You must be wondering what on earth ACT is. ACT is the acronym for a type of therapy called Acceptance Commitment Therapy, a therapy which I have had success with in my mental health treatment journey.When I first heard the name Acceptance Commitment Therapy I was a little miffed, it sounded like my psychologist wanted me to just accept the way I was feeling, that I couldn’t change it so why try. I wasn’t a big fan of the acceptance part of ACT, at least the way that I saw it.
For a little background, Acceptance Commitment Therapy or ACT for short is a therapy that was created by Steve Hayes. It was then broken down into a more user friendly model by Russ Harris. He has written a book about ACT, which is called The Happiness Trap. It is Harris’ belief that we as humans are always chasing that elusive happiness, that because of the way life is, it’s not a state that can be maintained. He instead believes that through understanding your values and mindfulness you can live a life of fulfillment, not just a fleeting feeling of happiness.
It turned out that my definition of acceptance was a little skewed. I was seeing it in a negative light, like I see most things, instead of seeing it as a way that I could move forward. It was explained to me that our thoughts are going to happen, but that we don’t need to believe them at face value. All of the other therapies that I have done believed that a thought process needed to be removed in order for us to be able to move forward. ACT shows us how to live with them.
ACT really was the therapy that was created for me. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. The thing that I struggled the most with CBT and DBT is removing the thought process. I knew what I needed to do, I just couldn’t follow through with the doing part of the whole process. ACT removed that for me, it allowed me to have those thoughts while not allowing me to be affected by them.
I have only just touched on ACT in therapy so far, new things seem to keep rearing their ugly heads but from what I know so far, I love it. I have found a lot of success with using the Stories method outlined in Harris’ book on ACT. It’s completely simple and doesn’t require a lot of work or even thought. The idea is to take out the seriousness of the thought by turning it into the title of a story. I also add in a little internal eye roll and my inner teenager loves it.
For example, if one of your most frequent negative thoughts is that you are stupid, then when this thought pops into your head you simply say to yourself (either out loud or in your head) ‘oh it’s the I’m stupid story again. This is always fun’ cue internal eye roll. It really is that simple!
It’s been really great to find a therapy like ACT which allows me to move through the thoughts rather than trying to get rid of them. It’s the first time I have felt really positive about the outcomes of a therapy.
Have your tried ACT? Do you think the Stories technique could work for you?
My psychiatrist recently did a course on ACT and gave me some work sheets with exercises to do in line with this therapy. I had to go through the various areas of my life (eg social, family, work, self care, etc) and rate them in order. Then I was supposed to (didn’t) go through and write little goals of what I can do to put each area into the order that I want it in. It all seemed like a lot of work and also the thought of writing goals is too angst ridden for me.
Last year I started a blog post series for the same thing: writing goals for each area of my life. This was something I learning when I did some NLP with a mate years ago. I’d also learn about it through doing CBT at a psych hospital years ago.
Not long after I started that series of posts I crashed hard, ended up in hospital for 5 weeks. Now, a year later, I’m still too scared to write goals because I’m scared to make a commitment to anything because I know I will fail. Like I always do.
The concept of referring to life’s constant complaints (eg I’m not good enough) as “stories” is something I learnt about through the Landmark Forum. Don’t know if you’ve heard of it but it is a two or three day intensive personal development course done over one long weekend.
I figure that referring to these things as “stories” is to remove the power of them to give us control of them. Like “that’s not real, that’s just a story I’ve got going in my head”.
I’d be interested to listen to the Happiness Trap if it is in audiobook. I cannot even commit to reading a whole book these days!
“He instead believes that through understanding your values and mindfulness you can live a life of fulfillment, not just a fleeting feeling of happiness.” These words essentially inspired my blog. I learnt ACT with the phycologist who worked with me when I did a pain program for my chronic pain a couple of years ago. I then read the book. It is so good and I strongly believe that this is made me where I am today. I am so glad it is helping you too.
I hadn’t heard of ACT before but I think it would be something that would help me when my depression and anxiety takes hold. I also think it could be a good therapy for Gilbert down the track. I hope it continues to make a positive difference to you Tegan x
I thought the same when I first heard the name “Acceptance & Commitment Therapy” – like, build a bridge and get over it – a bit harsh really!
As an aside – my sister has been going to therapy lately and her psychologist has suggested that our mother was actually a sociopath – so there was a lot more than bipolar & BPD going on. It’s certainly given me a lot of food for thought …
I love the sound of this and while it’s probably reasonably easy for some I bet it takes a lot of practise for others. Life is a journey not a destination!! Can’t wait to hear how tonight went!! xxx
I love ACT and love how it talks about living your life according to values you want. While I use CBT and DBT for certain things with clients (and thought challenging for myself), there are times when I find ACT more useful. Even if it’s just starting with defusion strategies to not be so fused with our thoughts…it’s great!
I have never heard of ACT before now and while I don’t suffer from depression or anxiety I do know a few people close to me that do. I will be passing on your post to them as I know it would definitely be of interest.
Thanks for sharing your experience. xx
Since doing ACT the suicidal thoughts that I used to battle daily have gone. I reached a place where I was happy and I liked myself, for the first time in my life. It varies now, and I’m struggling a bit just now, but I truly think it may well have saved my life.
Yes I have and, for me, it was a huge break through. I won The Happiness Trap in a raffle, had no idea. Took me a LONG time to get through book – 3 or 4 goes but I did. I sort out an ACT therapist and it’s been great. So many revelations in the 10 focus areas for me. I recommend it to everyone!