What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a way of learning to live with chronic illness that teaches the patient to be present in the moment and get in touch with reality, instead of the scripts that may be running in their brain.  Learning to live in the present moment can take a lifetime, but it also allows one to step back, take inventory and choose how to move forward.

The commitment part of ACT is where you decide what your highest values are and what you want your purpose in life to be; followed by choosing what actions you will commit to in the coming days or weeks to move closer to that purpose or goal.

ACT is the brainchild of Dr. Stephen Hayes, who uses the method to help people create a pathway that moves them forward in their lives beyond mental illness or other barriers.

Living in the present moment

Living in the present moment is a critical part of ACT, a practice often called “mindfulness”.  This month, Dr. Rick Hanson, in his podcast “Just One Thing” has a new take on the present moment: pay careful attention to your first thoughts on waking each morning.

Hanson says that the moment of first waking in the morning can have “an intimacy with yourself, abiding as the core of your be-ing.” He comments that it is not at all uncommon for people to experience waking as an anxiety saturated time of day, as all the worries of yesterday come flooding back to devil today. He suggests incorporating a discipline of pulling the mind back from anxieties to look once again at the present moment: breathing, heart beating, home still standing and another day that probably won’t be as bad as feared.

Since the mind and brain are very receptive to influence, Hanson suggests that we train our minds to positivity at this fleeting and precious time of the day.  A moment of gratitude, purpose or prayer can help set up for the whole day to be more balanced, more controlled and more positive.

Give it a try!

Act according to your values

With that great start to living in the present moment each morning, there’s a chance to focus again on values.  Life is not just a hamster cage, life is a journey, and we are choosing what direction that journey takes. Where do you want to end up on your life’s journey?  What do you want to be sure and see along the way?  These questions form an important basis to the Commitment phase of ACT.  Once you are clear about where you are and where you want to go, it’s time to think about next steps.

For example, if your life goal is to complete your college degree, what will be your next steps in that direction?  Do you need to talk to an admissions counselor at a local college, or gather up your transcripts from college courses in the past?  Do you need to set up a quiet study area at home where you can work on studying and homework?  Look at the next practical achievable steps that need to be taken in the direction you want to go and then make a solemn commitment to start taking those steps. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a simple framework that anyone can adopt for life, and it can also be a powerful tool if you are working with a professional therapist.