Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT is a evidence-based CBT approach that focuses on mixing mindfulness techniques, and behaviour transformative strategies with the principle of acceptance to help weed out what is really important from what is unneeded, or what is blocking you from succeeding.

There is something simple about this therapeutic approach that I really like. It a feeling of calmness, that feeling you get when you take a deep breath and let it all go, although yes that does seem too simple. The fundamental principle behind ACT lies with the way it helps to reframe our thoughts. It gives us the tools to do what matters and leaves behind what doesn’t matter. This modality works well with Indigenous healing, because doing what matters helps us to find balance, like a “primary directive” of the Sacred Hoop. It is also accomplished through an Indigenous World View of non-interference. 

This is why In mainstream society, or what is known as “Western society”, we can understand this from the same basic principles of those Indigenous Traditional teachings. What does it mean to be present, centred, open and a part of the world around you? What are your values? if you don’t know them, how do you find them so you can find meaning and direction in your life? An example of this would be how you might have enjoyed doing crafts all the time, well maybe not all the time, but certainly you enjoyed doing them a lot. But then, you moved away from doing crafts by delaying and just plain avoiding doing it, and you didn’t know why you stopped. Well, the reason might be caused by what is known in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy  as  – experiential avoidance.  So, why keep trying to control things you cannot control,  why not use acceptance as a different way to manage and live your life? What do you have to lose?

Generally speaking, How do you do Acceptance?

Observe your negative thoughts and accept them and let them pass by. Do not judge.
  • Practice acceptance – by noticing and accepting and then going to your experiences, almost embracing you experiences
    • Even the negative feelings or the feelings that are uncomfortable and support your avoidance of them.
  • Be aware of your thoughts and even how you think, by using  a mindfulness approach
    • Remember mindfulness is about not controlling those thoughts and not trying to change them. 
  • Accept your depression
    • Accept you are not lazy, accept your depression is an illness. Do not demand yourself to feel better.
  • Give yourself credit for creating a space that allows you to do the things that really matter.

Honour your acceptance towards yourself.

  • Give yourself a pat on your back whenever you do anything different
  • Compliment yourself, say “Bravo” when you get the dishes done.
  • Be wary of poor coping tools, such as alcohol or drugs.
  • Get a new outlook on life, post it on your fridge for extra reminders every day.
  • Remember, some things just won’t work out and that’s all right!

So what about Commitment?

  • Clearly commitment is about being committed to something
    • Following through on something to accomplish a goal
    • Sor sticking with something, even though it’s not really helping.
  • Commitment as it applies to ACT, is both of these things.
    • First of all it is about sticking with something, even though it’s not really helping.
    • Second, it’s about making a commitment of change 
    • A dialogue in mental health is the idea of fusion –  how we “fuse” our beliefs in our thoughts so much they become true
      • The problem with this idea is our thoughts are usually wrong or certainly inaccurate.
      • An example of one of these thoughts is “ I can’t do it”
        • If you are fused to the idea that you can’t do something, you can see you won’t do it.
    • The idea is to flip the fusion to defusion.
    • Defusion is separating yourself from your negative thoughts
    • But also being aware of them
      • Like a mirror, you begin to understand you are looking at your thoughts (looking at the mirror
        • You learn you are not inside the mirror; you are not looking out from the mirror; you are not looking out from your feelings and thoughts.
        • You learn your thoughts are not literal, they are a ticker tape passing through your brain.
    • Part of commitment in ACT is noted above, but there is also another aspect, as all therapeutic modalities involve action.
    • And in ACT, the action is the flipping of your thoughts to what really matters.
      • This is known as committed action, so my compass points me in the right direction, and the committed action is the steps I take to move in that direction. 

That is why I like using my compass as a metaphor. The point of a compass works well to help us understand the healing journey we get on when we learn how our values bog us down. Committed action will move us away from that fused commitment to our feelings and our thoughts and the values that we place on it.

Mack Treanor Greer-Delarosbel, H.N.B.S.W., M.S.W., RSW

North Bay Counselling Services