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Acceptance & Commitment Therapy: History, Processes & Techniques

If you are trying to avoid pain and distressful feelings, acceptance and commitment therapy techniques help you cope with them. According to a 2020 controlled trial, ACT has shown the potential to make physical pain and discomfort associated with chronic conditions more bearable.

Your body instinctively protects you from pain. For example, if you’re worried your boss will disagree with your project proposal, you might avoid bringing it up. But have you ever thought about how your reaction might change if you looked at tough situations differently? Instead of thinking of emotions like sadness, anger, and fear as “bad,” what if you accepted them as just part of your life’s experiences?

This idea is key to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which sees “negative” emotions as natural parts of life. This blog will help you understand the basics of ACT,

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a talk therapy that helps people accept difficult thoughts and feelings instead of trying to avoid them. Unlike other therapies that aim to reduce unwanted emotions, ACT teaches you to handle them better as part of life.

Everything has its own pros and cons. Avoidance can sometimes solve problems, but using it too often can backfire. For instance, avoiding a stressful situation at work by taking a short break can help you recharge, but avoiding studying for an important exam by playing video games can leave you unprepared.

ACT doesn’t focus on controlling or suppressing unwanted feelings. Instead, it helps you accept them and move forward with your goals. For example, rather than avoiding your fear, Acceptance and Commitment therapy techniques, its benefits, and how to set ideal expectations in therapy. of public speaking, ACT helps you give a better presentation while accepting your nerves.

In short, ACT helps you focus on your values and make choices that align with them.

History of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT emerged in the late 1990s from relational frame theory (RFT), which examines human language and cognition. RFT suggested that traditional problem-solving skills might not effectively address psychological pain. ACT therapy was developed to teach people that experiencing psychological pain is normal, but we can lead healthier lives by changing how we perceive and respond to that pain. Developed by Steven C. Hayes in the 1980s, ACT focuses on accepting emotions and committing to actions that align with one’s values.

Since the late 1990s, several detailed treatment guides have been created to explain how to use ACT for different mental health issues. Research studies have shown that following these guides can effectively help with substance abuse, psychosis, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and eating disorders.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Techniques

Unlike cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques (ACT) don’t aim to reduce unpleasant thoughts or emotions. Instead, it helps you stop struggling to control these and focus on activities that align with your values.

There are 6 Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques to build psychological flexibility, allowing you to choose your actions regardless of your internal experiences.

● Identifying Values

These aspects of your life are fundamental and motivate you to take action. For example, it could be your desire to support your family or your commitment to improving your health. It’s about understanding what you care about and want to represent.

● Commitment to Action

It’s important to take action to stay true to our values. This process involves adjusting one’s actions according to the principles discussed in therapy. These actions can either bring one closer to his values or steer him away.

For example, if health is a core value, exercising regularly, eating well, and getting enough sleep align with it, showing your commitment to physical well-being. Neglecting exercise or frequently eating unhealthy foods moves you away from this goal.

● Self as Context or Self as Observer

One metaphor, “The sky and the weather,” compares the patient to the sky and their thoughts and feelings to weather patterns. The sky remains constant just as the weather changes from clear skies to storms. This metaphor shows that thoughts and feelings come and go—they don’t define who we are.

This technique involves viewing one’s thoughts about oneself as separate from one’s actions. This allows people to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.

● Cognitive Defusion Skills

Cognitive defusion is separating yourself from your inner experiences. It helps you see thoughts just as thoughts without attaching undue importance to them.

● Acceptance

Letting your inner thoughts and feelings happen without trying to alter or dismiss them is accepting yourself as you are, and it’s an ongoing process.

Specific skills used in acceptance and commitment therapy techniques for learning acceptance include:

  • Self-compassion meditations
  • Showing emotions or thoughts
  • Loving-kindness phrases
  • Experiential exercises and metaphors

● Present Moment Contact

ACT therapy encourages mindfulness of your surroundings. It teaches you to shift attention from internal thoughts and feelings to stay present in the moment. This focus builds awareness and prevents past experiences from influencing current interactions.

What to expect in ACT Therapy

The first sessions of ACT therapy focus on clarifying your values. Later sessions help you connect with and apply those values daily.

During a typical ACT therapy session:

  • You review the past week, recognizing and rewarding behaviors that align with your values.
  • You examine behaviors that didn’t align and explore the obstacles that led to those actions.
  • Using the six ACT processes, you work through these barriers to move closer to your values in the future.

Your therapist will guide you in applying these principles to your life. They might teach you techniques like acceptance and cognitive defusion, helping you see yourself separate from your thoughts and feelings.

Sessions may also include mindfulness exercises to cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and memories you’ve previously avoided.

Benefits of ACT Therapy

ACT therapy benefits include:

● Psychological Flexibility

This refers to adapting to changing situational demands, managing difficult emotions, and remaining focused on valued goals despite internal discomfort.

● Symptom Management

This involves techniques and strategies to reduce the frequency and intensity of symptoms associated with mental health conditions, improving overall quality of life.

● Self-Awareness and Compassion

These qualities involve understanding one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and treating oneself with kindness and understanding, which can enhance emotional resilience and well-being.

These aspects highlight how ACT therapy can enhance mental health and emotional resilience.

What ACT can help you with?

Some of the diagnoses, conditions, and situations that ACT may help with include:

  • Mood Disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Chronic Pain
  • Substance Disorder
  • Eating Habits
  • Co-occurring psychological conditions


Que: What are the 4 A’s of acceptance and commitment therapy?

Ans: In ACT, acceptance is understood through the “four A’s”: Acknowledge, Allow, Accommodate, and Appreciate.

Que: What can ACT help with?

Ans: ACT can help with managing anxiety, depression, and stress. It focuses on improving overall well-being through acceptance and mindfulness techniques.

Que: How effective is ACT Therapy?

Ans: ACT has been found effective for treating various conditions such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and physical pain.

Que: What are the mechanisms of acceptance and commitment therapy?

Ans: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) operates by accepting difficult thoughts and feelings, defusing thoughts, practicing mindfulness, figuring out personal values, and taking committed actions despite challenges.

Que: Is ACT a CBT technique?

Ans: ACT is a branch of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that emphasizes acceptance rather than changing dysfunctional thoughts and feelings.


According to ACT’s main philosophy, healing comes from accepting your emotions rather than trying to eliminate them. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques help with anxiety, depression, and emotional distress by teaching acceptance of complicated feelings as part of life.

This therapy approach is well-supported by evidence. Learning to live with challenging emotions can give you more control over your values and goals in life.

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