May 04, 2024

ACT: How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Work?

"What you resist, persists. What you accept, transforms."

Carl Jung

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) stands out among psychotherapies for its unique approach. Unlike other therapies that focus on eliminating negative thoughts and feelings, ACT encourages individuals to embrace them. This acceptance, combined with a commitment to positive behavior changes aligned with personal values, forms the core of ACT.


ACT aims to increase psychological flexibility by teaching mindfulness skills and acceptance techniques. This therapy approach emphasizes the importance of being present, acknowledging one’s experiences, and taking committed action toward a meaningful life. Instead of trying to control or eliminate unwanted thoughts and feelings, ACT helps individuals develop a more accepting and compassionate relationship with their inner experiences.

acceptance of how things are.

What is Psychological Flexibility?

Psychological flexibility, a key concept in ACT, is not just a theoretical construct. It’s a practical skill that allows individuals to adapt to life’s ever-changing circumstances while staying true to their values. It involves being open, present, and engaged with the present moment, accepting thoughts and emotions without unnecessary resistance or attachment. 

By cultivating mindfulnessacceptance, and willingness to experience discomfort, individuals can build resilience, navigate difficulties gracefully, and lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life based on their deeply held values and aspirations.

Psychological Flexibility

Why ACT Therapy Emphasizes the Role of Acceptance?

Acceptance enables individuals to let go of the constant struggle against unwanted thoughts and feelings, reducing emotional distress and promoting psychological well-being. This process of acceptance creates space for individuals to focus on what truly matters to them, guiding them toward living a values-driven life with authenticity and purpose. 


Instead of trying to control or eliminate difficult experiences, acceptance in ACT therapy empowers individuals to be present with their inner experiences and take meaningful action in alignment with their values, ultimately leading to greater resilience and emotional fulfillment.

The Five Common Benefits of ACT Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has shown promising effectiveness in treating various mental health conditions and improving psychological well-being. Research and clinical studies have demonstrated the following benefits and effectiveness of ACT therapy:

Reduced Symptom Severity
Studying the effectiveness of ACT therapy on anxiety and depression, Hashemi and her team found a reduction in the severity of symptoms associated with mental health disorders. Concluding that by promoting acceptance, mindfulness, and values-driven action, ACT helps individuals manage their symptoms more effectively.


Effectiveness of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Depression and Anxiety in People with Substance Use Disorder

Improved Quality of Life
: In another study, ACT focuses on enhancing psychological flexibility and promoting values-based living, improving the overall quality of life. After engaging in ACT therapy, clients often report greater satisfaction in relationships, work, and personal well-being.

Lasting Change
: ACT is also associated with long-lasting positive effects, even after therapy. According to
Aino Kohtala, the skills and strategies learned in ACT sessions can continue to benefit individuals in managing stress, coping with challenges, and living in alignment with their values.

Enhanced Resilience
: Almost all studies highlight that ACT increases our resiliency and tolerance to life’s challenges. By fostering mindfulness, acceptance, and commitment to value-based actions, ACT helps individuals process setbacks in a meaningful manner. For example, in a large study by Konstantinou and her team measuring chronic health conditions and the use of ACT, the participant reported more significant improvement in their ability to adapt to the changes they were experiencing.


Complementary to Other Therapies: Lastly, ACT can be used as a standalone therapy or integrated with other therapeutic approaches. It complements traditional cognitive-behavioral therapies and offers additional tools for promoting emotional wellness and personal growth.


It is essential to understand that ACT may not be helpful for some people. For this reason, many clinicians take an eclectic approach, incorporating other techniques such as CBT, DBT, EMDR Therapy and others. ACT is valuable compared to other methods because it focuses on acceptance, mindfulness, and values. 

Standard ACT Techniques in Therapy

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), several standard techniques are used to help individuals develop psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and values-based action. Some of the key ACT techniques employed in therapy include:

  1. Mindfulness: ACT emphasizes mindfulness techniques to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations in the present moment. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, breathing exercises, and body scans are utilized to cultivate non-judgmental awareness.

  2. Cognitive Defusion: Cognitive defusion techniques help individuals distance themselves from their thoughts and see them as passing mental events rather than absolute truths. By learning to observe thoughts without attachment, individuals can reduce the impact of negative thinking patterns.

  3. Acceptance: ACT encourages individuals to accept their thoughts and emotions as they are without trying to change or control them. Acceptance involves embracing one’s inner experiences with openness and compassion, fostering a sense of peace and self-compassion.

  4. Values Clarification: ACT focuses on helping individuals identify their core values and priorities in life. Through values clarification exercises, individuals can gain clarity on what matters most to them and use these values to guide making meaningful decisions and choices.

  5. Committed Action: Committed action involves setting concrete goals and taking steps towards living a value-driven life. ACT helps individuals develop action plans that align with their values, encouraging them to make consistent personal growth and fulfillment efforts.

  6. Experiential Exercises: ACT often incorporates experiential exercises and metaphors to illustrate key concepts and facilitate emotional exploration. These activities can deepen understanding, spark insights, and promote behavioral change in a tangible way.

  7. Self-Compassion: ACT promotes self-compassion as a way to cultivate kindness and acceptance toward oneself. Encouraging individuals to treat themselves with understanding and care plays a crucial role in enhancing emotional resilience and well-being.

  8. Behavioral Activation: Behavioral activation techniques are used in ACT to encourage individuals to engage in activities that bring them closer to their values and goals. By increasing participation in meaningful actions, individuals can experience a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

These ACT techniques work together to help individuals develop greater psychological flexibility, enhance mindfulness, clarify values, take committed action, and cultivate self-compassion, ultimately supporting personal growth and well-being.

Finding a Therapist for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Support in therapy

When looking for an ACT therapist, check online directories for licensed professionals specializing in ACT therapy. Read client reviews, seek referrals from healthcare providers or friends, and ensure the therapist’s approach aligns with your needs. 


Consider searching on Google in your area for therapists in your local community. Schedule an initial consultation to discuss your goals and assess the therapist’s suitability for you.

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