Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT for short) is one of the newer evidence based psychological therapies that does not subscribe to “the power of positive thinking”. Instead of wresting with our own suffering and trying to convince ourselves that “the glass is half full”, ACT says “put down the glass”.
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy the emphasis is on accepting what is out of your personal control, while committing to action that will improve your quality of life.
Compared to other psychological therapies ACT is based on the following assumptions:
- An expanded view of psychological health
- A broad view of acceptable outcomes in therapy (success is not just defined as “feeling happy”)
- Creating a life worth living
ACT and Mindfulness
A key feature of ACT is it’s use of an approach called Mindfulness. ACT breaks mindfulness skills into 3 categories:
1) defusion: distancing from, and letting go of, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and memories
2) acceptance: making room for painful feelings, urges and sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle
3) contact with the present moment: engaging fully with your here-and-now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity
Happiness is hard
Happiness for a dog or a cat is straightforward. If pets are given shelter, food and drink, warmth, stimulation, play, and physical health they are contented. Without the intervention of humans, animals are often missing some of these basic things. They live, as we say, a dog’s life. Many humans also are missing such basic items too, and it is not difficult to understand the misery of a person living without them.
But many humans have all the things a nonverbal organism would need to be happy, and yet they are not. Humans can be warm, well fed, dry, physically well, and still be miserable. Indeed, humans can have forms of excitement and entertainment unknown in the nonhuman world—flat screen TVs, exotic cars, and airplane trips to the Bali—and still be miserable. Literally nothing external that you can name—great looks, loving parents, terrific children, a caring spouse—are enough to ensure that a human will not suffer terribly. Every day a human being with every imaginable advantage attempts suicide. Every morning a successful business person gets to the office, closes the door, and reaches quietly into the bottom drawer of the desk to find the bottle of gin hidden there.
Dr Ben Buchanan uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in his practice to help people who don’t just want to feel good, but want to find meaning, purpose and acceptance in their life.