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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

ACT is responding more flexibly when things get tough.

Imagine something stressful happens.

You have a bad day at work. You and your partner get into a fight. A friend lets you down.

What happens inside of you?

If you’re like most humans the answer is probably “a lot of things all at once.” 

You get in your head, thinking about what happened, how you should have reacted, and what you’ll say next. You judge yourself and the other people in the situation. 

At the same time, your emotions are all over the place. Anxiety, frustration, sadness, and shame…it’s like your inner world is a tsunami of feelings. You don’t want these feelings, so you try to make the emotions go away by distracting yourself, numbing out, rationalizing or problem solving, self-harming, or using substances.

You act out in ways that you don’t like. You lash out at your partner, send an angry text to your friend, or slam a door at your office. Or you numb out with your phone, alcohol, sleep, or food. You’re so in your stuff that you completely lose perspective, forgetting that you’ve gone through difficult things before. The here and now might as well not exist—you don’t even notice when your dog brings you his favorite toy. 

All of these reactions—getting tangled up in your thoughts, fighting with your emotions, acting out of line with your values, losing track of the big picture, and disconnecting from the present—are what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy calls psychological inflexibility. In ACT, psychological inflexibility is the root of human suffering. 

The goal of ACT (pronounced like the verb “to act”) is to increase psychological flexibility, which is our ability to respond creatively, with curiosity and openness, to life’s struggles. In a session with an ACT therapist, you might practice:

  • Recognizing when you’re caught up in your thoughts, and learning to notice or watch your thinking like you’re watching clouds passing across the sky

  • Noticing when you’re in a tug-of-war with your emotions, a fight that is zapping your strength and is ultimately unwinnable

  • Learning skills to help you connect with the here and now so you have more choice and are able to respond instead of react

  • Getting clear on the qualities of being and doing that are most important to you (in ACT we call these your values)

  • Identifying action steps to take outside of the therapy room that move you towards the kind of person you want to be and the kind of life you want to live

  • Staying connected to the big picture so you don’t lose the forest for the trees

ACT therapists believe that all humans inevitably experience pain, and that all humans deserve to live a rich, full, and meaningful life. As an ACT therapist who is also a human, I experience struggle and pain, get caught in my own rigidity, and am constantly working towards responding more flexibly, curiously, and creatively to life's stressors. As an ACT therapist, I love using ACT to help others do the same. 

Ready to use ACT to help you respond more flexibly and build a life you appreciate? 

Reach out today, or schedule your complimentary 15 minute consultation call to get started. 

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