By Dr. Irma Campos, Licensed Psychologist & Leadership Development Consultant
Are you in search of inner stillness and personal fulfillment despite the external chaos? Or would you like to help your child or teen find stillness and satisfaction from within? With the major stressors we face in today’s world, it is important to take action to find that inner peace. There are countless therapies (both research-based and not) out there, and it can be difficult to know which ones are right for you or your child/teen.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Hayes, 2004) is a newer form of behavioral therapy that has helped children, teens, and adults confront mental disorder symptoms (like anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, disabilities) and live a life of meaning and purpose. It has also helped individuals reach their potential consistent with their personal and professional aspirations. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was codeveloped by a clinical psychologist,
Dr. Steven Hayes, following his personal experiences with mental health struggles. He sought to identify skills that helped him and others successfully address their symptoms and improve well-being. One thing that separates ACT from other therapies is that is has been tested on diverse clinical populations and age groups. Its aim is also to improve well-being-not just reduce negative mental health symptoms, like anxiety, depression, obsessions, and compulsions. And because it was developed by a psychological researcher and practitioner, it uses the best methods in both science and practice. As a believer of the power of this therapy, I will share its key components and how to start using it now. Please remember that this information is not intended to substitute mental health or medical treatment.
ACT consists of six key principles that are taught over the course of therapy (Hayes, 2004). The principles include: 1) Being present, 2) Knowing one’s values, 3) Committing to one’s values through behaviors or actions, 4) Seeing oneself as more than thoughts and
emotions, 5) Defusing or not identifying with one’s thoughts, and 6) Accepting one’s entire experience.
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A trained psychologist or therapist will help identify which skills you should focus on developing first, but eventually, it is helpful to learn all skills with mastery and apply them as necessary. With practice, it becomes easier to integrate multiple skills at the same time, like using both delusion and acceptance simultaneously.
As a case example, for someone who is uncertain about what decision to make in regard to a romantic relationship, identifying personal values through guided exploration would be helpful to start. However, all skills (e.g., committing to living up to those values and creating a plan) would be relevant eventually.
One of the most important things about ACT is to fully accept one’s symptoms (e.g, distressing thoughts, feelings like anxiety, and urges) and one’s integrated experience. Without this radical acceptance of what is, it is incredibly difficult to allow experiences of joy, fulfillment, and pleasure to emerge. When we close ourselves off from painful experiences, we are also preventing ourselves from experiencing the wonders and joy of life. Acceptance also allows us to live a life that is consistent with our values. So in conjunction with the ‘Acceptance’ part, the ‘Commitment’ part of ACT reminds us to embrace what matters most to us by taking necessary and strategic actions to get there.
ACT-Based Action Steps
In order to increase your skill at being present, find ways to actively be in the “here and now” with mindfulness awareness. Do not remain in the past or the future. One action step may include connecting with bodily sensations that underlie certain emotions.
To better identify your personal and professional values, conduct a values exploration exercise. For example, use a guided worksheet to identify and rank the most important values and remember that living up to your values is a continuous process. For an example of a values exploration worksheet, see this link at therapistaid.com:
When it comes to committing to your values through behaviors or actions, create a list of three goals and an associated action plan with a timeline. Create SMART goals or goals that are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive.
In order to see yourself as more than just thoughts and emotions, connect with who you feel you are at the deepest level of yourself. For example, you might reflect on what you think constitutes being human at its essence (e.g., a soul, energy, presence) that is more permanent than a fleeting thought or feeling.
When it comes to defusing from thoughts, remember that your thoughts do not define you, however strong or powerful they may be. Try visualizing placing your thoughts, whenever overwhelmingly powerful, outside of you. You might visualize leaves on a stream and in your mind place each thought on one of those leaves passing by.
To accept your entire experience, practice welcoming whatever comes your way in terms of difficulties, emotions, and thoughts. You might say to yourself “I fully accept this” in the midst of a trying situation.
We hope this introduction to ACT helps to understand what to expect from therapy. Interface Consulting and Psychological Services offers ACT and other evidence-based therapies to help individuals find their fortitude and pursue a life of meaning and purpose that is within every child, teen, or adult.
Hayes, S. C. (2004). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and the new behavior therapies: Mindfulness, acceptance and relationship. In S. C. Hayes, V. M. Follette, & M. Linehan (Eds.), Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive behavioral tradition (pp. 1-29). New York: Guilford.
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