Monday, May 4, 2015

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Recently I published a post presenting one of the many hundreds of techniques in mindfulness. It was the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method. Many of you acknowledged the value of mindfulness as practiced in psychology but also as a widely popular as an adjunct to conventional medical, psychological therapy, behavioural psychology and an effective tool for increasing emotional intelligence. I wanted to touch on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as a powerful mindfulness-based therapy which currently leads the field in terms of research, application and results.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) gets it name from one of its core messages: accept what is out of our personal control, and commit to action that improves and enriches our life. The aim of ACT is to maximise human potential for a rich, full and meaningful life. ACT is a mindfulness-based therapy.

As we know mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, focus and openness - which allows us to engage fully in whatever we’re doing at any moment. In a state of mindfulness, difficult thoughts and feelings have much less impact and influence over us - so it’s hugely useful for everything from full-blown psychiatric illness to enhancing athletic or business performance. ACT provides a range of tools to learn mindfulness skills, many of which require only a few minutes to master.

ACT breaks mindfulness skills down into 3 categories:

  • Defusion - distancing from, and letting go of, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and memories.
  • Acceptance - making room for painful feelings, urges and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle.
  • Contact with the present moment - engaging fully with our here-and-now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity.

These skills require us to use an aspect of our self for which there isn’t a word in common everyday language. It is the part of us that is capable of awareness and attention. In ACT, this is often called the 'observing self'. Self can be talked about in many ways, but it’s the physical self and the thinking self. The observing self is the part of us that is able to observe both our physical self and our thinking self.

We can think of it also as awareness.  It’s the part of us that is aware of everything else: aware of every thought, every feeling, everything we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and do.

Developing psychological flexibility through six core processes in ACT

  • Being psychologically present: consciously connecting with whatever is happening right here, right now.
  •  Learning to step back or detach from unhelpful thoughts and worries and memories
  • Opening up and making room for painful feelings and sensations.
  • Accessing both our thinking self and observing self. The thinking self is the part that is responsible for all our thoughts, beliefs, memories, judgments, fantasies. The observing self is the part of our mind that is able to be aware of whatever we are thinking or feeling or doing at any moment.
  • Understanding our values and beliefs - what we want our life to be about. What we want to stand for. What we would like to be remembered for by the people we love.
  • Committed action by taking action guided by our values, doing what matters even if it's difficult or uncomfortable.

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