The short answer is: Yes!
The long answer is: Well, sort of. Things are never guaranteed, but we can definitely try to and there is a large possibility that it can happen. The main premise of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) observes this fact – seeing a decrease in the negative symptoms you may experience because of anxiety, depression, OCD, eating disorders, PTSD, burnout, stress, without actually targeting these symptoms. The goal is not to get rid of them, and by doing so, they eventually go away. It may sound like a paradox, but many studies and researchers support the method of which this works. As part of a “new wave” of psychological therapies, ACT offers challenges to the way we have previously looked at therapies.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy places a large emphasis on values, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, living in the present moment, and observing your sense of “self”. It very much appeals to the title of what it is. The goal is to commit to creating a rich and meaningful life, while learning to accept the pain that will always go along with it. But how do we do this? By practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a growing trend among the emerging population that involves living in the present moment, engaging fully in what you are doing rather than getting too lost in your thoughts, and allowing your feelings to come and go as they are without trying to control them, which inadvertently does not let them control you. Mindfulness helps to reduce the impact of painful thoughts and feelings also known as “private experiences” which lessens the influence they have over our life. When simply observing our private experiences with an openness, even the most painful experiences can seem less unbearable. There are various skills which mindfulness can teach and it is one of the main teachings of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
ACT also highlights the concept of “experiential avoidance”. These words may sound confusing, but it simply means that the way human language has framed our thought processes to be centrally focused on problem solving, we apply the same strategy to unwanted private experiences. Problem solving is about seeing a problem – something we do not want; and solving it – figuring out how to get rid of it. The same goes for private experiences – I don’t want these thoughts or feelings; I want them gone… so let’s try to get rid of it or avoid it at least. The more effort and time we put into trying to get rid of something or avoiding it, the more we are to suffer from them in the long-term, right? It is what we see with a lot of people who suffer from anxiety disorders. There is this large need to avoid or get rid of the anxiety, and the same can be applied to other disorders and struggles as well. It does not mean having a glass of wine at night to de-stress is unhealthy, it means maybe not drinking the whole bottle in one go is a better idea.
ACT supports people by helping them learn to not fight their private experiences, but to try and open up to them, develop acceptance for what is happening, and commit to living a valued life. Without the constant struggle, we will see a natural level of physical and emotional discomfort, one that can be bearable. We take a step back from looking at our thoughts as the literal truth, which helps us to or avoid problem solving and avoiding it. ACT has many other concepts and principles that we can spend many hours learning about. However today, we offer an introductory alternative for those who have previously struggled with trying multiple therapies and not finding the right one for them yet. Although ACT is only one of many new therapies with much more to explore, there is a chance that it can be the right fit for you.
If you are struggling with anxiety and are seeking help, book an appointment here.
Chloé Möller currently has a Masters in Clinical Psychology and is further pursuing another in Work & Organisational Psychology. She works at Willingness as an intern.
Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: An overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4).