A guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Published on by Randy Nicholas

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a cognitive behavioural approach to psychotherapy which seeks to empower individuals with tools to accept their personal situations and make reasonable decisions and plans for change. ACT therapy helps people identify their core values and take action on them to increase happiness and psychological flexibility. This article explores the core principles of ACT and the evidence that supports ACT as a behavioural science.



ACT differs from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in its underlying approach. CBT teaches individuals how to better control their thoughts, emotions and memories, while ACT teaches individuals to accept and embrace these things.

Dealing with problems

According to ACT, the centre of many problems can be understood through exploration of four root concepts: Fusion with thoughts, evaluation of experience, avoiding experiences and making excuses for behaviour. The better alternative to dwelling on these four things is to ACT: Accept your reactions, Choose a direction, and Take action.

Six core principles

ACT employs six principles to help individuals increase their psychological flexibility and lead better, higher quality lives.

1. Cognitive defusion, which teaches them how to see thoughts, feelings, memories and experiences for what they are rather than what they appear to be.

2. Acceptance, which encourages allowing thoughts and perceptions to pass without struggle.

3. Living in the present and being receptive to new experiences.

4. Building self-awareness and accessing a "transcendent self that is unchanging."

5. Identifying and describing values.

6. Setting goals according to values.

Evidence and criticisms


ACT is a relatively new model of psychotherapy that yet requires more research and development. However, preliminary studies have been promising in treating chronic pain, addictions, depression and anxiety, psychosis, and stress.


ACT is often compared to other similar treatment methods such as the 12-step program, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Functional Analytic Psychotherapy, cognitive shifting techniques and many other therapeutic approaches.


As a therapy focused on balancing acceptance and change, ACT has been criticised within the clinical psychology field for it proposed methods of change and for its striking similarity to other already existing interventions.

Like the 12-step program, ACT encourages a mystical aspect, encouraging individuals to place certain amounts of trust in a deity to aid with acceptance and because of this, the therapy is routinely scrutinised by leading clinical psychologists.

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