Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a ‘third wave’, more recently developed form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Underpinning ACT is the idea that mental health difficulties can be associated with conflicts between an individual’s personal values and the way they are living their life. A therapist using ACT will help their client to establish what their core values are so they can be more aware of them and help them recognise times they may be straying from these values, which may often arise as a problem because something in their life is putting pressure on them to do this. For example, a workplace environment or difficult employer.

A therapist will work to support a client using principles of mindfulness to help them notice when they experience emotional responses that act as cues to identify when they may be experiencing a values conflict. Thereafter, they will help their client to find ways to make values-based decisions and take values-based actions that support their own well-being.

ACT believes in helping clients recognise when they employ principles of self-punishment to the way they live their lives, for example, through an excess of shame or guilt feelings that may not be proportionate to the circumstances. They will help their client to work out whether guilt and shame are likely to help them change their behaviour or whether there may be more compassionate ways to bring about change which could, contrary to what one might believe, be a more immediate and kinder route towards bringing about more effective, sustainable and rewarding changes.

There are several core principles that lay the foundations of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT); some of these are:

  • Acceptance: this is about helping a client to accept and stop fighting with their unpleasant thoughts and emotions. This doesn’t mean you invite the pain and the suffering emotions cause. It simply means reducing the battle against them, which inevitably makes them worse, and instead consider what these thoughts and emotions might be trying to tell you.
  • Cognitive Defusion: this concept means finding a way to recognise thoughts that are causing internal emotional conflict and identifying them as just that… thoughts which are words or pictures within the mind that can be ‘defused’ and seen more objectively rather than as facts.
  • Contacting the Present Moment: this notion is about living in the present and focusing on what is happening right now within yourself and the environment. It is known that a great deal of mental health difficulty is caused by a focus on the past or the future, and we know from the evidence base that being in the now gets missed so that life can feel like a constant pressure.
  • Values: values are the things you most care about. They are to do with what you want your life to be like now and in the future and what you want to stand for. Values help to steer towards the behaviours that will help you to feel satisfied and find meaning in your life.
  • Self-as-context: this concept refers to being able to step back and watch what is happening within you as it happens. By knowing what you are thinking and feeling in the moment, and not retrospectively, you can make more helpful decisions and think more constructively about your thinking!
  • Committed action: within this therapy, it is important not only to identify your values and the things that are making your life more difficult but to take action to resolve it and make things feel more fulfilling and satisfying. Committed action is about committing to the changes you and your therapist might decide on together.

ACT is an evidenced-based therapy with a great deal of empirical research supporting it. It strives to help individuals with a range of different issues to improve the way they feel quickly and effectively.


If you’d be interested in speaking to us about your mental health and would like to learn more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in Northampton, Kettering or across the country, call the team at Serendipity Psychology today.

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