Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based treatment that derives its name from what is at the very core of its function: to accept and commit.
Instead of pushing away or fighting with unpleasant emotions, ACT challenges people to focus on accepting them and more clearly understanding why they exist. Doing this can more effectively address those issues at the root of their addiction or mental health disorder, teaching individuals how to cope with their emotions in healthier ways.
How Does ACT Work?
ACT helps individuals in the following ways:
A simple example illustrating how ACT works can be as elementary as someone changing one word in the story that a person may be telling themselves. Suppose someone is struggling with anxiety in anticipation of a social event. One might think to themself, “I want to go to the conference, but I’m too anxious to meet colleagues I’ve only spoken with on the phone.”
Instead, ACT asks individuals to adjust their mindsets. In this example, the individual should think of their fear in terms of, “I want to go to the conference, AND I’m anxious to meet my colleagues.” Just one small verbal shift can lead to a new outlook on the situation.
ACT asks individuals to see situations more objectively, giving them the tools to accept what’s happening in the present moment and working with what can be changed (e.g., their perspective).
What Is the Evidence Behind ACT?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) recognizes ACT as an evidence-based treatment. ACT, which was developed in the late 80s by Steven C. Hayes, PhD, has been the subject of several randomized studies over the past few decades.
The American Psychological Association accepts ACT as a valid part of treatment for a variety of mental health disorders, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe depression, impulsivity, eating disorders, and substance abuse and addiction.