“People suffer,” states the first line of a seminal work on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) by psychologist Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith.
Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy advocates a scientifically based treatment approach that “is not about fighting your pain; it’s about developing a willingness to embrace every experience life has to offer. It’s not about resisting your emotions; it’s about feeling them completely and yet not turning your choices over to them. ACT offers you a path out of suffering by helping you choose to live your life based on what matters to you most.”
Although seemingly related to various types of cognitive behavioral therapy, ACT is actually quite different. Instead of working on changing one’s damaging thoughts, the ACT follower is working on embracing them to a certain extent.
Adherents of ACT say that FEAR is what causes many of our problems.
- Fusion with your thoughts
- Evaluation of experience
- Avoidance of your experience
- Reason-giving for your behavior
The ACT treatment model involves the following steps:
- Accept your reactions and be present
- Choose a valued direction
- Take action
ACT, Hayes believes, is helpful for a wide variety of problems, including anxiety and depression, substance abuse, and physical health concerns. In fact, how he learned to deal with his own past panic disorder influenced many of the theories underlying ACT.
The video below is meant to be a metaphor illustrating some concepts of ACT found in Get Out of Your Mind.
Other pertinent books by Harris include the 2008 The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living (A Guide to ACT), its counterpart called The Illustrated Happiness Trap, Getting Unstuck in ACT (2013), and ACT with Love: Stop Struggling, Reconcile Differences, and Strengthen Your Relationship with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
A = Accept your thoughts and feelings and be present. C = Connect with your values. T = Take effective action.
Psychological flexibility is the ability to adapt to a situation with awareness, openness, and focus and to take effective action, guided by your values.
Mindfulness + Values + Action = Psychological Flexibility.
Stop trying to control how you feel, and instead take control of what you do.
Develop the courage to solve those problems that can be solved, the serenity to accept those problems that can’t be solved, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Harris also offers many free resources (worksheets, handouts, and book chapters) on his website.