Mindfulness Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) - dummies

Mindfulness Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

By Shamash Alidina, Joelle Jane Marshall

An interesting form of therapy that uses mindfulness is ACT — Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Developed in the early 1980s by Steven Hayes, ACT is grounded in quality science and yet has elements that echo ancient eastern ideas.

The evidence is growing rapidly and so far seems to show that ACT is effective for social anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder, workplace stress, chronic pain, weight control, diabetes management, smoking cessation and more.

ACT helps you to accept what’s out of your personal control and commit to action that improves your life. ACT achieves this by:

  • Using mindfulness skills to deal with difficult thoughts and emotions.

  • Helping you to determine your values (what’s truly important for you) and offering ways to help you move towards living by your values.

The mindfulness part comprises four principles:

  • Defusion — Using techniques to let go of difficult thoughts, beliefs and memories. Fusion is about being stuck and so defusion is about becoming unstuck from your thoughts by seeing that thoughts are just sounds and images in the mind.

    For example, if you have the thought, ‘I’m rubbish at everything,’ you can imagine that sentence in front of you with curiosity. Then you imagine Mickey Mouse repeatedly saying the words in a high-pitched voice. Finally, you imagine the character dancing around and saying, ‘I’m rubbish at everything.’ This is just one of many ways to defuse.

  • Acceptance — Making space for painful thoughts, feelings and sensations without struggling against them. Acceptance isn’t admitting defeat or resignation or thinking that the experience is going to exist forever. Acceptance is letting go of the fight with your present-moment experience.

  • Present moment — Being in contact with the here-and-now experience with curiosity and a sense of openness.

  • Observing yourself — Stepping back as the observer or witness of your experience as spacious, open awareness. You discover how to watch thoughts and emotions arise and pass away as an observer instead of identifying with the experience.

The main difference between the ACT approach and other mindfulness approaches is the emphasis on action and less of a focus on long meditations. The idea is to use mindfulness skills to help you manage your difficult thoughts and emotions as you move towards taking action based on your core values.