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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

By 
Felicitas Chiara Franz
|
23/03/2022
Currently studying psychology at HS Fresenius in Frankfurt.

We all have ways of thinking and patterns of behaviour that we don't like, that disturb us and also prevent us from realising ourselves. Often a small setback is enough to make us doubt the big picture, to make us feel insecure and to shift our image of ourselves into the negative.

But how do I manage to reduce or even completely get rid of my negative ways of thinking and behaving? How do I stop judging myself all the time, know my self-worth, be less afraid, finally live according to my own values and pursue my goals?

To answer this question, let's take a little excursion into behaviour therapy. There, we find the approach developed by S. C. Hayes, the Acceptance and Commitment TherapyACT for short. This pursues the goal of eliminating bad behaviour and thinking patterns as well as habits with acceptance and to commit to behaviour that is in line with personally defined values and works towards individual goals (Commitment). Its efficiency has already been scientifically proven several times. Among other things, the therapy method is suitable for helping people with obsessive-compulsive or eating disorders, depression, stress, psychoses, substance abuse or anxiety.

Simply explained, this approach works as follows:

The ultimate goal of ACT is to achieve psychological flexibility, which is indispensable for value-oriented action and thinking. But what exactly does this mental flexibility mean?
"Psychic flexibility is the capacity for complete contact of conscious human beings with the present moment without defence or avoidance." says Hayes. What is meant by this is that a person is in control of his or her own actions and thoughts in any situation and shapes them in a value- and goal-oriented way. The crux of achieving mental flexibility is that language and cognitions often run contrary to one's intentions.

Here is a simple example to illustrate this point: The statement "An intelligent young man" can trigger many different cognitions and emotions. For example, one person thinks that this description fits him perfectly and feels self-confident and encouraged. The other, on the other hand, has just received a bad grade, will not feel addressed by this description and will respond to it with sadness, anger or frustration. That is how quickly words can influence us. The aim of ACT is to let such statements, experiences or thoughts pass by with a non-judgemental acceptance.

In order to achieve mental flexibility, there are six areasThis is where acceptance and commitment therapy comes in:

  • acceptance: One should let one's feelings and thoughts come and go, not change or ignore them, but simply accept them.
  • values: Es gilt, für sich selbst zu definieren, was die eigenen Werte und Ziele sind, damit ein demnach orientiertes Denken und Handeln eingeleitet und beibehalten werden kann.
  • Cognitive defusion: This describes the ability to perceive one's thoughts, feelings and previous experiences, but not to evaluate them, i.e. to detach oneself from them.

Symbolically, you can imagine the whole thing as follows:

You are the driver of a bus. It is filled to the brim with your monster passengers, for example the fear monster, the insecurity monster etc..

You set off and then consider deviating from your usual route. Just at that moment, your monster passengers start to tear your consideration apart. While you are about to take the new route, the passengers become louder and louder and attack you. They want to unsettle you, remind you of past mistakes or failures, compare you, scare you and so on....

But you are the one who holds the wheel in your hand, you are the one who decides where the bus should and will go. So whether you should listen to these monsters or not, whether you continue unperturbed on your new path or stay on the old, familiar route, is in your hands, just like the steering wheel in this metaphor.

Graphik zu Akzeptanz- und Commitmenttherapie
  • Presence: One should live in the present moment, perceive it mindfully, not sink into thoughts, worry or brood.
  • Self as a concept: The aim is to learn the ability to distance oneself from one's own thoughts about oneself

Here is another example to illustrate this:

The thought "I am fat" is first transformed into the thought "I feel fat" and finally into the statement "I am aware that I feel fat. This reformulation in the mind, but also in the spoken word, can change many things in the self-concept and thus also have an influence on active thinking and action.

  • Commitment: One should commit oneself to concretely and actively shape one's actions in such a way that they correspond to one's own values and bring one closer to the goals one has set oneself.

To achieve these goals, therapists use different schools of psychology as well as Buddhism. Mindfulness-based exercises are also often used during therapy. In addition, events are discussed in which the patient's behaviour did not correspond to the respective values and goals and how the same situation could be better managed in the future. However, it is not possible to generalise how exactly acceptance and commitment therapy works, as it always requires active and individual action on the part of the patient and the therapist. 

The therapy differs from other possible approaches that can be applied to the same or similar problems in that it does not want to stop dysfunctional thoughts, but sees them as a given and starts on their basis. So instead of preventing people from falling into negative thinking, which could in turn encourage it, acceptance and commitment therapy teaches them to perceive it in a mindful and non-judgemental way.

This new way of thinking can then affect many different areas of life and influence them positively as well. Thus, acceptance and commitment therapy is not only recommended to specifically combat a problem, but also to raise one's own quality of life to a new level and to get the best out of oneself.

Sources

Deborah R. Glasofer (2021). What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?. Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/acceptance-commitment-therapy-gad-1393175

Oberberg Kliniken. Akzeptanz- und Commitmenttherapie (ACT). Vom Leiden zum Leben: Durch Akzeptanz und Werteorientierung. Verfügbar unter: https://www.oberbergkliniken.de/therapien/act-therapie

Private Therapy Clinic (2021). What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy? (ACT) / Psychological Interventions/ What is ACT? Part 1. Verfügbar unter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKzQ74jiUZs

Private Therapy Clinic (2021). How to overcome Self Doubt using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) / Part 2. Verfügbar unter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq--5Pq3XBE

Ralph Steuernagel (2020). Psychische Flexibilität. Eurasiamed. Verfügbar unter:  https://www.eurasiamed.de/psychosomatik/act-acceptance-commitment-therapy/psychische-flexibilitaet/

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