Tenets of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) empowers people to process difficult experiences and let go of harmful thoughts and emotions surrounding those experiences without forgetting or dismissing what they’ve been through. With the help of your therapist, you’ll navigate the following three steps in ACT:
1 – Accept thoughts and emotions
Through acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), people learn to recognize and accept negative self-talk. For instance, a veteran who is struggling with drug addiction that has damaged his relationships with his family might think, “I’m a bad person.” The veteran likely avoids or suppresses this thought, leading to worsened anxiety. Ideally, in ACT, the veteran can instead stop and think, “This negative belief I hold does not reflect who I am. This negative feeling will pass.” The goal is to build awareness of your thoughts and their impact on your mood and behavior.
2 – Choose a valued direction
One of the main goals of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is to help veterans reconnect with their personal values by creating discrepancy between behaviors driven by trauma and those that are driven by values. Values are defined as chosen qualities of being and doing that are reflected by ongoing patterns of behavior.
In avoiding painful emotions and memories, veterans may have lost touch with their personal values, leading to a lack of clear identity and direction in life. To define their personal values, veterans must ask themselves questions such as:
- What do I really want?
- What do I want my life to stand for?
- What sort of person do I want to be?
- What do I want my relationships to look like?
- What do I want to do with my life?
Answering these questions will help provide direction for moving forward. According to ACT principles, it’s never too late to change the direction of your life in this way.
3 – Take action
Once values have been defined, veterans undergoing ACT take active steps toward changing unwanted or harmful behaviors to move toward living by those values. By acknowledging negative thoughts as just thoughts that will eventually pass, veterans can then detach and create distance from those unhelpful thoughts in order to continue making decisions and taking action in the face of stress, pain or anxiety.