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What Is Acceptance And Commitment Therapy?

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy is growing in practice among providers in the United States. For individuals who crave health, love, stability, acceptance, and relationships, life can feel like a never-ending chase for those things. The reality might be that, while an individual craves those things, they might not taking action to access them. One of the most common examples of this is individuals who value health as a sign of happiness but are not taking steps toward being in good physical health. Another common example might be someone who values love but is not taking steps to find people in their life to love.

These dualities exist for a wide variety of reasons but often result in individuals feeling like their life is lacking or that they will never grasp what they hope to achieve in life. These individuals end up feeling a twisted type of guilt due or feeling like they are not working hard enough or doing enough things to try and reach these goals and values.

Defining Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy is an evidence-based psychological intervention that homes in on acceptance/mindfulness techniques and behavioral changes to improve how we view ourselves in relation to our values and aspirations. According to Steven Hayes, the goal of acceptance and commitment therapy is to achieve psychological flexibility.

Psychological flexibility is defined as a “wide range of human abilities to: recognize and adapt to various situational demands.” The measure of psychological flexibility revolves around an individual’s ability to adjust to situations that are different than one imagined they would be without feeling defeated or stunted by that reality.

Theory Behind Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

The theory of acceptance and commitment therapy assumes suffering as a natural or inevitable experience that no human being can avoid. It also assumes that the natural human response is to try and gain control over our experiences, which can result in stunted psychological flexibility. This theory includes the Relational Frame Theory and uses mindfulness/acceptance processes partnered with behavioral changes to reach flexibility.

The simplified goal of acceptance and commitment therapy is to help clients/patients utilize mindfulness skills alongside naturally occurring suffering to help them achieve a rich and meaningful life without trying to avoid pain.

Who Benefits from ACT?

Acceptance and commitment therapy can be used in many different situations. The most common applications of ACT include treating clients who are dealing with stress, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, OCD, disordered eating, depressive disorders, chronic pain, and so much more. At its core, it is meant for people who are trying to find peace with their pain.

Core Flexibility Processes

ACT can be broken down into 6 core flexibility processes.


The first core flexibility process is acceptance and involves the embracing or “acceptance” of one’s experiences as they come. The goal is that people create space for themselves to acknowledge and feel through their struggles rather than avoid them.

Cognitive Diffusion

Once an individual has practiced acceptance, the next step is to take an objective look at our memories and experiences outside of our feelings, pain, or judgments.


The third core flexibility process is to turn a client’s attention to the present moment by asking them to make a conscious decision to pay attention and engage with what is happening to them as it happens.

Self as Context

The next process is to observe oneself in relation to our feelings and judgments. This breaks down into helping clients become aware of their emotions enough to notice their own feelings outside of actually feeling them. For example, the ability to observe oneself during a fit of frustration and recognize “I am feeling frustrated right now.”


In acceptance and commitment therapy, values refer to what an individual views as important. They then use those values as directions toward where they hope to go in life. For example, a client might value physical health and therefore uses that value to map out their path toward achieving it (going to the gym, eating healthy, etc.)

Committed Action

This is the “commitment” part of acceptance and commitment therapy. This is where the client takes committed and dedicated steps toward achieving their personal values. This is the literal action rather than the idea of what the action could be. For example, actually setting foot in the gym or buying healthy groceries to work in tandem with our value of wanting to be more physically healthy.

Acceptance and commitment therapy is an evidence-based intervention that therapists can use to help their clients achieve their goals as well as lead rich and meaningful lives alongside the pains and struggles that come with being human.