What is acceptance and commitment (ACT) therapy?

An overview of ACT

ACT Model

Acceptance and commitment therapy (said as one word – ‘ACT’) is, a widely recognised and evidence-based approach to psychotherapy. Its main focus is to increase psychological flexibility and promote meaningful behaviour change through the use of acceptance and mindfulness.

ACT encourages the acceptance of thoughts and feelings rather than trying to change them, working with issues head-on instead of trying to bury them. ACT views suffering as a normal part of the human experience and focuses on helping individuals create a rich and meaningful life despite challenging circumstances.

The core processes of the ACT model include attention to the present moment, acceptance, defusion, self as context, values, and committed action. It is widely represented in a diagram called a hexaflex.


Introduction to ACT video


The six core components of acceptance and commitment therapy

Attention to the present moment

One of the key aspects of acceptance and commitment therapy is to encourage individuals to pay attention to their current environment. It’s about immersing oneself in the present moment and observing everything happening around them. This concept is all about focusing on the here and now, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.


Acceptance forms another crucial part of the ACT model. This element is about being open to experiencing difficult thoughts and emotions without trying to change, avoid or control them. It encourages individuals to accept and embrace their feelings as they are, rather than trying to suppress or alter them.


Defusion involves creating some distance from our thoughts, allowing us to observe them without being ruled by them. The ACT model encourages individuals to see their thoughts as just that – thoughts. They are not facts, and they do not necessarily represent reality. This shift in perspective helps to reduce the impact of harmful thoughts and offers greater mental flexibility.

Self as context

Self as context is another integral part of the ACT model. This component encourages individuals to notice their thoughts and feelings without attaching a judgment or value to them. It involves understanding oneself as the context in which these thoughts and feelings occur. It’s about being a mindful observer of one’s experiences rather than getting caught up in them.


Values in the ACT model refer to what is truly important to individuals. It’s about understanding what matters most to us and living a life that aligns with these values. This part of the model helps individuals to identify their personal values and use them as a guide for their actions and decisions.

Committed action

The final component of the ACT model is committed action. This involves taking proactive steps to pursue the important things in life. It’s not just about identifying our values, but also about committing to actions that align with these values. Committed action is about making a conscious effort to live a value-driven life.

By incorporating the six core components of attention to the present moment, acceptance, defusion, self as context, values, and committed action, individuals can navigate their way towards a more fulfilling and meaningful life. Therapist support is essential in ACT to provide guidance, expertise, and a safe space for individuals to navigate and apply the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.


The history/background of ACT

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) has a rich historical development that traces back to the late 20th century. It emerged as a modern form of psychotherapy that combines behavioural principles with mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies.

ACT was first introduced in the 1980s by psychologist Steven C. Hayes and his colleagues. They sought to address the limitations of traditional CBT approaches and explore new ways to promote psychological flexibility and well-being. Hayes drew inspiration from various philosophical and psychological approaches. The theoretical foundations of ACT can be traced to the work of behaviourists such as B.F. Skinner, who emphasised the importance of context and the impact of language on human behaviour. These ideas set the stage for the development of ACT’s core concepts, such as cognitive fusion, experiential avoidance, and values-based action.

As acceptance and commitment therapy continues to evolve, researchers and practitioners are constantly refining its techniques and applications. The therapy has expanded to include specialised versions for specific populations, including ACT for adolescents, ACT for couples, and ACT for trauma.

Today, ACT stands as a prominent approach within the field of psychotherapy, offering individuals a practical and compassionate path towards psychological well-being by cultivating acceptance, mindfulness, and values-driven action.


Supporting evidence for the success of ACT therapy

Over the years, ACT has gained recognition and popularity as an evidence-based therapy for a wide range of mental health conditions. Its effectiveness has been supported by numerous research studies and clinical trials. ACT has been successfully applied to treat conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, chronic pain, and many others.

ACT has extended its impact beyond therapy. It has been applied in education to enhance student well-being and academic performance. In sports psychology, ACT helps athletes build mental resilience and manage performance anxiety. Workplace settings benefit from ACT by promoting employee well-being and job satisfaction. ACT principles support parents in nurturing relationships with their children. Furthermore, ACT techniques have been used in performance-oriented fields, such as the arts and leadership development, to manage anxiety and enhance performance outcomes. These applications demonstrate the versatility of ACT beyond therapeutic contexts.

There are now over 1000 randomised controlled trials that have been conducted, exploring the effectiveness of ACT. Alongside this, there are over 400 published meta-analyses and systematic, scoping, or narrative reviews of the ACT evidence base.


Training in acceptance and commitment therapy

ACT training equips mental health practitioners with the essential knowledge and skills to seamlessly integrate the principles and techniques of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) into their work. At Contextual Consulting, our online training courses are delivered by world renowned professionals and cover the fundamental components of ACT Therapy. To find out more visit our ACT therapy training page or to find upcoming training take a look at our live workshops. We also have a large selection of on demand courses if you want your ACT training online but can’t wait to get started!

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