“Pain is certain. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Murakami
ACT (pronounced ‘act’) is a mindfulness- based behavioral therapy that utilizes a mix of metaphor, paradox, and mindfulness skills, along with a wide range of experiential exercises and values-guided behavioral interventions. Symptom reduction is not a goal in ACT.
This is based on the view that the ongoing attempt to get rid of ‘symptoms’ and negative thoughts and feelings is actually what creates the clinical disorder. ACT helps clients create psychological flexibility and to turn toward, and accept pain, rather than turn away.
ACT assumes that the psychological processes of a normal human mind are often destructive and creates psychological suffering for us all, sooner or later. One way it does this is through setting us up for a struggle with our own thoughts and feelings, through a process called experiential avoidance. A large body of research shows that higher experiential avoidance is associated with anxiety disorders, depression, poorer work performance, higher levels of substance abuse, lower quality of life, high risk behavior, greater severity of PTSD, and long term disability. Many of the emotional control strategies used to try to feel good (or to feel ‘less bad’) may work in the short term, but frequently they are costly and self-destructive in the long term.
Creating a rich and meaningful life, while accepting the pain that inevitably comes with it, is the core goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
People usually enter therapy with the goal of emotional control. They want to get rid of their depression, anxiety, urges to drink, traumatic memories, low self-esteem, fear of rejection, anger, grief and so on.
In ACT, there is no attempt to try to reduce, change, avoid, suppress, or control these experiences. Instead, clients learn to reduce the impact and influence of unwanted thoughts and feelings, through the effective use of mindfulness. ACT teaches us to stop fighting with private experiences, and to instead open up to them.
The same principle applies to difficult feelings: the more we try to fight them, the more they overwhelm us. It is no longer about getting rid of bad feelings or getting over old trauma. Instead it is about creating a rich and meaningful life and accepting that pain inevitably happens with such a full life.
ACT focuses around:
- Developing acceptance of unwanted private experiences which are out of personal control.
- Commitment and action toward living a valued life.
- Cognitive Defusion
- Being Present
- Self as Context
- Committed Action
“Don’t throw away your suffering. Touch your suffering. Face it directly, and your joy will become deeper.
You know that suffering and joy are both impermanent.” -Thích Nhất Hạnh
If you think ACT could be helpful for you, contact me to learn more.