Exploring Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

The goal of traditional western psychological therapies is to address the problem and its symptoms and reduce or eradicate them. However, this leaves very little room for acceptance, self-compassion, or self-discovery. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on embracing these elements to help individuals live meaningful lives alongside their mental illness. 
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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Along with the other “third wave” behavioural therapies such as Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) was created in the 1980s when empirical evidence supported the efficacy of mindfulness for people living with mental illness. 

The main focus of ACT is to help individuals or groups to find fulfilment in their lives without trying to remove the pain from it. Emotional pain is inevitable for all of us, but through ACT, patients learn how to use mindfulness techniques to move through it consciously. 

There are ideas that make ACT unique in the world of therapy:

  • It does not assume that individuals living without mental illness are the “normal” ones
  • Unwanted psychological experiences are no longer considered “symptoms” 
  • Humans naturally and inherently cause pain and suffering for ourselves 

How it Works

A therapist or mental health practitioner with training in ACT can facilitate ACT sessions. There are six core principles of ACT which the practitioner will help the patient to understand and implement. They include:

  1. Cognitive Defusion
  2. Acceptance
  3. Being Present
  4. Self-Observation
  5. Values
  6. Commitment to Action

Patients will learn how to accept their trauma while implementing actions that support their personal values. Through accepting their emotional or psychological states, patients can learn how to be present with their experience and not see it as a problem or sign of their inappropriateness.

ACT’s Efficacy with Serious Mental Illnesses

There is enough empirical research to show that ACT is effective for some individuals living with serious mental illnesses. 

Research shows that ACT is comparable in efficacy to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for individuals living with major depressive disorder

Inpatients experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia can benefit from ACT, however, it has not been largely implemented in hospital therapies because of its highly individualized requirements.

Anxiety, depression, and illnesses that often come with negative self-talk and self-abuse can be combatted in part with ACT. Patients can learn ACT tools with a practitioner, and then continue to practice them on their own.

Additionally, ACT is shown to be effective in treating substance use issues, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder

How to Find an ACT Practitioner 

See here to find ACT practitioners in Toronto. Click here to find practitioners throughout Ontario.

Individuals can also download some of the tools and worksheets practitioners often use. This resource has a series of ACT workbooks you can download, print, and then work through.

This resource has 21 excellent ACT exercises and workbooks you can print and work through.

Most of us can benefit from understanding our self-talk and how our thoughts affect our emotional experiences. However, it is especially useful for those living with mental illness.

How Eli’s Place Will Use ACT

Eli’s Place will offer diverse treatment modalities for serious mental illness that focus on recovery and resilience. To learn more about our mission to serve young adults 18 – 35 and how you can help us open our doors, click here.  

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