Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one of the third wave of mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapies and has amassed a huge scientific evidence base demonstrating its effectiveness.
ACT was originally created by Steven C. Hayes when he was seeking relief from his own panic disorder. He tells the moving story of his own suffering and how it led to the development of ACT in the TED Talk below.
Used as an intervention, ACT is beneficial for a variety of health issues, including chronic pain management, addictions, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and psychosis (Hayes, 2021).
Want to learn more about these incredibly beneficial ACT techniques? We share many interventions and videos below.
Before we go any further, we thought you might likedownload our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to improve the well-being of your clients, students, or employees.
This article contains:
- 6 Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Techniques
- 3 ACT interventions for your sessions
- 3 activities to try with your clients
- 2 ACT group exercises
- Relevant Resources from PositivePsychology.com
- A message to take home
6 Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Techniques
ACT is based on a model of six core processes calledel hexaflex.
The main objective of ACT is to alleviate suffering by optimizing psychological flexibility. This is achieved by educating clients on the six core processes and supporting the development of new psychological skills including mindfulness, cognitive defusion and acceptance.
ACT interventions aim to overcome experiential avoidance using a combination of mindfulness andbehavior changeTechniques Each intervention activates at least one of the six core processes, but some interventions activate multiple core processes simultaneously.
Below are six techniques that focus on the core processes of conscious connection and cognitive defusion that are especially helpful forcontrol anxiety. Feeling anxious when you're under stress is normal and can help spark the extra energy you need to come up with creative solutions to problems.
However, prolonged anxiety can be exhausting and even becomepanic attacks(Smith, 2019). The good news is that the ACT approach was developed by Hayes to help you overcome your own anxiety and panic disorder. For a complete update on the state of the evidence (Hayes, 2021), visit theAssociation for Contextual and Behavioral Sciences, the professional association of ACT practitioners.
In this TED Talk, Hayes shares the development of his approach:
Many ACT interventions are especially helpful for anxiety, as explained in Hayes' TED Talk above. We discuss several of the approaches here.
1. Grounding Breath: Conscious Grounding
When you are stressed, you are more susceptible to anxiety and overwhelm (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999).
This can even cause panic attacks when the stress is prolonged (Smith, 2019).
When Anxiety Hitsgroundingyourself through mindful breathing can help you calm down. try this simpleanchor breathexercise to take a mindful break to reduce stress.
2. Cognitive defusion of useless thoughts
cognitive defusionit is a technique that uses mindfulness skills to distance yourself from painful thoughts or internal comments (Hayes & Smith, 2005).
ACT uses many metaphors to facilitate the defusion of painful thoughts and feelings.
HimACT defusion metaphorsThe worksheet contains a list of questions to determine the difference between helpful and unhelpful thoughts (Hayes & Smith, 2005) as well as a list of metaphors to apply during sessions if a client is caught in a downward spiral of negative self-esteem and severe. criticism, self-criticism orcatastrofizando.
Remind the client that their internal comment only includes thoughts that are just words, and use the "Thoughts Are Like" section of this worksheet to help defuse painful thoughts.
3. The fight change
Russ Harris (2008) invented the fight-change ACT metaphor to help his clients release anxiety by choosing to notice and observe it intently rather than struggling with it.
He explains the metaphor and how to use it in the following video. You can also download the Harris worksheet atfight strategiesfor free.
4. Watch Anxiety Carefully
First, it is essential to help the client understand that the experiential avoidance of his anxiety actually intensifies it.
In the following video, Hayes demonstrates a mindfulness exercise that redirects an anxious client to become an observer of their anxiety in the context of a whole person throughout their life.
Istherapeutic interventionactivates four core processes: conscious connection, cognitive defusion, acceptance and self as context, in a single intervention. We adapt the exercise for freeWatch Anxiety Carefullyspreadsheet.
5. Fatality and sadness on the radio
Ever feel like your mind is humming in the background like a radio broadcast of the Doom and Gloom Show?
When your mind gets bogged down in negative self-talk or keeps replaying negative events, your thoughts generate painful emotions like fear and anxiety.
In the following video, Russ Harris describes a defusion exercise called "Radio Doom + Gloom" that helps calm anxious thoughts. We also adapted Harris's technique (2008) into a free worksheet:radio doom and gloom.
6. Thank your mind and name the story
Often when you feel anxiety, your mind amplifies it by presenting a familiar history of self-criticism. When such self-defeating or self-limiting thoughts arise, recognize them as a product of your mind and thank your mind for its input. You can say it out loud or mentally.
When each repetitive self-defeating story comes up (eg, "I'm not good enough"), call it the "I'm not good enough" story, acknowledge it, and let it go.
Whenever your old self-defeating story takes center stage in your mind, thank your mind for repeating the "I'm not good enough" story and let it play in the background while you focus on the tasks that will get you to your goal. .
Russ Harris describes thanking his mind and naming the story in the video below.
Other techniques involving other core processes are described in our article..
3 ACT interventions for your sessions
In ACT, we practice something called initial value loading (Hayes et al., 1999; Hayes & Smith, 2005). In other words, the first session you have with your client should involve clarifying their deepest values.
Customers often confuse goals with values, such as "I want to be happy." This is a goal, albeit an emotional one. You can use goals to explore the values behind them by asking something like, "So when you're happy, what will you do?"
Another common goal is "I want to be rich". Again, the same applies."What will you do when you're rich that you can't do now and why?"This type of exploration can help clients clarify their values.
For example, a common reason for wanting to be rich is freedom. In this case, the client values freedom, perhaps in many areas of their life, such as the freedom to travel, the freedom to work at something they enjoy, or the freedom to work to enjoy other activities.
The difference between values and goals is explored in this short video by Russ Harris.
ACT practitioners have developed a range of interventions to help clients clarify their values and make a deeper commitment to them. The following exercises provide a roadmap of valuable life directions that can help guide a client toward a more fulfilling life. This is especially useful when goals are at risk of being derailed due to experiential avoidance.
Three values clarification interventions are described in the worksheets below.
1. Clarify your personal values in 10 life domains
Try this exercise to clarify a client's personal values in 10 Valuable Life Domains.
download our freePersonal Values Worksheetand use this simple self-reflection to prioritize the areas of life that are most important to a customer or remain least satisfied.
2. Values Clarification: Write Your Own 80th Birthday Speech
Ask your client to do this quick heart exercise. Ask them to imagine how they would like another person to sum up their life as a life well lived. What would they like to hear about themselves at their 80th birthday party?
You can guide your customer as follows.“Consider what you want your life to represent as you approach your later years. What kind of person do you want to be remembered for? An adventurer? A loving father? A generous and charitable member of your community? A pioneering entrepreneur?
“Write your own 80th birthday party speech and include what you would most like to hear. You can formulate the speech according to the most valuable activities in your life.”
This exercise can help clarify values, which are needed to set realistic and achievable goals.
3. Experiential Avoidance: The Clean and Dirty Diary of Discomfort
This exercise helps your client track their experiential avoidance strategies that hinder goal achievement and behavior change (Hayes et al., 1999). It improves self-awareness and mindfulness of the self-defeating consequences of avoidance.
The exercise helps clients distinguish between clean discomfort from uncomfortable emotions or thoughts and dirty discomfort from avoidance behaviors such as excessive drinking, smoking, overeating, excessive TV watching, etc.
You can download our freeClean and Dirty Discomfort DiarySpreadsheet adapted from Hayes and Smith (2005).
3 activities to try with your clients
Overcoming experiential avoidance is crucial to developing psychological flexibility.
Also essential is the willingness to act with commitment despite the internal obstacles that will arise.
The following three activities are a continuation of the values clarification exercises above, helping clients prioritize their values and set action-based goals that direct their lives toward greater fulfillment.
1. Sort your values and find your life deviation score
This exercise is best completed after a values clarification exercise. The aim is to prioritize the values and areas of your life that have not yet been realized as those that need further development.
Each valued life domain is scored in terms of importance and degree of achievement to find its life deviation score (Hayes & Smith, 2005). our freeSort your values and find your life deviation scoreworksheet adapted from Hayes and Smith (2005) provides a template and explains the exercise in detail.
2. Life Deviation Scores and Goal Setting
Once you rank your values and your degree of achievement, you will find that the areas of your life most in need of attention will have higher life deviation scores.
Use this worksheet to focus on your three highest-scoring life domains and begin setting long- and short-term goals that spell out the action you will take to fulfill your deepest values.
download our freeLife deviation scores and goal settingworksheet adapted from Hayes and Smith (2005) for exercise instructions and action planning model.
3. Value-based action planning
Commitment action planning follows values clarification and prioritization exercises. This goal setting exercise can be completed using ourCommitment, Obstacles and Strategiesspreadsheet.
This exercise also helps clients identify obstacles to achieving goals and plan strategies to overcome them.
2 ACT group exercises
Here are two great group exercises you can use during therapy.
1. Group service
Practicing mindfulness in a group need not be limited tobreathing exercisesor meditation (Westrup & Wright, 2017a). In ACT, traditional sitting meditation is rarely used.
Try this group exercise that cultivates mindfulness by adopting a nonjudgmental state of mind and experiencing the awareness of other group members while walking in silence. You can download our freesilent connectionsworksheet for further instructions.
2. Bus passengers
The metaphor of ACT passengers on the bus (Harris, 2008) can also be realized as an experiential exercise that activates all core ACT processes, including the willingness to move in valuable life directions, keeping the action committed through a conscious connection with the present moment. , and disable built-in events like negative comments and self-criticism.
Here is an educational video illustrating the metaphor created by members of an ACT special interest group.
Here is an example of the exercise, adapted from Westrup and Wright (2017b):
Use chairs to form a "bus" in the middle of the room with four to six "passengers" and a "driver", depending on the size of the group. Ask for a volunteer driver, while the rest of the group will be passengers. The driver must think of something that he wants to achieve, but has not done so far due to negative comments about himself. Then tell the driver that each passenger represents one of his troubling thoughts.
The driver turns to each passenger and assigns a thought to each of them, such as "You're incompetent", "You'll never amount to anything", "You're not good enough", etc.
Then give the bus driver the following instructions: “You will drive your bus to the action you have committed to [p. for example, enrolling in a new course, getting a new job, going on a date, writing a book] there [point to the wall in front of the bus]. But, before starting your journey, you have to pick up your passengers. Look at each of them, listen to what they have to say, and respond, "Please get on the bus."
“Passengers, please sit in one of the seats and continue discussing the thought assigned to you. For example, if your driver assigned you "You are stupid", you can continue this topic with related comments. Driver, after all passengers are on the bus, look straight ahead and drive your bus towards your committed action.”
Then process that activity by asking questions like, "What did you want to do, driver?" Typical responses include “I wanted to stop the bus and get off” or “I wanted to turn around to shut them up”. Talk about what happens to your goals if you do any of these things.
Also, process the experiences of passengers. This can be difficult for them. Group members often say that they don't like being rude. Also, get feedback from the entire group on what it was like to witness this activity, and ask if group members can relate it to their own experiences with their interfering thoughts.
Relevant Resources from PositivePsychology.com
In addition to the free resources and worksheets provided above, you can try ourthree free mindfulness exercises.
We also offer an eight moduleMindfulness Xtraining course consisting of the latest science-based mindfulness interventions, ready to offer under your own brand.
More exercises are available in our related article..
If you're looking for more scientific ways to help others improve their well-being, check out this unique collection of17 validated positive psychology tools for professionals. Use them to help others flourish and prosper.
A message to take home
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy continues to accumulate a scientific evidence base showing its effectiveness as an intervention for a variety of life problems.
New metaphors, exercises and techniques continue to be developed and are shared freely on the Internet.
ACT is a short-term psychoeducational intervention that applies a hands-on approach to cultivating psychological flexibility and overcoming experiential avoidance that results in chronic distress.
It continues to be a vibrant area of research in the broad fields of health, education and personal development.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. don't forget todownload our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
- Harris, R. (2008).the happiness trapRobinson.
- Hayes, S.C., Strosahl, K. e Wilson, K.G. (1999).Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experimental Approach to Behavior Change. Guilford Press.
- Hayes, S.C. e Smith, S. (2005).Get Out of Your Mind and Out of Your Life - The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New Herald.
- Hayes, South Carolina (August 2021).ACT State of Evidence. Association for Contextual and Behavioral Sciences. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://contextualscience.org/state_of_the_act_evidence
- Smith, J. (October 3, 2019).How does anxiety turn into a panic attack?Dr Julie Smith. Retrieved November 28, 2021 from https://doctorjuliesmith.com/how-does-anxiety-spiral-into-a-panic-attack/
- Westrup, D. y Wright, M. J. (2017a).Learning ACT for Group Treatment: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Skills Training Manual for Therapists. New Herald.
- Westrup, D. e Wright, M.J. (2017b).ACT learning for group treatment: complementary exercises. New Herald.