What Are the Benefits of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

There is a growing list of potential benefits of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). This therapy has a slightly different emphasis than cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), especially in how it works with negative thinking. It’s also considered to be a little easier to use than CBT and DBT, and its focus on mindfulness can be attractive. ACT is appropriate as a therapy method or as a self-improvement approach. In limited trials, its been shown effective for a variety of conditions.

Commitment therapy may be helpful to those suffering from depression.
Commitment therapy may be helpful to those suffering from depression.

Part of the approach of acceptance and commitment therapy is to deemphasize control of thought. Transforming negative thinking is stressed in DBT and CBT, but such work may be overwhelming for some, especially if negative thoughts are frequent. ACT posits that negative and positive thoughts are “just thoughts,” and they’re not a way to judge wellness. Instead people are advised to let them be and not waste effort trying to change them.

This is done by a process called defusion and expansion. The person acknowledges the thought and lets it mentally reside, but doesn’t view it as a call to emotional response or action. In therapy sessions, clients learn a variety of ways to defuse and expand, which do take practice. Most people will never totally ignore their thoughts but they can learn that certain thoughts or thought patterns are a way to get trapped in a control struggle that isn’t worth it.

Clients undergoing this treatment type may note that acceptance and commitment therapy is a little easier to use. It has less homework than CBT and DBT. Much of the training occurs directly in sessions, which may bear some resemblance to typical “talk therapy.” ACT therapists are empathetic and client-centered.

An aspect of ACT that many people enjoy is its focus on mindfulness, which is drawn from Buddhist philosophies. DBT shares this emphasis with ACT, and both work on helping clients be present in the moment. People who are mindful may feel they are more aware of themselves, their thoughts, and their feelings at any given time. They often report a richer experience of living when they are able to be attentive to the now.

Another of the benefits of acceptance and commitment therapy is that it isn’t a therapy exclusive to people who have an illness. Many people like this therapy form as a self-help method. There are a few good self-help books on the topic, and one of the best of these books is usually judged to be ACT expert Russ Harris’ The Happiness Trap.

In small trials, anxiety disorders, depression, and schizophrenia have all responded favorably to acceptance and commitment therapy. ACT has also been found beneficial in treating people with chronic disease and substance abuse issues. Sports psychologists who have used ACT report that it also has benefits for athletes.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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