Acceptance & commitment therapy manages to increase resilience and the meaning of life. In this Psychologyorg article, we will learn in-depth about acceptance and commitment therapy, its background, principles, components, techniques, and exercises.
Humans have ideas, memories, and feelings and we react to them. We give them value, meaning, and a connection. According to the researcher Dr. Carmen Luciano, acceptance and commitment therapy allows us to understand the behavior of the human being and its objective is for people to learn to interact with themselves and to build the life they want to live, making the things that are more present. important to themselves.
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What is acceptance and commitment therapy?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a set of psychological intervention techniques and processes whose main objectives are to accept the emotions, thoughts, and events that are experienced and to commit to one’s own values.
What is the ACT? Acceptance and commitment therapy is the most complete of the third-generation therapies. It is framed in a functional philosophical position and is based on a new theory of language and cognition. The ACT defends a new vision of psychopathology in which many disorders are understood as a consequence derived from the unconscious desire not to feel pain.
The ACT is a treatment oriented to the values of each person, it defends discomfort as something normal and aims to reveal the paradox of behavior: the more you try to avoid it, the more suffering you get. He affirms that what produces suffering is the resistance to discomfort and that the objective should be to tolerate discomfort, in order to generate flexibility in the regulation of behavior and direct the person’s life towards the goals that he considers valuable.
Background to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy is included in a type of therapy called Third Generation Therapies. According to Steven C. Hayes, we find three generations of therapies with scientific evidence:
- First generation: classical behavior therapy. They were useful, but the need to attend to the cognitive part was revealed.
- Second generation: cognitive behavioral therapy. These are directed to the change of thoughts and emotions as well as to the change in actions. They have been widely studied and applied and their effectiveness is proven.
- Third generation: dialectical therapy, functional analytical psychotherapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy, among others. What are contextual or third-generation therapies? Third-generation therapies are oriented towards the responsibility of the person’s choice and not their symptoms. They focus on altering the context that makes the symptoms problematic. For this reason, they are also called contextual therapies.
Principles of Acceptance and commitment therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy proposes that prior treatments suggest techniques to solve signs that are occasionally natural, while they are human.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is based on the proposition that the more effort you put into solving or letting go of something that bothers you, the more present it becomes. How does acceptance and commitment therapy work? The following principles explain acceptance and commitment therapy:
- The human condition: both the experience of pleasure and suffering are part of being human. It is so inevitable to enjoy, as also to have unpleasant sensations.
- What guides the behavior: the behavior can be guided by the most basic thing, the search for pleasure, or by ideals or values such as honesty and respect.
- Experiential non-avoidance: against the tendency to flee from pain and eliminate discomfort with all possible resources, experiential non-avoidance is born, arguing that when one tries to prevent or avoid unpleasant thoughts and emotions, what is achieved is that increase. Experiential avoidance is an inflexible and limiting pattern of functioning and is one of the components of affective disorders, anxiety, addictions, eating behavior, impulse control, psychotics, and coping with illnesses.
- Cognitive fusion: it consists of the mistake of taking as true what is thought without it being so.
The goal of acceptance and commitment therapy is to make life more meaningful. Since the problems will continue to be there and negative thoughts and unpleasant emotions will continue to be experienced, however, the actions will be aligned with the values and will have more meaning. Acceptance and commitment therapy aims to help people live a full life, not free from unpleasant experiences, through the endowment of meaning.
Components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy is made up of the following components. The 6 components that make up the ACT are:
- Mindfulness: being present here and now, paying attention to the current moment.
- Cognitive defusion: cognitive defusion or thought defusion consists of the separation between internal events and identity. The person is not his thoughts or his emotions, these are products of the mind. It is about observing one’s own sensations, thoughts, and emotions as passengers in the mind.
- Acceptance: Acceptance is the abandonment of the fighting attitude. Stop fighting unpleasant sensations, allow them to happen, and observe them with curiosity.
- Contextual self: not identifying with thoughts, since these are events that occur in the mind, and the self can perceive and observe them. It is possible to contemplate what happens in the mind and who observes is really the Self.
- Values: Values are what is really important to each person. It is important to identify them and keep them in mind so that they guide behavior.
- Action: Carry out actions aligned with the values. The acts must be aligned with the objectives based on the values.
Techniques and Exercises of Acceptance and commitment therapy
The techniques used in therapy are as follows:
Meditation is mindfulness. It consists of being present and being aware of sensations, impulses, thoughts, and emotions. It serves to realize that you have a thought or an emotion, knowing that you are much more than that. Observe with curiosity what happens inside, letting go of fears and prejudices. In the following article, you will find various mindfulness meditation exercises.
From a behavioral perspective, it would be necessary to reinforce a behavior so that it is more likely to occur again. For example, giving a prize after a passed exam for a person to study. What the ACT proposes through augmenting regulation is that a behavior acquires a meaning with a reinforcing function. For example, if the degree (which will mean opting for the desired job position) is related to studying today for tomorrow’s exam, the behavior is reinforced due to the meaning attached to it.
The exercise, in this case, consists of reflecting, detecting socially established associations, and giving new meaning to some concepts.
Non-avoidance of unpleasant emotions
If emotions such as fear or sadness are identified as “bad”, the tendency is to want to avoid and escape them, something that increases discomfort. Being able to even reach the extreme of total avoidance that would be suicide.
However, from experiential non-avoidance, suffering is reduced. To do this, one of the acceptance and commitment techniques consists of contextualizing pain, emotions, and unpleasant sensations as something normal and human from which it is not necessary to escape, if not from what can be learned.
One of the exercises of acceptance and commitment therapy consists of the predisposition to perceive and feel emotions, sensations, thoughts, etc.
Acceptance and normalization of discomfort
Currently, the functioning of society has no place for discomfort and pain, associating well-being with immediate pleasure and linking pain with something abnormal.
How to work acceptance in therapy? Acceptance consists of stopping fighting unpleasant sensations, allowing them to happen, and observing them with curiosity. Tolerance to discomfort is worked on by being willing to experiment without resisting thoughts and emotions.
No control of the uncontrollable
The thoughts and emotions that run through the mind cannot be avoided or controlled. Trying to control internal events such as memories or sensations is not possible, moreover, it reduces the ability to live fully. Destructive experiential avoidance can be reached, which involves the need to control or avoid thoughts, memories, sensations, and the circumstances that generate them.
The technique proposed by ACT is to avoid controlling what cannot be controlled.
It is about becoming aware of thoughts and differentiating ourselves from them. Distance ourselves from our cognitive events understanding them as products of the mind. You can practice, for example, the observation of thought to achieve cognitive defusion. It is about understanding that the person is not the thought, but that the person is behind it and can observe the thoughts, sensations, and any cognitive content.
Given the observation of thought, you can choose how to act on it.
It is about finding what is truly important to one, the objective is to clarify what the person wants for their life and the reason for their choice. The exercise to achieve this consists of reflecting on questions such as:
- What would you be doing every day if you could dedicate yourself to something other than trying to take away your suffering?
- If you could spend an evening with whoever you wanted, who would it be? And if it were your last afternoon, would it be the same person?
- What would you give the person you love the most for their birthday if you had infinite money? And if it was his last birthday, would you give him the same?
Commitment translates into acting responsibly toward the chosen direction. Set objectives based on values, place the person in charge of his actions, create a strategy to direct action towards values , and act based on values.
Use of metaphors
Metaphors, comparisons, and examples are very useful for illustrating the paradoxes of psychological functioning and, therefore, they are a widely used strategy in acceptance and commitment therapy. Next, we will look at several metaphors for acceptance and commitment therapy.
Metaphors of Acceptance and commitment therapy
Some of the metaphors used in acceptance and commitment therapy are as follows:
The black tiles can be negative thoughts while the white ones can be positive thoughts. While the self is the chips, but the board. This metaphor used in acceptance and commitment therapy allows us to understand the mind as a space in which things happen that we can perceive and observe without being those things.
When there is no acceptance, the person finds himself lamenting in front of a huge wall that cannot be crossed. However, when you accept that this wall exists, you begin to look for tools and ways to go to the other side of the wall or even find a new path.
Imagine that for a gardener the most important thing is the plants. He plants them in the best place and takes care of them. One day he starts to see that weeds are growing and he goes to pull them up. As soon as he starts to come out a weed will start him running. But he can’t get rid of them completely, instead, weeds continue to grow.
What do you think will happen if the gardener puts all his effort into removing weeds? He will not be able to spend time taking care of the plants, watering them, pruning them, fertilizing them… Do you think that if the gardener is always on the lookout for a wedding, he will be able to enjoy the plants in his garden? What would plants say if they could talk?
“The distracted tripped over it. The violent used it as a projectile. The entrepreneur built with it. The tired creator used it as a core. For the children, it was a toy. David slaughtered Goliath and Michelangelo took out the most stunning sculpture. In all cases, the difference was not in the stone, but in the man .”
The metaphor of the man in the hole with a shovel
throwing the dirt away or throwing it close… but it was still in the hole. All that effort and all that work, and all she did was make the hole go deeper and deeper. Then she realized that digging was not the solution, it was not the way to get out of the hole, on the contrary, digging is how holes are made bigger. Then he began to think that perhaps all the plan he had was wrong and that there was no solution, since by digging he could not get out, all he was doing was sinking deeper.”
The therapist in acceptance and commitment therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy is not structured in sessions nor does it follow a closed protocol. The therapist offers explanations and exercises aimed at the patient’s reflection on himself/herself and her problem, stresses the role of the patient in his/her life, and the ability he/she has to deal with discomfort and redirect his/her life From her. Through examples and exercises, the therapist shows the patient that controlling and avoiding are strategies that do not work and is accompanied by normalizing and tolerating discomfort.
Acceptance and Commitment Books
If you want more information, you can consult the following books:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): A Values-Oriented Behavioral Treatment by Kelly G. Wilson and M. Carmen Luciano Soriano.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Mindfulness Process and Practice by Steven C. Hayes, Kirk Strosahl, and Kelly G. Wilson.
- A Mind Set Free: The Essential Guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) by Steven C. Hayes.
- The Happiness Trap: Stop Suffering, Start Living on Russ Harris.
- Dealing with… Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Central Therapeutic Skills for Effective Application by Francisco Montesinos Marín.
- Acting according to values: Basic Manual of Interventions based on the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy of Juan Aníbal González-Rivera.
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