Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is the newest addition to how I think about my work. As with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), I am learning how powerful this approach is through my work with clients and also with myself.
In a similar way to Bowen’s family systems theory, ACT believes that there is much to be gained by establishing some degree of objectivity of self, that is, being able to stand beside yourself and observe, of seeing your thoughts, feelings and behaviors with some neutral stance. In ACT language, this is known as defusion, that is, recognizing that you are not your thoughts and feelings.
ACT uses metaphors a lot and I like that. One metaphor to illustrate defusion is that you are the sky and your moods/thoughts/feelings are the clouds. Even on the cloudiest day, we know that there is sky behind the clouds. Translating that metaphor, no matter what your mood is in the moment, your self is constant.
We get into trouble when we fuse our thoughts/feelings/moods with our sense of self. In ACT terms, “I am a bad person” would be “I am having the thought that I am a bad person”. Read those out loud, can you feel the difference? Now I know that the second sentence sounds clumsy and not natural. And that’s the point! The ACT way of describing the experience creates just a bit of space between you and the thought. That space creates enough objectivity that you have room to work on decreasing the power of those negative thoughts, to be reminded that you are not your thoughts.
Another defining feature of ACT is the idea of psychological flexibility. ACT believes that suffering is created by inflexibility, of thoughts, actions, beliefs. Like in DBT, ACT theory is based on the idea that resisting the world as it is creates unnecessary suffering. ACT principles and techniques offer a different way of thinking, a different way to approach what life puts in front of us.
If you want to read more about ACT, I would suggest “The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living” by Russ Harris and Steven Hayes. Or see this article that summarizes ACT from the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science website.
My name is Carol J. Tadeusik. I am a licensed psychologist in Durham, North Carolina. I invite you to read my blog and get to know me and a bit about how I think. And by the way, I love comments!
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