What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and How is it Used?

 In Drug and Alcohol Treatment

Acceptance and commitment therapy gets its origins from concepts from cognitive behavioral therapy and traditional behavioral therapy. In this type of treatment, clients learn to accept their inner emotions. They also learn that these feelings are appropriate ones depending on the situation and that they shouldn’t keep these feelings from blocking their movement through their lives. When used in treatmnent, clients understand that their feelings are ok, they can commit to accepting their issues and make the necessary changes to their behavior, no matter what hardships come their way.

This therapy works like behaviorism but goes a step further. Accepting behavior may be the missing link in traditional behavioral therapies. Being mindful of a person’s emotions and reactions as well as accepting that these feelings exist works in combination with progressive behavioral changes to turn a person’s life around.

The theoretical base for ACT’s principles is limited, as social work literature about the therapy is primarily derivative. The research on this therapy does date back to the 1980s and is beginning to show promising data as of recently. Addiction therapy counselors continue to use this treatment because it works when treating addictions and for dealing with other types of negative behaviors.

Subtle verbal shifts are used to enable a person to take action to change behavior even while they still have emotions about the situation. Instead of only changing, the person being treated is encouraged to accept their feelings and behaviors while working on adjusting the behaviors. Serenity Prayer remains an excellent example of this way of thinking.

When is it Used?

This therapy is used to deal with such issues as:

  • -Stress in the workplace
  • -Anxiety
  • -Depression
  • -Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • -Psychosis
  • -Chronic pain
  • -Substance abuse

What Happens During This Addiction Therapy?

During a session with a therapist, the patient will listen to their self-talk when traumatic events, relationships or other issues like physical limitations are discussed. The client will then decide whether they can take immediate action to change the behaviors or accept the behavior while changes are made. Once current issues have been identified, the client and therapist work together to practice more optimistic and confident behaviors that remain based on specific goals. People learn that they can still act on positive behaviors even while they feel uncomfortable with the negative emotions that may occur. One key element in this therapy remains that issues must be identified. Once they are identified, the client can decide whether the area can be changed or has to be accepted. Examples of problems that need to be recognized are physical handicaps and past traumas. Neither of these problems can be changed, but they can be identified and managed.

Not all issues that occur in life need to be accepted. For instance, people in abusive relationships need to get out of these relationships and to a safe place both physically and emotionally. But when life hands people problems from time to time, some of life’s hardships need to be accepted and dealt with by different behaviors.

How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Work?

One central concept behind this type of therapy is that trying to control a person’s emotions or psychological experience only leads to suppressing these emotions, which causes additional stress. The client using this method pays attention to their personal values, mindful behaviors, and the resulting actions that occur. The counselor compares what their client says to what they do, and helps the client become aware of any conflicts between what is said and behaviors. By changing their behavior, the client learns to accept their past experiences. When that happens, their attitude and emotional state also improve.

Six basic processes happen during the process of this therapy. Those processes are:

  • – Acceptance. Acceptance means that the client is thinking in the present, and allowing their feelings to be accepted as they exist now. For instance, if a person felt anxious during a session, they would be encouraged to take time to experience the anxiety without doing anything about it.
  • – Cognitive defusion. Cognitive defusion lessens a person’s negative thoughts by altering the language used to express those feelings. The way emotions are worded when verbally expresse has a lot to do with how the emotions are processed.
  • – Being present. People using this therapy are encouraged to face the situations that cause them fear or discomfort, instead of avoiding these events at all costs.
  • – Using the self as context. Using the self as context enables a person to move forward toward the future and move through the hardships of their present life without detachment.
  • – Valuing. Valuing empowers a person to discover their values and what they want and don’t want to happen in their lives. These values are the person’s values, not those of a situation or their family.
  • – Committed action. Once a person has identified their chosen values, they can take action toward those values and move forward in their lives.

What to Look for in a Therapist

A licensed therapist or social worker or other mental health professionals with training in addiction therapy and ACT should be able to assist their clients in using this method to improve their outlook on life and increase positive behaviors.

If you feel that you or someone you know could benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy, contact us today.

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