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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Are you struggling to cope with your feelings or emotions? Find out if acceptance and commitment therapy could be a good fit for you.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit how we are feeling. It can be challenging to acknowledge our negative thoughts and emotions, so we may fall into denial to avoid making the changes needed to move forward.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) targets that reflex to avoid or deny our emotions and instead encourages us to accept the emotions we are feeling and our thoughts. By accepting our emotions, we can more easily commit to the hard work of changing our lives for the better.1

When Was ACT Developed?

ACT therapy was developed in the 1980s by a psychologist and professor named Steven C. Hayes. Acceptance-based therapy emerged partially from Haye’s own experiences with panic attacks. When Hayes vowed that he would no longer run from his feelings and would instead accept them, as a result, he found that he was better able to handle moments of panic.

What to Expect from Acceptance Based Therapy

In acceptance and commitment therapy, you will work with a therapist to accept life experiences more easily, without fear or judgement. You may focus on processing traumatic events, problematic relationships, and other relevant life challenges.

Next, you decide if a problem requires immediate change or if it’s something you can learn to accept healthily. Once you and your therapist have worked through accepting a challenge, you can commit to stop avoiding or fighting your problems and instead practice positive and healthy actions based on your values and goals.

What is the Goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy aims to strengthen psychological flexibility, which encourages emotional openness and allows you to change your thoughts and behaviors to better align with your goals and values. Eventually, ACT therapy skills can help you build more compassion for yourself, ultimately releasing negative thought patterns and allowing you to heal.2

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Techniques

ACT therapy focuses on six core processes to help individuals achieve healthy levels of psychological flexibility.3


This is an essential part of ACT. Instead of denying or panicking over emotions, learning to accept feelings with mindfulness will lessen the feeling of being out of control of one’s emotions.

Cognitive Defusion

This step involves putting some distance between you and your thoughts. This can be done by observing a thought without any judgement or even singing the thought as a technique to create distance. Ultimately, this technique can help individuals change how they react to specific thoughts and lessen their negative effects.

Self as Context

Self as context reminds individuals that they are not their thoughts — they are more than the thoughts and emotions they experience.

Being Present

Acceptance therapy involves continual non-judgmental observance of individuals’ inner and outer worlds. This allows individuals to experience the world more directly, adopting more flexible behavior that aligns better with their goals and values.


One of the common acceptance and commitment therapy activities involves writing a list of your top values. These values are chosen qualities that individuals focus on to guide them through their lives. Some examples include family, career, and spirituality. Focusing on values helps individuals align their thinking and behavior with their ultimate goals.


ACT encourages individuals to develop ACT therapy skills in the form of stronger patterns of effective action linked to their chosen values. In this way, individuals commit to doing the work of changing behavior, setting goals, and living in alignment with their values.

What Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Can Help With

Research shows mindfulness ACT therapy to treat a wide range of conditions effectively. Additionally, research shows that acceptance therapy can improve quality of life and help people deal with physical conditions and chronic pain.4 

What Can ACT Treat?

Common conditions treated with acceptance therapy include:

An important thing to remember about mindfulness ACT therapy is that much of its power lies in confronting the issue head-on. When we deny that we have a problem (or thought, emotion, etc.), it's impossible to solve it. When we face a problem, we can begin to solve it.

Benefits of ACT Therapy

Acceptance therapy helps people live more positive, fulfilling lives by creating an ACT treatment plan that enables individuals to increase their commitment to healthy, constructive activities that uphold their values and goals.

Increases Psychological Flexibility

Acceptance and commitment training operates under the theory that increasing acceptance of thoughts, feelings, and experiences can lead to more psychological flexibility. When someone is more flexible psychologically, they are more willing to embrace their lived experiences with less judgement, fear, and avoidance.5

Psychological flexibility can also help people embrace their thoughts and feelings when helpful and set them aside when they aren't as constructive. The ability to do this allows people to respond thoughtfully and intentionally to inner experiences and avoid short-term, impulsive actions. Many people find that acceptance and commitment training and psychological flexibility can lessen stress, depression, and anxiety and improve quality of life overall.

Other Treatment Options

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT is just one type of behavioral therapy that can help you live a more positive and fulfilling life.

Alternative Therapies

Other types of therapy to look into include:

ACT Group Therapy

Additionally, you may find the most success in ACT group therapy, where you can build relationships with new people who know how you feel and what you're going through. If you're someone with anxiety, you may find success in a group based on acceptance therapy for anxiety. Many support groups — ACT support groups and otherwise — can be found in-person or online and offer solutions to many issues and conditions.

Residential Care

If you're looking for more intensive treatment, residential care is always an option. Many residential facilities offer mindfulness ACT therapy, but they also provide round-the-clock care to help you heal from other issues such as eating disorders.

It can be challenging to confront our problems head on, but if you want to make changes and live a healthy life, acceptance and commitment training and therapy may be the right step.

Anew Treatment Center

If you or a loved one is in the pursuit of mental health and wellness, Anew Treatment Center is here and ready to help you regain autonomy over your life. Contact us today!

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