called in ACT, we can decide not to let our behavior and choices be shaped by these whimsical events and instead can contemplate how to align our daily actions with our values to reach meaningful short- and long-term goals in our lives.