Your Complete Guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

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For every problem, there is a solution. This is true in many aspects of life from matters of business to your mental health. When it comes to mental health, however, the solutions are not one-size-fits-all. Different people respond better to different types of therapies and certain conditions might be better treated by particular types of counselling. One of the most effective options for many is acceptance and commitment therapy.

Whether you are just learning about acceptance and commitment therapy or want to take a deeper dive, you have come to the right place.

Here is your complete guide to acceptance and commitment therapy and the treatment options available in Singapore.

What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy, often referred to as ACT, is a type of psychotherapy and a branch of clinical behaviour analysis. Originally referred to as comprehensive distancing, this unique method was developed by psychologist Steven C. Hayes in the 1980s.

Hayes developed acceptance and commitment therapy to cover what he perceived as a gap in the world of mental health treatment. He was looking to combine the central elements of behaviour analysis and cognitive therapy. Focused on behaviour-analytic data, he assessed the negative impact of verbal rules and looked at how they could be improved.

What Are the Core Principles of ACT?

There are six core processes at the centre of ACT. These core concepts work together to help you reach the core goal of ACT, which is psychological flexibility. The six ACT processes are as follows:

  • Acceptance: Rather than trying to avoid or change thoughts and feelings, ACT asks you to accept them as part of your experience as a human being. 
  • Cognitive Defusion: ACT asks you to acknowledge your thoughts but not get lost in them. The goal is to let them come and go without overvaluing harmful ideas. 
  • Being Present: In addition to staying aware of your thoughts, ACT promotes non-judgmental awareness and presence in the current moment.
  • Self as Context: According to the tenet of ACT, the content of experiences, thoughts, and feelings is dynamic. They have no real effect on who you are at your core.
  • Values: One of the core goals is to identify what is truly important to you. These values will guide your actions so you can live in accordance with what truly matters.
  • Committed Action: Once you have identified your goals, your mission is to build and maintain a life that is consistent with your values. 

What Is the Purpose of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

At the heart of acceptance and commitment therapy is the goal to help people become more psychologically flexible and lead more fulfilling lives. This allows you to feel good about the goals that you are working toward and the daily actions that align with them.

Here are some essential components of acceptance and commitment therapy’s mission:

  • Acceptance: ACT helps you accept your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, regardless of how unpleasant or upsetting they may be. One of the key objectives of ACT is to help you develop a willingness to experience these sensations without judgement or fear.
  • Cognitive Defusion: Also known as de-literalisation, cognitive defusion is all about letting thoughts come and go rather than holding onto them. The idea behind this concept is that not every thought is an absolute truth. By recognising this, you can reduce the impact of unhelpful or damaging thinking patterns.
  • Mindfulness and Present-Moment Awareness: Mindfulness skills are central to ACT.  Increasing awareness of the present moment while being totally present and engaged helps you liberate yourself from unhelpful types of thinking. Mindfulness also allows you to connect with your experiences on a deeper level.
  • Clarifying Values: One of the key steps in ACT is pinpointing your personal values. During this process, you’ll explore what truly matters in each area of your life so that you have a guide to future decisions and can set meaningful goals.
  • Taking Effective Action: When you have identified your values, you can set important goals and work to align your daily behaviour with the goals that you truly care about in life. This will put you on the path to a more intentional and purposeful life.

What Is the Difference Between ACT and CBT?

While Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are both evidence-based psychotherapeutic approaches, they have different core philosophies that impact their approach to therapy. Let’s look at a few of these key differences between ACT and CBT in the core concepts.

Acceptance of Thoughts: ACT vs CBT

One of the root ideas of ACT is accepting, acknowledging, and allowing thoughts to pass through your mind without trying to change or control them. This is a process called mindfulness and it is one of the techniques of present-moment awareness used in ACT. With CBT, on the other hand, your goal is to notice and reject harmful thoughts. Recognising and acknowledging this distorted thinking is part of the process of changing your thought patterns.

Cognitive Defusion vs. Cognitive Restructuring

ACT uses cognitive defusion techniques while CBT uses cognitive restructuring. The purpose of cognitive defusion is to change your relationship with your thoughts by helping you see them as simple “mental events” rather than absolute truths.  By seeing these thoughts as passing ideas that may not even be true, you change their impact.

The cognitive restructuring technique of CBT also asks you to consider the fact that not all of your thoughts are true. Rather than dismissing these thoughts as a passing mental event, however, the cognitive restructuring technique pushes you to challenge and change these unhelpful thoughts and beliefs.

The Objective of Emotional Control

CBT helps you gain control over your emotions by recognising and changing negative thought patterns. The main objectives here are behaviour modification and symptom reduction.

Rather than prioritising symptom management or emotional control, acceptance and commitment therapy asks you to accept the experience of emotions. The goal is not to push away ideas but instead to act in line with your personal values even when you’re dealing with distressing emotions.

Behaviour Change vs. Value-Driven Action

CBT focuses on behaviour change and asks you to replace negative behaviours with better alternatives. ACT promotes identifying your values and taking steps to live in line with your true values, which may or may not involve behaviour change. As ACT isn’t focused on changing you, the goal is less about removing issues and more about enhancing the positive. 

Contextual Self vs. Thoughts as Content

The “contextual self” is one of the keys of ACT and it’s an idea used to highlight the value of viewing yourself from a wide, consistent perspective. The purpose of this is to see yourself from an objective viewpoint that doesn’t change with passing thoughts.

On the other hand, CBT highlights thoughts and seeks to change the unhelpful beliefs that these damaging thoughts bring up.

Modifying Thoughts vs. Accepting Mental Events

The philosophy of ACT is that trying to avoid or stop unwanted thoughts, emotions, and sensations is a major cause of unhappiness. For this reason, ACT tells you to be willing to experience emotions and simply accept them as mental events that may not have any meaning.

In CBT, the objective is to actively challenge your thoughts as your work to change your thinking as well as your behaviour.

Getting Started with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Do you think that acceptance and commitment therapy might be right for you? Let’s talk! Here at A Kind Place, our Singapore team of experts have a wide range of specialities. To help you choose the right therapist and get started on the right treatment plan, we offer complimentary 15-minute chats with each member of our team.

Why wait another day? Acceptance and commitment therapy is a life-changing path to meeting your goals and living the life that you’ve always wanted. Email us or chat with us on WhatsApp to get started on your journey.

Our team of professional counsellors and psychologists in Singapore specialise in various fields such as anxiety counselling services, and trauma counselling. You can also find personalised men counselling, professional caregiver support and special needs counselling. We also provide ADHD treatment in Singapore if you suspect you or your loved one is suffering from ADHD.

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