ACT aims to help people create a rich and meaningful life while effectively handling the problems and stresses that life brings. ACT does this by teaching skills to deal with painful thoughts and feelings so that they have much less impact. ACT also helps people to find out what values are most important to them, and to use that knowledge to change their lives for the better. There is a growing body of evidence that ACT can be effective in addressing issues such as anxiety, pain management, depression, substance misuse and other problems. It is distinct from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in that the focus is not on challenging or rethinking unhelpful thoughts. Rather ACT aims to help you disentangle yourself from painful thoughts or feelings so that you can live a meaningful life. ACT incorporates acceptance strategies, mindfulness techniques and a range of behavioural approaches known to be effective in CBT.
ACT involves learning and practicing six core skills or processes:
1. Connection means being in the present moment: connecting fully with whatever is happening right here, right now.
2. Defusion means learning to step back from unhelpful thoughts and worries instead of getting caught up in them. Instead of focusing on struggling to get rid of such thoughts, you learn how to let them come and go.
3. Expansion means opening up and making room for painful feelings and sensations. You learn how to stop struggling and give them some breathing room.
4. The Observing Self is the part of you that is responsible for awareness and attention. It is distinct from the ‘thinking self’ which is your thoughts, beliefs, memories etc. The observing self is the part of your mind that is able to be aware of whatever you are thinking or feeling or doing at any moment. It helps you to be able to use and develop mindfulness skills.
5. Values are what you want your life to be about, and what really matters to you, deep down.
6. Committed action means taking action guided by your values – doing what matters – even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable