Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Techniques for Growth and Positive Change
In order to begin making lasting positive change, we must first accept our emotions and challenges rather than fighting or denying them. That’s the foundational principle of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques. An ACT treatment plan supports young adults to develop self-acceptance and self-compassion, reframe negative thoughts, and commit to actions that will enrich their lives.
When to Seek Help
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy research shows that ACT therapy techniques are effective for a wide range of mental health issues and co-occurring disorders, including
- Substance use disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Eating disorders
If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of any of these mental health conditions, treatment is essential. Effective outpatient or residential care for young adults addresses primary and co-occurring disorders through applying protocols informed by in-depth assessment.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques are often utilized as part of a young adult’s tailored treatment plan, in combination with other evidence-based therapeutic modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Interviewing.
ACT therapy techniques help young adults to
- Accept that life brings challenges and pain
- Acknowledge and reframe negative thinking
- Make conscious behavior choices that align with their values
- Create the life they want through taking empowered action.
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
ACT is a type of mindfulness-based therapy that encourages people to embrace their thoughts and feelings rather than pushing them away, running from them, or feeling guilty about them. Hence, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques emphasize acceptance rather than avoidance.
ACT is part of what’s known as the “third wave” of behavioral therapies, which also includes Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The first wave was aimed toward changing unwanted behaviors without looking at the thoughts behind those behaviors, and the second wave included approaches such as CBT and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
The history of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy began in the 1980s, when ACT was formulated by Steven C. Hayes, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada. Hayes viewed suffering as an unavoidable and essential part of being human. Hence, he believed that we find fulfillment and thriving when we face and accept difficult emotions as well as joyful ones.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is built on the Relational Frame Theory, which proposes that humans’ ability to relate is the foundation of language and cognition. Since that time, a growing body of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy research has demonstrated the efficacy of this approach for clients of all ages.
What to Expect
Rather than setting out to solve problems or reach an expected outcome or goal, an ACT treatment plan helps clients understand that psychological pain is a universal experience. Instead of trying to control our emotions and experiences, we can change the way we think about and react to them. Therefore, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy exercises help young adults develop skills for reframing negative thoughts and behavior.
An ACT therapist guides Acceptance and Commitment Therapy exercises that help young adults to focus on their breathing and become aware of their thoughts and feelings, rather than avoiding them. They learn to remain present with the physical sensations that accompany their emotions, such as tightness in the chest, rapid heartbeat, or a sinking feeling in the stomach.
In moving through these emotions and sensations without running from them or attempting to control them, young adults learn that they can survive difficult feelings, and that these feelings will eventually pass. Consequently, through ACT therapy techniques, young adults learn to focus on the current moment instead of looking toward a fixed idea of what they might become or how their lives might look in the future.
What to Expect in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
There are six core processes contained within an ACT treatment plan. These processes provide a framework that helps young adults develop what ACT refers to as “psychological flexibility.” They are:
- Acceptance: In order to help us survive, humans are wired to solve problems and avoid negative experiences. ACT therapy techniques offer tools for changing this dynamic—consciously allowing unpleasant experiences and emotions to exist, without trying to push them away or change them.
- Cognitive defusion: This process focuses on helping clients shift how they react to their thoughts and feelings. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques teach clients how to face challenging experiences and feelings rather than reducing their exposure to them. As a result, these experiences and emotions have less power and become easier to manage.
- Being present: This is the mindfulness practice of staying in the present moment, without judging or trying to change it, rather than focusing on past experiences or future possibilities.
- The observing self: This process is based on the idea that a person is more than the sum of their experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Therefore, each person contains a “witness”—a self outside of one’s current experience that observes all that unfolds.
- Values: Values are the qualities that we hold in high esteem, and which can serve as a compass for our actions and behavior. As part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy exercises, young adults create an ACT values list identifying the values that are most important to them.
- Committed action: Through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques, young adults commit to actions that will support them to find meaning and purpose, create greater fulfillment and satisfaction, and live a life consistent with their values.
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Care at Newport Institute
At Newport Institute, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques are one aspect of each young adult’s comprehensive and customized treatment plan. Through ACT, in addition to other evidence-based clinical and experiential modalities, young adults learn that the power to heal lies within them. Hence, they gain tools that allow them to grow and move forward even when they are faced with difficult situations outside of their control.
Contact our Admissions team to learn more about Newport Institute’s approach to young adult trauma, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health and co-occurring disorders. Our team of experts is dedicated to guiding emerging adults to find sustainable healing and develop the essential skills for leading a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life.