What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is a newer form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) based on the latest research that supports its efficacy for a range of issues and specific disorders. Steven Hayes, the founder of ACT, said it best: ACT is about getting out of your head and into your life.

 

So what’s the difference between CBT and ACT?

 

Both CBT and ACT address problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors. CBT was developed in the 1950's, well before we had much knowledge of neuroscience and how the mind and brain interact, like we do now. In CBT, behavior is understood to be driven primarily by thoughts and feelings. If you can control your thoughts, you can influence your feelings, and thus change your behavior.

 

ACT was developed decades after CBT and has expanded the theory to include new brain science and the power of mindfulness. In ACT, behavior is not dependent on how we think and feel. Rather, behavior is seen as the one thing we actually have the most control over. Rather than getting caught up in fighting or trying to control the way you think and feel, you learn to become mindful of the flow of thoughts and feelings within, while learning to do what matters.

CBT’s premise is rooted in 20th century understanding of cognition; ACT’s premise is rooted in 21st century understanding of meta-cognition.

 

ACT starts like CBT by identifying the unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and identities you hold. But rather than challenging them or changing them – which keeps you wrapped up with them - ACT goes one step further and teaches how to step outside the thinking altogether to observe and accept your thoughts and feelings as they are. Rather than changing thoughts and feelings to impact behavior, ACT helps clients by motivating you to identify what matters to you the most: your values. When you don’t spend time fighting with your thoughts and feelings or avoiding and controlling as a means to cope, you free up a ton of energy that can be spent doing what matters. By accepting your thoughts and feelings and committing to values-driven behavior, you get out of your head and into your life.