There are a variety of techniques frequently described as behaviour therapy. This can be confusing for those seeking services because not all “behaviour therapies” belong to the tradition of behaviour analysis. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), along with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Functional Analytic Psychotheraphy (FAP), forms part of the third wave of behaviour therapies that belong to the tradition of behaviour analysis.
ACT was developed by pioneers such as Dr. Steven Hayes, Dr. Kelly Wilson and Dr. Kirk Strosahl and has its philosophic background in functional contextualism and relational frame theory (RFT). A great deal of the research that has guided the development of RFT and ACT was conducted in Ireland by Professor Dermot Barnes-Holmes and his colleagues at NUI Maynooth. According to Hayes and his colleagues, a core insight of RFT is that cognitions (and verbally labeled or evaluated emotions, memories, or bodily sensations) achieve their potency not only by their form or frequency, but by the context in which they occur. As such a reduction in the frequency of challenging thoughts is not always a primary goal of ACT. Instead ACT aims to transform the client’s relationship with difficult thoughts so that they come to perceive previously difficult thoughts as harmless. It is reported that problematic thought reduction frequently emerges as a by-product of this process.
The development of psychological flexibility lies at the heart of ACT. The ACT therapist aims to help the client live a life in line with their own personal values while giving them the tools to accept the pain that is an inevitable aspect of a rich and meaningful life. ACT emphasises mindfulness skills and teaches these and other skills through experiential exercises and values-guided behavioural interventions. The core principles of ACT include cognitive defusion, acceptance, contact with the present moment, observing the self, values and committed action. For more information, see the readings suggested at the end of this article.
Research supports the use of ACT when dealing with problems related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, long term weight loss, chronic pain, anxiety, depression and a variety of other clinical problems. However, ACT is also applicable to non-clinical problems. There is a growing movement toward the use of ACT in settings such as schools and businesses.
Introduction to ACT- An introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Dr. Kimberly Sogge
What is Relational Frame Theory- The first of a series of articles on RFT by Dr. Shawn Smith of the Iron Shrink website
Steven Hayes Interview- Dr. Dennis Tirch interviews Dr. Steven Hayes about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acting Mindfully in Daily Life - Counselling Psychologist Ashling Curtin provides an ACT workshop with some examples of ACT exercises