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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, ACT (pronounced "act" not "ay see tee"), is a branch of cognitive-behavioral therapy, an empirically based psychological intervention, that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.
ACT is developed within a pragmatic philosophy called functional contextualism. ACT is based on Relational Frame Theory (RFT), a comprehensive theory of language and cognition that has emerged within behavior analysis. ACT differs from traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in that rather than trying to teach people to better control their thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories and other private events, ACT focuses on what they can control more directly: their arms, legs and mouth. ACT teaches them to "just notice", accept, and embrace their private events, especially previously unwanted ones. ACT helps the individual get in contact with a transcendent sense of self known as "self-as-context" — the you that is always there observing and experiencing and yet distinct from one's thoughts, feelings, sensations, and memories. ACT aims to help the individual to clarify their personal values and to take action on them, bringing more vitality and meaning to their life in the process.
The core conception of ACT is that psychological suffering is usually caused by experiential avoidance, cognitive entanglement, and resulting psychological rigidity that leads to a failure to take needed behavioral steps in accord with core values. As a simple way to summarize the model, you can say that ACT views the core of many problems to be FEAR:
- Fusion with your thoughts
- Evaluation of experience
- Avoidance of your experience
- Reason giving for your behavior
And the healthy alternative to be to ACT:
- Accept your reactions and be present
- Choose a valued direction
- Take action
ACT is generally considered to be an empirically oriented psychotherapy. ACT has, as of February 2006, been evaluated in over 20 randomized clinical trials for a variety of client problems. Overall, when compared to other active treatments designed or known to be helpful, the effect size for ACT is a Cohen's d of around 0.6, which is considered a medium effect size. Effect sizes that large are not surprising when comparing well designed treatments to wait list controls, but they are not common when the comparison conditions are themselves evidence-based approaches (across the whole empirical clinical psychology literature the average effect size for such comparisons approaches zero).
As of 2006, ACT is still relatively new in the development of its research base. Nevertheless, ACT has shown preliminary research evidence of effectiveness for a variety of problems including chronic pain, addictions, smoking cessation, depression, anxiety, psychosis, workplace stress, diabetes management.
Mediational analyses have provided evidence for the possible causal role of key ACT processes, including acceptance, defusion, and values, in producing beneficial clinical outcomes. Correlational evidence has also found that absence of these processes predicts many forms of psychopathology. A recent meta-analysis showed that ACT processes account for about 25% of the variance in psychopathology at baseline, using correlational methods.
ACT is sometimes grouped together with dialectical behavior therapy, functional analytic psychotherapy, and mindfulness based cognitive therapy as The Third Wave of Behavior Therapy which Steven C. Hayes defined in his AABT President Address as follows: "Grounded in an empirical, principle-focused approach, the third wave of behavioral and cognitive therapy is particularly sensitive to the context and functions of psychological phenomena, not just their form, and thus tends to emphasize contextual and experiential change strategies in addition to more direct and didactic ones. These treatments tend to seek the construction of broad, flexible and effective repertoires over an eliminative approach to narrowly defined problems, and to emphasize the relevance of the issues they examine for clinicians as well as clients. The third wave reformulates and synthesizes previous generations of behavioral and cognitive therapy and carries them forward into questions, issues, and domains previously addressed primarily by other traditions, in hopes of improving both understanding and outcomes."
Similarities are also found with the awareness-management movement in business training programs, where mindfulness and cognitive-shifting techniques are being employed to generate rapid positive shifts in mood and performance.
ACT has also been adapted to create a non-therapy version of the same processes called Acceptance and Commitment Training. This training process, oriented towards the development of mindfulness, acceptance, and values skills in non-clinical settings such as businesses or schools, has also been investigated in a handful of research studies with good preliminary results.
The emphasis of ACT on present-mindedness, directions and action is similar to other approaches within psychology that are not as focused on outcome research or consciously linked to a basic science program, including more humanistic or constructivist approaches such as narrative psychology, Gestalt Therapy, Morita Therapy, or Re-evaluation Counselling among many others.
It is also similar to many eastern approaches (particularly Buddhism), and the mystical aspects of most major spiritual and religious traditions. ACT did not arise from these related areas directly — it is the result of a 25 year course of development inside Western science — but it arrived at a similar place which is interesting in and of itself. The connections have been explored in several articles that can be found on the ACBS website (see external links below). The intellectual history of ACT can be found there as well.
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References & Bibliography
- Hayes, Steven C.; Spencer Smith (2005). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 1572244259.
- Hayes, Steven C.; Kirk D. Strosahl (2004). A Practical Guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Springer. ISBN 0387233679.
- Hayes, Steven C.; Kirk D. Strosahl, Kelly G. Wilson (2003). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy : An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change, The Guilford Press. ISBN 1572309555.
- Flaxman, p. & Blackledge, J.T. (2010). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:Distinctive features. London:Routledge
- Hayes, S.C. (2002). Acceptance, mindfulness and science. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 9, 101-106.
- Hayes, S.C, Luoma, J.B., Bond, F.W., Masuda, A. & Lillisa, J.(2006). Acceptance and commitment therapy: Model, processcs and outcomes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1-25.
- McCrackf-n, L.M. & Eccleston, C. (2006). The relative Utility of coping-based vs acceptance-based approaches to chronic pain. European Journal of Pain, 10. 23-29.
- Contextualpsychology.org - Home for the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, a professional organization dedicated to ACT. Also helpful for training opportunities for professionals interested in ACT.
- Steven C Hayes - One of ACT's main theorists, Dr.Hayes' University of Nevada homepage
- Jason Luoma, Ph.D. - Resources for ACT therapists.
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