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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

When researching the different kinds of therapies that are available, your choices may seem overwhelming. There are plenty of therapy approaches, but all have their own sets of variables, such as best applications and methods. You may be wondering if acceptance and commitment therapy is a good fit for you. Take a look at the information below to learn more.


What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

First things first, you need to fully understand what acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is, especially before making any decisions on whether or not you implement it! This therapy method is an action oriented approach, and has roots in both cognitive therapy and traditional behaviour therapy. It is an approach to psychotherapy. 

During treatment, people learn to stop avoiding, denying, and struggling with inner emotions, and instead accept that they are a part of their own personal experience, and commit to making the changes in their behaviour that support this new perspective. Acceptance and commitment therapy was originally developed in the 1980s by Steven C. Hayes, and was partially informed by his own experiences and history of panic attacks. 

The Six Pillars of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

There are six core processes, when it comes to ACT therapy. These are designed to promote psychological flexibility in patients. Psychological flexibility is the ability to be more present in the moment, and to either change or persist in particular behaviours. The six core principles of ACT therapy include the following:

  • Acceptance
  • Cognitive Defusion
  • Being Present
  • Self as Context
  • Values
  • Committed Action


The first of these tenets is acceptance. Acceptance is where you will acknowledge and then embrace the full spectrum of your thoughts and emotions– instead of trying to deny, avoid, or otherwise alter them. 

Cognitive Defusion

Next is cognitive defusion. This pillar involves distancing yourself from the way that you react to distressing thoughts and feelings, and then changing how you react to them. This helps to reduce their harmful effects. There are some techniques for cognitive defusion that you will learn to identify areas, such as observing a thought without judgment or labeling the automatic response that you have. 

ACT Therapy does not intend to remove our exposure to negative experiences or unwanted thoughts, but rather to face them and come out the other side with a decreased fixation on these experiences and help create a healthy normality.

Being Present 

Being present is where you are encouraged to be mindful in the moment that you are in, as well as observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment and without trying to change them. When you experience events clearly and directly, you can help to promote and encourage behavioural changes. 

Self as Context 

Self as context is a principle that plays on the ideas of self and identity. It claims that we are more than just our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The “self as context” process offers the alternative concept that there is a self outside of the current experience.


This pillar encourages you to choose certain personal values in different spheres of your life, which you can then strive towards and ascribe to live by. This then contrasts with actions that are simply driven by the need or desire to avoid distress or to adhere to others’ expectations.

Committed Action

Committed action is the last pillar, and it is where you begin to take concrete steps. These steps are ones that incorporate changes that will lead to positive change, aligning with the personal values that we mentioned previously. This can involve goal setting, skill development, or exposure to difficult thoughts. Often, it will involve some combination of all of these. 

How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Work?

So, how exactly does acceptance and commitment therapy work, anyway? The main belief of this therapy approach is that trying to control painful emotions or experiences is counterproductive. In fact, the suppression of these unpleasant feelings and emotions can lead to more distress! Instead, this therapy touts the viewpoint that mindful behaviour, an attention to your personal values, and commitment action can be better alternatives to trying to change the way that you think.

During this treatment, you will take steps to change your behaviour and also learn to accept your psychological experiences through mindfulness exercises. 

Who Should Use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

ACT treatment can be used for a variety of people, and for a variety of conditions as well. Candidates for this type of therapy will often experience negative self talk or may experience high levels of panic and anxiety which effects our mental health. Those who have issues with change could also benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy.

When it comes to the type of condition that can be helped by acceptance and commitment therapy, both mental and physical conditions can apply here. Some of these conditions include the below. If your condition is not on the list, consult your therapist, doctor or mental health professional if this approach still appeals to you.

  • General anxiety disorders
  • Social anxiety disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Workplace stress
  • General stress
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Self esteem issues


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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you explain acceptance and commitment therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a kind of psychotherapy, which emphasizes acceptance as a way to deal with negative thoughts, symptoms, feelings, or circumstances. It combines mindfulness strategies with the practice of self-awareness. In addition, it also encourages the increased commitment to healthy and constructive activities that can help to uphold your goals and beliefs.

What is acceptance and commitment therapy in a nutshell?

Basically, acceptance and commitment therapy encourages people to embrace their feelings and their thoughts, instead of fighting them or avoiding your stresses. ACT therapy involves committing to actions that help you facilitate your experience and embrace any challenge. When paired with mindfulness based therapies, this can be clinically effective!  

What is the goal of acceptance and commitment therapy?

By encouraging the acceptance of feelings and thoughts, ACT aims to increase psychological flexibility. This refers to the ability of a person to enter the present moment more fully and either change or persist in certain behaviours. 

What are some examples of acceptance and commitment therapy?

Examples of acceptance and commitment therapy involve a subtle verbal and cognitive shift– a person can still take action without having to change or eradicate their feelings. For instance, a person may say that they want to change, but they are too scared. The shift here would be to acknowledge that they want to change, and they are scared. This acknowledges and accepts their feelings without barring their path forward towards change or whatever else it is that they seek. By practicing mindfulness through mindfulness techniques with behavioral therapies can lead to helping your everyday life.

Therapists that Utilize ACT at Lionheart

At Lionheart Foundation we have two main therapists that work with ACT

Deanne Elsner

Jenn Champagne