Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT – said as the word “act”) is a new form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that has gathered a lot of evidence for it’s effectiveness for the treatment of depression over the last couple decades. It examines how the interaction among a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior impact well-being, then helps change the interaction to produce greater life satisfaction. ACT uses mindfulness practices to help people increase awareness and develop an attitude of acceptance and compassion in the presence of painful thoughts and feelings. Additionally, ACT heavily emphasizes the role of values to help people create meaningful lives. ACT helps people circumvent unhelpful thinking in those areas of life where it is less helpful – where the mind may have developed limiting rules – and it helps people strengthen aspects of thinking where it tends to be most helpful, such as in committing to valued living.
ACT is particularly helpful for handling feelings of depression because it offers people a way to develop a new relationship with pain and suffering. A basic assumption of ACT is that pain is a normal and unavoidable part of human experience, and that it makes total sense that people have strong emotions in the presence of painful experiences. However, people’s understandable desire to control or avoid their own thoughts and feelings can actually lead to much long-term and unnecessary suffering. For example, a person may develop short-term means for coping with their emotions – such as social withdrawal, substance use, or overeating – that actually end up causing even more suffering in the long term. Worse yet, time spent struggling with thoughts and feelings is time away from the things that matter most in life. Put simply, ACT is about letting go of the struggle with difficult thoughts and feelings in order to pursue a richer, fuller, and more purposeful life.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapy. Its practitioners and researchers are dedicated to the scientific development of the therapy and empirical evaluation of its effects. ACT has been evaluated in over 300 randomized clinical trials and has been shown to be helpful in addressing a wide variety of mental health concerns. Furthermore, ACT has been shown to be as effective as Cognitive Therapy – the current gold-standard psychotherapy – in improving moderate to severe levels of depression.
Many of the therapists at Portland Psychotherapy specialize in the practice of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Our therapists help clients develop self-compassion and mindfulness skills that give them new flexibility in how they respond to painful thoughts and emotions. With a more open relationship to experience, clients can reach beyond suffering and depression to a larger sense of purpose in their lives. Moving forward, our therapists assist clients in clarifying their values and help them to take action in meaningful ways. Our expertise in ACT can help you learn to let go of the struggle with pain, be more mindful, get clarity on what really matters to you, and commit to living a full, vibrant, and more satisfying life.
If you’d like to learn more about ACT for depression on your own, this book provides a good overview: