Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Acceptance and commitment therapy

Harris, R. (August 2006). Embracing your demons: an overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12, 4, 2-8.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one of the "third-wave" behavioral therapies which emphasizes mindfulness and is intended to be used with a broad range of clinical conditions. The goal of ACT is to create a rich and meaningful life, while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. Western psychology has typically operated under the "healthy normality" assumption which states that by their nature, humans are psychologically healthy. That is, they will naturally be happy and content, and suffering is seen as abnormal. However, research shows that psychiatric disorders are exceedingly commonplace, as is nonclinical psyshological suffering, despite our high standards of living. ACT assumes, rather, that psychological processes of a normal human mind are often destructive. They posit that there is a dark side of language and cognition which sits at the root of this suffering. We often struggle with our thoughts and feelings, hoping to change them, avoid them, ameliorate them, and get rid of suffering. In doing so, ACT points at that some of these tactics often create extra suffering for ourselves. These "emotional control strategies" commonly become costly, life-distorting, or harmful. In ACT, there is no attempt to reduce, change, avoid, suppress, or control these private experiences. Instead, mindfulness is encouraged.

ACT commonly employs six techniques: (1) Cognitive Defusion: Learning to perceive thoughts, images, emotions, and memories as what they are, not what they appear to be. (2) Acceptance: Allowing them to come and go without struggling with them. (3) Contact with the present moment: Awareness to the here and now experience with openness, interest, and receptiveness. (4) Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is changing. (5) Values: Discovering what is most important to one's true self. (6) Committed Action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.

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