ACT May Be Exactly What You Need Right Now

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In his practice he has found that, with ACT, he has seen clients make fundamental changes to the way they approach living and report a greater sense of meaning and satisfaction in general. “I use ACT as a creative, often funny, methodology to help my clients learn emotional intelligence and reorient how they relate to their emotional/physical pain, thereby relieving suffering,” says Christine Carville, an LCSW-R and professor at the Columbia School of Social Work. “Using lots of amusing, memorable metaphor, and practical exercises to guide the experience, ACT emphasizes being open, mindful, centered, and actively pursuing values. “ACT is founded on acceptance-based principles, which promote individuals to actively receive, accept, and mindfully engage with all of their thoughts, feelings, behavioral urges, and bodily sensations instead of reflexively avoiding, running from, altering, or defending against what is disfavored or dreaded,” Carville explains.

ACT is both similar to and different from two other acceptance-based models of therapy including Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). “Both DBT and ACT pursue mindfulness, acceptance, and useful action,” says Powell. “A major difference between DBT and ACT is in the area of skill-building. ” While DBT is a manualized form of treatment involving regular skills-training groups where participants are taught specific techniques, such as acceptance and mindfulness, to develop their behavioral skills, ACT teaches people acceptance and mindfulness as actual skills of behavior. “If acceptance is the first step, you notice it, face it, move through it and have the fortitude to problem solve, changing the future for the better,” says Carville. “This underlies both ACT and DBT but ACT adds a richer layer of how to identify goals and values and apply them with committed action.

In this way, Powell says the approach encourages people to befriend pain since it will always be a part of their life, and in doing so, it releases them from the struggle of trying to remove internal discomfort from their lived experience. “The basic premise of ACT is to accept what cannot be controlled, i. e. your thoughts, feelings, and certain particulars of an external experience and to continuously commit to taking actions that are aligned with your values.

Carville has seen clients who have chronic pain, health anxiety, generalized anxiety, chronic worry, rumination, perfectionism, and eating disorders who have all benefited greatly from ACT. “Clients who struggle with the burden and isolation of business leadership or those who feel that they are just putting one foot in front of the other greatly benefit from the values exercises and compass metaphors,” she says. “ACT helps clients understand that they can notice and honor their thoughts and feelings without being governed by them,” says Walter.

In the past 50 years, Walter says that a large body of evidence has found that the same person can have a thought and a feeling in one context and have the same thought and a totally different feeling in another — which is the basic theory behind ACT. “The evidence also bears out that someone can behave differently while having the same emotion in different contexts as well,” he explains. “One can have practically any thought while having any feeling while behaving in whatever way. ” While this may seem like merely a semantic distinction, Walter considers it a big deal because it enables him to help his clients see that they are free to act in any way they choose, preferably in service of what’s ultimately important to them, no matter what their thoughts and feelings might be telling them at the time.

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