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Unleashing the Power of the Present: How ACT Can Help You Live a Meaningful Life

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy? By: Solomon Boyce, LCSW

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of therapy that aims to help individuals live rich and meaningful lives. ACT is based on the idea that humans have a tendency to try to get rid of painful or unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and memories and that the efforts to get rid of them, often through the use of distraction, avoidance, rumination, or even tactics such as substance use, generally pull a person away from

the things that really matter to them. A common example of this is distraction using a cell phone, if I am struggling with worries or self-criticism and distract myself by scrolling on my cellphone for hours then during that time I am not engaging with the things that really matter to me, like family and friends or hobbies. In that situation, the distraction isn’t really helping my life, and it’s not really helping me to handle the thoughts or

emotions I am experiencing, it’s actually making me more miserable in the long run by pulling me away from the things that give my life joy and meaning. ACT encourages individuals to learn new ways to handle these experiences so they can stay present and engage with the things that give value and meaning to their lives, no matter what their mind is throwing at them.

As a therapist, I personally love working from the ACT model. It provides me with a means of giving actionable and applicable tools to the people I am working with, tools that I have seen people use to live their lives in ways that are more meaningful and fully engaged than they were before, even in the presence of painful or difficult situations. ACT provides a guide for therapy, but a very flexible guide. I could explain this another way by saying that it is a set of principles rather than a protocol. This flexibility allows therapy to be tailored to the individual and their needs really well and fits in with my professional values.

ACT is a transdiagnostic approach. What this means is that it targets core processes that are applicable across a variety of life situations or diagnoses. It has applications when treating depression symptoms, anxiety symptoms, Chronic pain, psychosis, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as just some examples of the broad uses it has. There are numerous studies that have been published showing that ACT is an effective treatment.

For a frequently updated and fairly thorough listing of the research that has been done on the effectiveness of

ACT is generally a very experiential therapy. What this means is that your therapist will ask you to try many exercises and tools and notice what happens when you do so. Many of the core concepts in ACT are much better explained by experiencing them rather than talking about them. In addition, there is heavy use of metaphor to help make connections, sometimes we just lack the words to adequately express something and a metaphor really is the most effective way of communication in these situations.

The core processes in ACT can be simplified into three areas: opening up, being present, and doing what matters. Your therapist will help you to learn some new skills for handling thoughts and feelings, and some skills to stay present and engage more fully in your life. Also, your therapist will help you to figure out what matters most to you and to set some goals to bring more of these things into your life. If these sound like things that would bring value to your life or help you to overcome something difficult then ACT might just be a type of therapy that you should explore.

Check out these ACT links:

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