Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Wings Recovery for Men uses ACT because our goal is to provide you with as many tools in your tool box as possible so that you can thrive in your daily life.
What is Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)*
The Six Core Processes in ACT
Self as Context
As a result of relational frames such as I versus you, now versus then, and here versus there, human language leads to a sense of self as a locus or perspective and provides a transcendent, spiritual side to normal verbal humans. This idea was one of the seeds from which both ACT and RFT grew and there is now growing evidence of its importance to language functions such as empathy, theory of mind, sense of self, and the like.
In brief the idea is that “I” emerges over large sets of exemplars of perspective-taking relations (what are termed in RFT “deictic relations”), but since this sense of self is a context for verbal knowing, not the content of that knowing, its limits cannot be consciously known. Self as context is important in part because from this standpoint, one can be aware of one’s own flow of experiences without attachment to them or an investment in which particular experiences occur: Thus defusion and acceptance is fostered. Self as context is fostered in ACT by mindfulness exercises, metaphors, and experiential processes.
Cognitive defusion techniques attempt to alter the undesirable functions of thoughts and other private events, rather than trying to alter their form, frequency, or situational sensitivity. Said another way, ACT attempts to change the way one interacts with or relates to thoughts by creating contexts in which their unhelpful functions are diminished.
There are scores of such techniques that have been developed for a wide variety of clinical presentations. For example, a negative thought could be watched dispassionately, repeated out loud until only its sound remains, or treated as an externally observed event by giving it a shape, size, color, speed, or form. A person could thank their mind for such an interesting thought, label the process of thinking (“I am having the thought that I am no good”), or examine the historical thoughts, feelings, and memories that occur while they experience that thought. Such procedures attempt to reduce the literal quality of the thought, weakening the tendency to treat the thought as what it refers to (“I am no good”) rather than what it is directly experienced to be (e.g., the thought “I am no good”). The result of defusion is usually a decrease in believability of, or attachment to, private events rather than an immediate change in their frequency.
Finally, ACT encourages the development of larger and larger patterns of effective action linked to chosen values. In this regard, ACT looks very much like traditional behavior therapy, and almost any behaviorally coherent behavior change method can be fitted into an ACT protocol, including exposure, skills acquisition, shaping methods, goal setting, and the like. Unlike values, which are constantly instantiated but never achieved as an object, concrete goals that are values consistent can be achieved and ACT protocols almost always involve therapy work and homework linked to short-, medium-, and long-term behavior change goals. Behavior change efforts in turn lead to contact with psychological barriers that are addressed through other ACT processes (acceptance, defusion, and so on).
Taken as a whole, each of these processes supports the other and all target psychological flexibility, the process of contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being and persisting or changing behavior in the service of chosen values. The six processes can be chunked into two groupings. Mindfulness and acceptance processes involve acceptance, defusion, contact with the present moment, and self as context.
Indeed, these four processes provide a workable behavioral definition of mindfulness (see Fletcher & Hayes, in press, in the Suggested Reading list). Commitment and behavior change processes involve contact with the present moment, self as context, values, and committed action. Contact with the present moment and self as context occur in both groupings because all psychological activity of conscious human beings involves the now as known.