Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Principles, Techniques and Process

At first glance, acceptance and commitment therapy may seem confusing; how does acceptance and commitment paired with mindfulness form an effective treatment? How does commitment play a role if you intend to be more receptive to your thoughts and feelings? What do you commit to?

In the case of this type of therapy, you are committing to face the problem head-on; instead of avoiding your problems, you are committing yourself to actions that will help you stop fighting the inevitable and facilitate prosperity. As you will see later in this article, acceptance and commitment therapy is effective for many psychological disorders. Still, it is also effective as an inspiring perspective on life in the world.

What if you could accept what you feel, even if it is harmful? What if you allowed yourself to experience it all instead of focusing on avoiding any potentially tricky problems? This therapy can show you precisely what is happening and how you can harness the power of acceptance to get the life you want.

What is acceptance and commitment therapy?

It is a form of counseling and a branch of clinical behavior analysis; it is an empirically based psychological intervention using strategies of acceptance and mindfulness mixed in different ways and changes of behaviors to increase psychological flexibility. The approach was initially called holistic distancing; Steven C. Hayes developed acceptance and commitment therapy in 1982 to create a blended approach that integrates both cognitive and behavioral therapy. There are a variety of protocols, depending on the behavior or configuration of the target.

Using an eclectic mix of metaphors, paradoxes, and mindfulness skills, along with a wide range of experiential exercises and value-guided behavioral interventions, it has proven effective with a wide range of clinical conditions: depression, job stress, chronic pain, the terminal cancer stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia, heroin abuse, marijuana abuse, and even schizophrenia.

The goal is not to eliminate complicated feelings; instead, it is being present with what life brings us and moving toward worthwhile behavior. Acceptance and commitment therapy invites people to open up to unpleasant feelings, to learn not to overreact, and not to avoid the situations in which they are invoked. Its therapeutic effect is a positive spiral were feeling better leads to a better understanding of the truth; this is measured through “viability,” or what works to take a step closer to what matters (for example, values, meaning).


For decades, researchers in psychology have worked to develop time-limited, science-based interventions for people who wish to overcome mental health conditions. As a result, many people have had significant success in addressing and managing a range of concerns and experience greater well-being a result. Still, long-term recovery and relapse prevention remain important areas of potential difficulty for those seeking therapy for mental health conditions.

Recently, new types of therapies, including acceptance and commitment therapy, have been developed to increase long-term success in treating mental health conditions. It is based on relational frame theory, a school of research focused on human language and cognition, which suggests that the analytical skills used by the human mind to solve problems may be ineffective in helping people overcome psychological pain.

Based on this suggestion, the therapy was developed to teach people that although psychological pain is expected, we can learn ways to live healthier and fuller lives by changing how we think about pain.

In the late 1990s, multiple comprehensive treatment manuals were developed to outline ways to use therapy to treat various mental health conditions. Treatment with these manuals has been empirically investigated and has produced support for their use in treating substance abuse, psychosis, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and eating disorders.

Principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Six basic principles form the foundation of therapy, working together to achieve the primary goals of effectively managing painful thoughts and experiences and creating a rich and vital life. The principles are:

Cognitive fusion

This skill consists of learning to perceive thoughts, images, memories, and other cognitions for what they are, nothing more than bits of language and ideas, rather than what they appear to be: threatening events, rules to be obeyed, or objective truths and facts.

The opposite psychological process refers to a combination of cognitions (products of the mind, such as thoughts, images, or memories) with the things they refer to. For example, in cognitive fusion, our mind could have the same reaction to the phrase “chocolate cake” as if we were presented with a portion of it; that is, the presentation of the stimulus of those words could be enough to start drooling. Imagine the sweet taste and feel the creamy and heavy texture in your mouth of the frosting. In a state of cognitive fusion, it appears as if:

  • Thoughts are a reality as if what we are thinking is happening.
  • Thoughts are the truth; we believe them.
  • Thoughts are significant; we treat them seriously, giving them our full attention.
  • Thoughts are orders; we obey them automatically.
  • Thoughts are wise; we assume they know best and follow their advice.
  • Thoughts are threats; we allow them to frighten or disturb us.

Expansion / acceptance

It refers to the practice of leaving room for unpleasant feelings, sensations, and impulses, rather than trying to suppress or reject them. By opening up and allowing them to come and go without fighting them, running away from them, or paying undue attention to them. Acceptance also includes accepting uncomfortable emotions and physical sensations; learning to be more willing to tolerate discomfort makes it easier to seek what we want in life actively.

Contact (connection) with the present moment

Allowing us to experience sensations, feelings, and thoughts that have arisen, to make contact with the present moment, which means living in the present, focusing on whatever we do, and giving full awareness to the experience of here and now: with openness, interest, and receptivity. Instead of thinking about the past or worrying about the future, we are deeply connected to what is happening here and now. With the connection, we are fully committed to what we do.

Rather than give in to catastrophic interpretations of what is happening, mindfulness teaches us to connect with the current reality of the present moment more robustly and less painfully.

The observing self

It is a powerful aspect of human consciousness, widely ignored by Western psychology. To connect with it is to access a transcendent sense of self: a continuity of consciousness invariable, omnipresent, and incapable of being damaged. From this more inclusive perspective of oneself, it is possible to directly experience such statements found in somebody’s relaxations-sensations-mind, “I am my body, and I am more than my body.

We can experience that our thoughts, feelings, memories, impulses, sensations, images, roles, and physical bodies are peripheral aspects of ourselves. Still, they are not the essence of who we are because they are constantly changing.

To understand this principle is to realize that when we become aware of our thoughts, two processes occur: thinking and observing the thought; we can call the client’s attention, again and again, if necessary, to the distinction between the thoughts that arise and the self that is observing them. From the perspective of the observing self, no internal experience is dangerous or controlling.

Clarity of values

This principle tries to clarify the essential thing in the deepest part of ourselves that we can access; it implies asking what kind of person we want to be, what makes sense for us, and what we want to defend in this life. Our values ​​provide direction for our lives and motivate us to make meaningful changes; guided by values, not only do we experience a greater sense of purpose and joy, but we also see that life can be rich and meaningful even when things are ‘bad’ they are happening to us.

Thus, targeted counseling could ask the client to complete a life values ​​questionnaire that asks respondents to reflect on their values ​​in ten domains, from family and marital relationships through education and spirituality, living community, and the relationship with nature. Some clients prefer to skip the value clarification exercises, and there may be several reasons why this is so.

Committed action.

In this last principle, the person sets goals and acts but not just any action; here, the person understands that the rich and meaningful life they want is created by taking effective action, which is guided by the chosen values. Will followers have a perfect record of achieving their goals for themselves? No, of course not, but no matter how many times someone might “go off the rails” or even miss the track, the values ​​are there to inspire and motivate re-engagement action. Goals are there to remind the person of the steps that will help them get to the envisioned life. In the final analysis, it is up to each person to provide the will and energy to act.

What conditions does acceptance and commitment therapy treat?

This therapy is helpful for a wide variety of people, especially those who suffer from a psychological or behavioral disorder; some of the most commonly treated include the following:

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is highly effective in treating these particular disorders as it helps clients come to terms with their psychological situation and commit to their recovery.

Acceptance and commitment therapy techniques

Mindfulness, acceptance, and commitment are the top three tools to accomplish the above.

Mindfulness involves a mental state of openness and awareness, which allows you to connect with your “Be observant,” It brings you entirely to the present moment. In the present moment, useless thoughts and painful emotions have less impact on how you think, feel, and behave.

Acceptance allows their feelings and memories to come and go without ever striving to avoid or control them; it is letting things be as they are instead of becoming addicted to the power struggle.

The commitment returns to the idea of ​​values; when you identify your actual values ​​with your therapist, you commit to living those values ​​in your future life choices.

How is the process?

The core of therapy is changing internal (self-taught) and external (action) verbal behavior. Simply observing yourself having feelings and recognizing and accepting that feelings are a natural consequence of circumstances is liberation. Clients, for example, maybe ashamed of being anxious, angry, or sad, and this therapy says that fighting emotions makes them worse; if you cannot accept the feeling for now, you will be trapped, but if you succeed, you can change your world so that it does not. Get that feeling later.

Mattaini (1997) explains that acceptance and commitment therapy does not mean that we ask clients to accept every situation (for example, abusive relationships), but instead that they finally receive some circumstances (that is, physical reality or historical events ), which is accepted for the time being with the expectation of eventual change or should be changed now.

For example, if clients are disturbed by memories of past events, they must accept that the event occurred, and the accompanying feelings may eventually be diminished.

There are six central processes: acceptance, cognitive defusion, being present, self as context, valuation, and committed action (those mentioned above).

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.

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