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If you’ve been struggling with the burden of mental illness for some time, you’ve probably learned about a lot of types of therapy. Even still, you may have only recently heard mention of something called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
Despite the name, acceptance and commitment therapy isn’t specifically for grief and relationship issues, nor is it necessarily a type of therapy limited to moments of conflict.
It’s a new-and-improved results-oriented therapy type with roots in some of the most well-regarded forms of therapy today — some you may already have heard of, seen or experienced firsthand.
If you’re dealing with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD or other mental health disorders, you may be wondering if acceptance and commitment therapy can help you get your life back under control. It’s certainly possible.
But before we send you off to pursue this new form of therapy, it’s probably best that you understand what acceptance and commitment therapy has to offer, who it can help and why you’re just hearing about it recently.
Let’s start with the easiest (and probably most pressing) question on your mind: what exactly is acceptance and commitment therapy, and how does it work to improve someone’s mental health?
Acceptance and commitment therapy is a specified version of newer therapy modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s focused primarily on helping people deal with issues causing them distress and underlying mood disorders by accepting their inner emotions.
These are typically shaped by people's experiences — internal experiences, external experience, public and private experiences, psychological experiences, environmental experiences and everything in between.
You probably know the person this would be perfect for — the one who refuses to acknowledge when they feel sad, talk about the things that hurt or generally say they’re fine when they’re anything but.
In acceptance and commitment therapy, the individual is trained to understand that denying their emotions is not a solution, and that continuing to struggle to suppress feelings and emotions rather than deal with them will cause additional stress — not solve problems.
Accepting the problem and committing to working on that problem is a challenging process. With this kind of therapy, the end game is changing how people deny problems, and also changing the behaviors and ways of thinking around the problem that’s being denied in the first place.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a mouthful, and it can be difficult to quantify things like quality of life or what a meaningful life looks like to someone, or to apply results to subjective things like personal values.
That said, acceptance and commitment therapy’s focus on committed action works.
Acceptance and commitment therapy has evolved along with behavioral therapy for the last couple of decades, but it’s still relatively new.
In its short time, however, it’s been effectively implemented not just by therapy professionals, but also by primary care providers, and even in pain management and physical therapy situations, too.
In other words, it offers wide appeal for its benefits and works in a wide range of settings.
One of the larger benefits that ACT offers is that it can be delivered in a variety of formats, from group settings and workshops, to apps that provide telehealth and other services. It can be presented in an ongoing format or in one- to two-day workshops.
There’s more data for this type of therapy each year, but it’s still a developing subfield. However, it shares the space with cognitive therapy types like cognitive behavior therapy, which is well documented as an effective type of therapy.
Acceptance and commitment therapy works on the premise that trying to control an emotion instead of having that emotion is ultimately not helpful, productive or useful.
Mindfulness and other behavioral modification techniques help you learn to make space for these things rather than trying to minimize them.
In short, ACT uses mindfulness techniques to help people interact with their physiological or psychological issues, rather than denying their existence. As a therapy for anxiety, depression and other issues, this means confronting sadness and fear.
This form of therapy will ask you to make choices about your behavior not based on what you wish you could avoid, but based on what’s best for you. If you want to be more present, more genuine to yourself and more committed to incorporating healthy change, this form of therapy can be the practice that helps you get there from where you are.
Acceptance and commitment therapy can be used to treat a variety of mental and physical conditions. You might be able to benefit from this treatment type if you suffer from any of the following mental health conditions:
Anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder
Binge Eating Disorder and other Eating Disorders
Substance Use Disorders
That said, it’s worth noting that just because this form of therapy can work for some people with these issues doesn’t mean it will be the best treatment for you. And that’s where we have to talk about the big picture.
Therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution because most mental health disorders vary greatly from person to person. And because symptoms and severity can vary, so too can their effective treatment options.
If you’re considering this form of therapy, we hope we’ve answered your questions. but if you have further doubts or concerns, they should be taken up with a healthcare professional.
If your everyday life seems unfulfilling, it may be time to seek treatment for depression or another disorder.
Acceptance and commitment therapy may be the right kind of therapy to give you the everyday life you want, but your therapy journey really should start with you accepting that you need help and support.
When you begin your mental health journey, a key partner is a mental health professional. Only professionals are capable of helping you find the right treatment options and support for your individual needs.
Once you commit to a mental health professional, they’ll be able to help you find the right blend of medication, therapy and other lifestyle factors to improve your mental health and get your life back on track.
If you’re not sure where to start the search for the right therapist or mental health provider for your needs, we can help. Our online therapy is a convenient way for you to talk to a professional quickly.
Accept that you need to commit to something. Whether it’s us or another provider, make the choice today.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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