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What is Acceptance & Commitment Therapy?

When something in life doesn’t go your way, do you try to control your emotions and think your way out of the situation? Perhaps you feel frustrated when a friend doesn’t immediately respond to a message from you and think, “I should get over it.”

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) invites you to explore that frustration rather than control it, manage, or try to get rid of it. Having acknowledged and addressed difficult emotions, you can transform a challenging life event into actions that enhance your well-being.

How ACT Works

ACT is rooted in the idea that our relationship to pain, rather than the pain itself, needs to change if we want to suffer less. We may tend to problem-solve difficult emotional experiences, and ACT suggests this rational approach to psychological pain doesn’t actually make us feel better.

Instead, ACT therapists view unwanted feelings as normal and assist you in accepting life events as they come. They also encourage you to relate to your experience with more kindness.

As you move from believing you have a problem to accepting that human life includes a range of emotions, including hard ones like sadness, anger, and fear, you’ll find that your shift in thinking will be accompanied by a sense of relief.

An ACT therapist can also help you to identify what matters most to you. With a clear sense of what you value, you more easily can commit to acting in ways that give your life meaning and purpose.

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A core part of ACT is practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness practices within the ACT framework involve staying in the present moment. Rather than chasing your thoughts, you learn to observe them.

While the thinking self might say things like, “I shouldn’t be afraid of this; I’m a failure,” the observing self might say, “I feel fear. I’m having the thought that I’m a failure.”

In this way, the observing self allows us to become more aware of our thoughts, emotions and five senses (i.e. taste, touch, sound, smell, sight). With this awareness, we can choose not to believe the negative stories about ourselves, and instead, commit to living the life we wish to lead.

What Research Says About ACT’s Effectiveness

Recent research shows that ACT can help with:

  • Managing long-term diseases like epilepsy, cancer, and HIV
  • Improving your body mass index (BMI) if you are overweight
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Athletic performance
  • Psychosis
  • Substance use

ACT and Substance Use

ACT can help you to change your substance use, but this behavioral change isn’t its direct aim. Rather, the idea is that ACT lessens the power of painful feelings that contribute to substance abuse.

If you feel overwhelmed by sadness, for example, you might turn to alcohol to cope with this emotion. To counteract that, ACT strategies would help you come into contact with the present moment by using techniques like feeling your feet on the ground or becoming aware of the sounds around you.

ACT also would assist you in opening up to your feelings of sadness, by using techniques like breathing into it, without attaching judgmental thoughts to it.

By not telling yourself a shameful story about your experience, you may find that your desire to drink decreases or even disappears completely. ACT can also help you to reach out to your friends and family instead of turning to substances when you’re needing additional support.

ACT for Treating Mental Illness and Addiction in Teens and Young Adults

If your teen or young adult is struggling with substance abuse, mental illness, or a combination of both, finding an appropriate program is an important first step toward empowering them to take back their life.

Sandstone Care has trained professionals ready seven days a week to help you with any questions you may have about ACT and additional treatment options. Give us a call anytime at (888) 850-1890.

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Let’s Take the Next Steps Together

We understand taking the first step is difficult. There is no shame or guilt in asking for help or more information. We are here to support you in any way we can.