Unlocking the potential of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a unique form of psychotherapy that combines elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness to promote psychological flexibility, emotional well-being, and the pursuit of meaningful life goals. Unlike traditional therapies that seek to eliminate or control negative thoughts and feelings, ACT teaches individuals to accept these inner experiences without judgment.

Learn more about acceptance and commitment therapy and how Thriveworks can help you resolve concerns and mental health challenges with this non-traditional, ego-boosting therapeutic approach. And when you’re ready—schedule your first session.

What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a form of psychotherapy that combines cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness strategies to help individuals improve their mental well-being and achieve their life goals. Acceptance and commitment therapy focuses on accepting one’s thoughts and feelings rather than trying to eliminate or control them, promoting psychological flexibility. 

The core components of acceptance and commitment therapy include:

  1. Acceptance: Encouraging individuals to acknowledge and embrace their thoughts and emotions without judgment, even if they are uncomfortable or distressing.
  2. Cognitive defusion: Teaching techniques to detach from unhelpful thoughts and see them as mental events rather than absolute truths.
  3. Present moment awareness: Promoting mindfulness and helping individuals stay grounded in the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
  4. Values clarification: Identifying one’s core values and using them as a guide for setting meaningful life goals.
  5. Committed action: Encouraging individuals to take purposeful steps towards their goals, even in the presence of challenging thoughts and feelings.

Acceptance and commitment therapy is used to treat a wide range of psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, stress, and chronic pain. It helps individuals develop psychological resilience and live more fulfilling lives in alignment with their values.

Want to talk to a therapist?

Start working with one of our top-rated providers. We have availability now and accept most major insurances.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Best for?

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a type of psychotherapy that is primarily used for addressing a wide range of mental health issues and improving psychological well-being. Acceptance and commitment therapy is particularly well-suited for the following:

  • Anxiety disorders: Acceptance and commitment therapy can be effective in treating various anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobias.
  • Depression: Acceptance and commitment therapy can be helpful in treating depression by helping individuals accept their emotions and develop a more values-based approach to life.
  • Stress management: Acceptance and commitment therapy techniques can be applied to manage stress by teaching individuals how to be more mindful of their thoughts and emotions and how to respond to stressors in a more adaptive way.
  • Chronic pain: Acceptance and commitment therapy has been used to address chronic pain conditions by helping individuals develop greater acceptance of their pain and learn ways to engage in meaningful activities despite their pain.
  • Substance abuse: Acceptance and commitment therapy can be integrated into substance abuse treatment programs to increase individuals’ commitment to sobriety and help them manage cravings and triggers.
  • Eating disorders: Acceptance and commitment therapy can be a part of the treatment for eating disorders like bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder, helping individuals develop a healthier relationship with food and body image.
  • OCD: Acceptance and commitment therapy can complement traditional OCD treatments by helping individuals accept and tolerate their obsessions and compulsions while focusing on what truly matters to them.
  • PTSD: Acceptance and commitment therapy can be used alongside other therapies to address the emotional and psychological challenges associated with trauma and PTSD.
  • Work-related stress: Acceptance and commitment therapy techniques can be applied in workplace settings to help individuals manage stress, increase job satisfaction, and enhance performance.
  • Personal growth and life satisfaction: Acceptance and commitment therapy is not solely focused on treating disorders; it can also be used for personal growth and improving overall life satisfaction by helping individuals clarify their values and take actions in alignment with those values.

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a versatile therapeutic approach that emphasizes mindfulness, acceptance, and the pursuit of one’s values. It’s not limited to a specific set of conditions and can be adapted to a wide range of situations where individuals want to enhance their psychological flexibility and well-being. 

However, it’s essential for individuals to work with a qualified therapist or counselor trained in acceptance and commitment therapy for the best outcomes.

How Can Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Help You Improve Relationships?

In acceptance and commitment therapy, individuals learn to accept their thoughts and emotions without judgment, allowing them to respond to situations in a more constructive manner.

First, acceptance and commitment therapy helps individuals develop self-awareness and emotional regulation, enabling them to express their feelings more effectively. This reduces the likelihood of emotional outbursts and unhealthy relationship dynamics

By accepting one’s own and others’ imperfections, acceptance and commitment therapy promotes empathy and compassion, fostering a more understanding and supportive environment. Acceptance and commitment therapy also encourages individuals to clarify their values and set meaningful goals, aligning their actions with these values. 

This results in a greater sense of purpose and direction in life, making them more reliable and committed partners. Moreover, acceptance and commitment therapy teaches effective communication skills, such as active listening and assertiveness, which are crucial for resolving conflicts and maintaining healthy relationships. 

Furthermore, acceptance and commitment therapy emphasizes the importance of being present in the moment, reducing distractions from past grievances or future worries. This bit of mindfulness helps individuals fully engage with their loved ones, enhancing the quality of interactions and deepening emotional connections.

How Can Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Help You Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being?

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a therapeutic approach that can significantly enhance emotional well-being by: 

  • Focusing on developing psychological flexibility, which empowers individuals to better manage their emotions and live more fulfilling lives. 
  • Promoting acceptance of one’s thoughts and feelings, rather than attempting to control or suppress them. This acceptance allows individuals to make peace with their emotions, reducing inner conflict and emotional distress. 
  • Helping individuals identify their values and commit to actions aligned with those values, fostering a sense of purpose and meaning in life. 
  • Teaching cognitive defusion techniques to help individuals detach from distressing thoughts, reducing their impact on emotions. 

By practicing these skills, individuals can build resilience and cope more effectively with emotional challenges.

What Are the Cons of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Some potential cons of acceptance and commitment therapy include:

  • Not being suitable for everyone: Acceptance and commitment therapy may not be the best fit for everyone. Some individuals may not resonate with its principles or may find it difficult to engage in the mindfulness and acceptance practices that are central to acceptance and commitment therapy.
  • May not address specific issues: Acceptance and commitment therapy is a broad-based approach that focuses on enhancing psychological flexibility and overall well-being. It may not always directly address specific issues or symptoms, such as severe mental health disorders, in the same way that more specialized therapies might.
  • Not being a replacement for medication: Acceptance and commitment therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach and is not a substitute for medication in cases where medication is deemed necessary for managing mental health conditions.

Like any therapeutic approach, acceptance and commitment therapy has its share of potential cons and limitations. It’s important to note that the effectiveness of acceptance and commitment therapy can vary from person to person, and what may be a con for one individual might not be the same for another. 

It’s important to keep in mind that acceptance and commitment therapy, like other therapeutic approaches, can be highly beneficial for many individuals when applied in the right context and with the guidance of a qualified therapist. The decision to pursue acceptance and commitment therapy or any other form of therapy should be made in consultation with a provider at Thriveworks who can assess your individual needs and goals.

What Are the Key Principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy’s key principles can be summarized as follows:

  • Psychological flexibility: Acceptance and commitment therapy focuses on increasing psychological flexibility, which involves being open to and accepting of one’s thoughts and emotions while still committing to actions aligned with one’s values.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques are used to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment. This helps create distance from negative or distressing thoughts.
  • Values clarification: Acceptance and commitment therapy encourages individuals to clarify their core values, helping them identify what truly matters in life. This serves as a guide for setting meaningful goals and making choices.
  • Commitment to action: Acceptance and commitment therapy emphasizes the importance of taking committed actions that are in line with one’s values, even in the presence of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. It encourages individuals to take steps toward their goals and aspirations.
  • Cognitive defusion: This technique involves distancing oneself from unhelpful thoughts by seeing them as passing mental events rather than absolute truths. It helps reduce the impact of negative thinking patterns.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance and commitment therapy promotes acceptance of one’s thoughts and feelings, recognizing that attempts to control or suppress them often lead to increased suffering. Instead, it encourages a more open and accepting attitude.
  • Present moment focus: Practicing mindfulness and being fully present in the moment is a central aspect of acceptance and commitment therapy. It helps individuals connect with their experiences and make conscious choices.
  • Self-as-context: Acceptance and commitment therapy encourages people to see themselves as the context in which their thoughts and feelings arise, rather than being defined by those thoughts and feelings. This fosters a more flexible self-identity.
  • Committed action: Acceptance and commitment therapy emphasizes the importance of setting and pursuing meaningful goals in various life domains, helping individuals create a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
  • Defusion techniques: These are exercises and strategies that help individuals reduce the impact of distressing thoughts and gain greater control over their reactions to them.

What Is an Example of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Imagine someone struggling with social anxiety. In an acceptance and commitment therapy session at Thriveworks, one of our therapists might guide the individual to:

  1. Learn acceptance: Acknowledge and accept their anxious thoughts and feelings without judgment. They learn not to fight or suppress these emotions but to understand that they are a natural part of their experience.
  2. Identify values: Explore and clarify their core values. What matters most to them in life? It could be building meaningful relationships, pursuing a fulfilling career, or personal growth.
  3. Set meaningful goals: Based on their values, they work with the therapist to set specific, actionable goals. For example, if building relationships is a value, a goal might be to attend social gatherings regularly.
  4. Learn defusion techniques: Learn cognitive defusion techniques to distance themselves from distressing thoughts. This might involve treating thoughts like passing clouds rather than fixed truths.
  5. Practice mindfulness: Develop mindfulness skills to stay present in social situations without getting caught up in anxious thoughts. They practice observing their thoughts and feelings without attachment.
  6. Commit to action: Finally, they commit to taking action consistent with their values despite the anxiety. This could mean attending a social event even when feeling anxious.

Overall, acceptance and commitment therapy aims to help individuals lead richer, more meaningful lives by promoting psychological flexibility and empowering them to respond to life’s challenges in a values-based and mindful way.

Throughout the therapy process, the individual learns to be more flexible with their thoughts and emotions, allowing them to pursue a more meaningful life in alignment with their values. Acceptance and commitment therapy emphasizes psychological flexibility and the importance of taking purposeful actions even in the presence of discomfort or uncertainty.

How Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Different from Other Therapeutic Approaches?

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a unique therapeutic approach that distinguishes itself from many other forms of psychotherapy through its specific focus on mindfulness, acceptance, and behavioral change. Acceptance and commitment therapy emphasizes psychological flexibility, which involves the capacity to be open to one’s experiences, fully engage in the present moment, and act in alignment with one’s values. 

Unlike some traditional therapies that aim to eliminate or control unwanted thoughts and feelings, acceptance and commitment therapy teaches individuals to accept these internal experiences without judgment. This acceptance helps reduce the struggle with emotions and thoughts, leading to greater emotional well-being.

What Is the Difference Between Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and CBT?

Acceptance and commitment therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are both psychotherapeutic approaches, but they have some key differences:

Core philosophy:

  • CBT: CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and beliefs to alleviate emotional distress and behavioral problems. It emphasizes cognitive restructuring and often aims to challenge and replace irrational or unhelpful thoughts.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy: Acceptance and commitment therapy, on the other hand, emphasizes accepting and embracing one’s thoughts and feelings rather than trying to change or control them. It encourages individuals to commit to values-based actions, even in the presence of difficult emotions or thoughts.

Treatment goal:

  • CBT: CBT aims to modify dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors to reduce symptoms and improve mental health by bringing about cognitive and behavioral changes.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy: Acceptance and commitment therapy aims to increase psychological flexibility, which means being more open, adaptable, and willing to experience a wide range of thoughts and emotions. It focuses on enhancing overall well-being and living a meaningful life.

Approach to thoughts and emotions:

  • CBT: CBT tends to view certain thoughts and emotions as problematic and aims to challenge and change them. It often seeks to eliminate or reduce symptoms by altering thought processes.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy: Acceptance and commitment therapy encourages individuals to acknowledge and make room for all thoughts and emotions, even the uncomfortable or distressing ones. It emphasizes the importance of responding to these inner experiences in a way that aligns with one’s values and goals.

Mindfulness and awareness:

  • CBT: While mindfulness techniques can be integrated into CBT, they are not central to the approach. CBT primarily focuses on cognitive and behavioral interventions.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy: Mindfulness and acceptance are core components of acceptance and commitment therapy. It teaches individuals to be fully present and accepting of their internal experiences, fostering psychological flexibility.

Metaphor Usage:

  • CBT: CBT often uses the metaphor of the mind as a computer, focusing on changing thought processes like reprogramming a computer.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy: Acceptance and commitment therapy uses metaphors like the “struggle switch” to illustrate the futility of trying to control or eliminate thoughts and emotions.

In summary, while both acceptance and commitment therapy and CBT are effective therapeutic approaches, they differ in their fundamental philosophies and strategies. CBT seeks to change problematic thoughts and behaviors, while acceptance and commitment therapy emphasizes acceptance of thoughts and emotions and encourages individuals to commit to a values-driven life despite internal challenges. 

The choice between the two depends on an individual’s preferences and the nature of their psychological difficulties.

Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or CBT Better for Anxiety?

Both acceptance and commitment therapy and CBT are effective treatments for anxiety, but their suitability depends on individual preferences and needs. CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with anxiety. It’s structured, goal-oriented, and helps individuals develop practical coping skills.

At Thriveworks, CBT is often recommended for those who prefer a structured approach and want to directly challenge their anxious thoughts. On the other hand, acceptance and commitment therapy emphasizes acceptance of anxious thoughts and feelings while encouraging individuals to pursue values-based actions. 

It teaches mindfulness and helps people detach from their anxiety. Acceptance and commitment therapy may be more appealing to those who are open to a more holistic approach and want to live a meaningful life despite their anxiety.

The choice between acceptance and commitment therapy and CBT should consider individual preferences, personality, and the specific nature of the anxiety. Some individuals may benefit from a combination of both therapies, known as CBT with acceptance and commitment therapy elements. It’s essential to consult with one of our therapists to determine the most suitable approach for managing anxiety.

What Are Some Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Exercises?

There are several exercises and techniques used in acceptance and commitment therapy to promote psychological flexibility and improve mental well-being. Here are some acceptance and commitment therapy exercises:

  • Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness is a core component of acceptance and commitment therapy. Practicing mindfulness meditation helps individuals observe their thoughts and emotions without judgment. You can start with simple breathing exercises and gradually expand to more extended meditation sessions.
  • The Hexaflex: The Hexaflex is a visual representation of six core processes in acceptance and commitment therapy. It includes acceptance, defusion, present moment, self-as-context, values, and committed action. Practicing exercises related to each of these processes can help you understand and apply acceptance and commitment therapy principles.
  • Defusion exercises: These exercises aim to help individuals distance themselves from their thoughts and recognize them as just mental events rather than absolute truths. Techniques include “Thanking Your Mind” (thanking your mind for the thought rather than fighting it) and “Singing Your Thoughts” (singing your thoughts to a tune to make them less threatening).
  • Values clarification: Identifying your core values is essential in acceptance and commitment therapy. Exercises like the “Valued Living Questionnaire” or journaling prompts can help you clarify what truly matters to you in various life domains (e.g., relationships, work, personal growth).
  • Committed action planning: This involves setting concrete, value-based goals and developing a plan to achieve them. Start with small, manageable steps that align with your values.
  • The observing self: Acceptance and commitment therapy emphasizes the distinction between the “thinking self” and the “observing self.” To strengthen your observing self, try exercises like “I am not my thoughts,” where you practice noticing thoughts without attachment.
  • The miracle question: Imagine waking up tomorrow and a miracle has happened, and all your problems have disappeared. What would your life look like? This exercise can help you clarify your values and set goals.
  • The leaves on a stream exercise: Visualize your thoughts as leaves floating down a stream. Instead of trying to stop or control them, simply watch them float by. This exercise promotes mindfulness and detachment from thoughts.
  • The bus metaphor: Imagine your life as a bus journey. You are the driver, and your values are the passengers. Learn to accept the noise and distractions on the bus (thoughts and feelings) while still driving towards your values.
  • The acceptance and commitment therapy matrix: This is a tool used to map out thoughts, feelings, values, and actions. It helps individuals gain a clearer understanding of how their inner experiences influence their behavior.
  • Mindful breathing: Simple mindfulness exercises like focusing on your breath can help ground you in the present moment and reduce reactivity to distressing thoughts and emotions.
  • Expansion exercises: These involve expanding your awareness and opening up to experience. For example, you can practice expanding your awareness to include all your senses, not just visual or auditory experiences.

Remember that acceptance and commitment therapy is a flexible approach, and the specific exercises you choose will depend on your unique needs and goals. You can work with a qualified therapist at Thriveworks who can tailor these exercises to your individual circumstances.

Table of contents

What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Best for?

How Can Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Help You Improve Relationships?

How Can Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Help You Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being?

What Are the Cons of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

What Are the Key Principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

What Is an Example of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Show all items
Recent articles

Want to talk to a therapist? We have over 2,000 providers across the US ready to help you in person or online.

  • Clinical writer
  • Editorial writer
  • 2 sources
Avatar photo

Theresa Welsh, LPC

Theresa Welsh is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a passion for providing the utmost quality of services to individuals and couples struggling with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, abuse, ADHD, stress, family conflict, life transitions, grief, and more.

Avatar photo

Jason Crosby

Jason Crosby is a Senior Copywriter at Thriveworks. He received his BA in English Writing from Montana State University with a minor in English Literature. Previously, Jason was a freelance writer for publications based in Seattle, WA, and Austin, TX.

We only use authoritative, trusted, and current sources in our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our efforts to deliver factual, trustworthy information.

  • Juncos, D. G. Et al. (2017, July 15). Acceptance and commitment therapy for the treatment of music performance anxiety: A pilot study with student vocalists. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5475388/

  • Toros, K. (2017, November 21). Miracle question promotes open communication and positive interaction between clients and practitioners. Sage Online. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0020872817741184

Are you struggling?

Thriveworks can help.

Browse top-rated therapists near you, and find one who meets your needs. We accept most insurances, and offer weekend and evening sessions.

Rated 4.4 from over 14,410 Google reviews

No comments yet
Disclaimer

The information on this page is not intended to replace assistance, diagnosis, or treatment from a clinical or medical professional. Readers are urged to seek professional help if they are struggling with a mental health condition or another health concern.

If you’re in a crisis, do not use this site. Please call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or use these resources to get immediate help.

Get the latest mental wellness tips and discussions, delivered straight to your inbox.