ACT takes the view that most psychological suffering is caused by ‘experiential avoidance’, i.e. by attempting to avoid or get rid of unwanted private experiences (such as unpleasant thoughts, feelings, sensations, urges & memories). Clients’ efforts at experiential avoidance might work in the short term, but in the long term they often fail, and in the process, they often create significant psychological suffering. (For example, think of any serious addiction: in the short term it makes you feel good and helps you get rid of unpleasant thoughts and feelings – but in the long term, it destroys your health and vitality).
In ACT, clients develop mindfulness skills , (both traditional techniques, and many modern, innovative ones) which enable them to fundamentally change their relationship with painful thoughts and feelings. When clients practice these skills in everyday life, painful feelings and unhelpful thoughts have much less impact and influence over them. Therefore, instead of wasting their time and energy in a fruitless battle with their inner experiences, they can invest their energy in taking action to change their life for the better – guided by their deepest values.
A growing body of empirical data confirms that cultivating acceptance, mindfulness, and openness to experience is highly effective for the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, chronic pain, PTSD, anorexia, and even schizophrenia. ACT is also a very effective model for life coaching and executive coaching.
ACT is one of the ‘third wave’ of behaviour therapies, along with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, and several others. These therapies comprise a movement in psychology that regard mindfulness and acceptance as important additions to change-oriented treatment strategies.
ACT was the first of the ‘third wave’ therapies, and has the largest body of empirical data to support its effectiveness. And it is very effective. For example, one published study showed hospital re-admission rates for psychotic patients were cut by 50% with only 4 hours of ACT (primarily using values-guided behavioural interventions, and cognitive defusion techniques to reduce believability in delusions & hallucinations). To download this paper, by Bach and Hayes, click here.
To download a simple, non-technical article which gives a basic overview of ACT, click here.
You can also download a range of interesting articles and papers on ACT from the resources page.