You may have heard of CBT Therapy, and a growing number of people have found this approach to therapy immensely helpful. But fewer people recognize the term Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT. This form of therapy is newer when you compare it to CBT, but it has been in use for over 30 years and is backed by research.
Some of the tools used in ACT are similar to ones you may recognize from CBT, but the goals are different. This article will explain what these two approaches have in common, and how they differ.
What is ACT?
To put it simply, ACT is a form of therapy that helps people learn to face discomfort by accepting their feelings, situations, and thoughts. Instead of fighting these realities, people learn to accept them and find solutions that resonate with who they are and the truths that give their lives meaning.
This approach is based on a psychological concept known as Relational Frame Theory (RFT). RFT explores the understanding that humans have a unique ability to discern relationships between things. For instance, we can understand that even though a banana, an apple, and a grape are all different, they are all fruit. This is helpful in gaining an understanding of the world, but it can lead to problems when emotions are involved.
Our emotional understanding of what is happening and why can become complicated when we create associations between events that aren’t necessarily true. When any experience of failure feels catastrophic and dangerous, it has a deep impact on how we approach our lives.
In ACT, people learn to face difficult feelings and situations and to accept what is out of their control. This frees them to commit to doing things that will enrich their lives.
ACT draws on six core values.
- Acceptance – Instead of fighting thoughts and feelings, you learn to acknowledge and accept them without judgment.
- Cognitive Diffusion – Understanding that thoughts are no more than thoughts. They are not facts.
- Present Moment Awareness – Mindfulness techniques to help you focus on what is happening inside you and around you in the moment.
- Self As Context – We are more than what we’ve experienced, felt, and thought. This helps you expand your understanding of identity and self.
- Values – Exploring and identifying what gives your life meaning and motivates you.
- Committed Action – Choosing to act in ways that will move you forward in the direction of your goals and in line with your values, creating a life with meaning and purpose.
How is ACT similar to CBT?
ACT has some close similarities to CBT. Both practices use mindfulness and work on addressing your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way. They both focus on how the person relates to their experiences, rather than the experiences themselves. And both approaches offer a path to emotional freedom by focusing on yourself and the things within your control.
However, there are also important differences.
What makes ACT different from CBT?
The goal of CBT is to relieve suffering by teaching new ways of behaving and thinking. It helps people to break patterns that have become limiting and painful.
ACT, on the other hand, does not focus on escaping negative feelings. In fact, the first core value encourages people to accept the feelings they want to escape, and to face the thoughts and situations that are causing them pain. Its goal is to help people disentangle their choices from the desire to get away from difficult feelings and thoughts.
By learning not to fight to escape these painful feelings, people are able to change how they react. Instead of following a desire to get away, they are able to make choices that are informed by what they believe is true and worthy. In this way, people are free to pursue a life that’s rewarding and meaningful.
CBT is generally used on a short-term basis to help someone learn the skills they need to change patterns in their lives. It’s focused on a specific goal, including helping people find relief from painful, persistent thoughts and actions.
ACT can be used for a short time or over a longer period. The goals aren’t about solving a specific problem, and they don’t focus on changing how you react emotionally. Instead, people learn to accept their struggles, so they are able to move forward in their lives. Relief from painful feelings is considered a side effect of ACT, not a goal.
Can you use both ACT and CBT?
Despite their many differences, these two forms of therapy are not mutually exclusive. Some people find they work together well. One to look at it is that CBT can help you find a way out of patterns that keep you trapped. ACT can build on that by helping you learn how to move forward into a meaningful, satisfying life.
Who can benefit from ACT?
The techniques used in ACT can help people who experience a wide range of issues. They can be used in life coaching situations, but this approach can also improve the symptoms of many different psychological problems, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Eating disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Workplace stress
- Chronic pain
These same conditions can also be addressed with CBT, so it’s important to find a qualified therapist to help you explore which approach is right for you.
Trillium Counselling can help you explore ACT or CBT
If you’re interested in trying either of these therapeutic approaches, the experienced therapists at Trillium Counselling would be happy to help. We strongly believe that each client deserves the individualized care that will best serve them, and we can explore therapeutic approaches that may work best for you. If you are uncertain about what to do next, please feel free to reach out and we would be happy to help.
For more information or to make an appointment, contact us today.