Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT, pronounced "act" instead of "A-C-T") teaches mindfulness skills to help individuals live and behave in ways that are in line with their personal values while developing psychological flexibility. So the next great questions might be, "What the heck is mindfulness?" or maybe, "Psychological flexibility? What's that mean?" Or even, "What do you mean by personal values, and what does all that have to do with therapy anyway?" Here are some short, TL;DR answers to those questions: Mindfulness is the practice of paying deliberate attention to what you're experiencing in the here and now, without judgment of any kind, instead of letting your mind go into autopilot. Psychological flexibility can be defined simply as the ability to "be present, open up, and do what matters". The "do what matters" part is related to the personal values mentioned earlier. Since some of those answers might lead to even more questions for a lot of people, here's each part in a little more detail...


Mindfulness can help you learn to connect with your "noticing self", the part of your mind that's aware of, but separate from, the conscious and thinking self. Mindfulness can also increase your ability to distance yourself from the thoughts and feelings that may be getting you tangled up and causing problems for you. For example, if someone says, “I’m a terrible person,” that person might be asked to notice what they're thinking and saying, and instead say, “I'm having the thought that I’m a terrible person.” This effectively separates the person from the thought, which makes it a lot harder for the thought to have power over the person. That's just one example of the ways mindfulness can help you work toward the life you want; it can also help with problems like anxiety and depression by increasing your ability to understand what contributes to those problems, and giving you the flexibility and control needed to respond more effectively when problematic thoughts or feelings come along and try to get you tangled up.


In everyday language, psychological flexibility means holding our own thoughts and emotions a little more lightly (instead of just going with the idea that they're an accurate reflection of reality), and acting on longer-term values and goals rather than short-term impulses, thoughts and feelings. The reason we would want to do this is because thoughts and emotions don't tend to be very reliable indicators of long-term value. We don't have much control over them - sometimes, we may feel we have zero control over them - and they tend to go in and out like waves instead of staying constant. If we trust our thoughts and emotions and act based on them, we can often overlook more important, consistent and ongoing patterns of action which can bring true meaning, fulfillment and vitality to our lives.


One straightforward way of defining what's meant by the term "personal values" is just "what matters most to you". For example, if you get mad when you see people getting treated unfairly, that might mean that treating people with justice and fairness are things that are important to you; they're valued behaviors for you. So values clarification can help people figure out what's most important to them - their values, in other words - and take effective action guided by those values. Part of therapy can sometimes involve helping people identify chosen values. These values often act like a compass pointing towards intentional and effective behavior that helps you move in the direction you want to go to get to your goals.

Exploring painful emotions or overthinking an issue can interfere with the ability to choose purposeful and values-driven action. Through mindfulness, developing psychological flexibility, and clarifying values, ACT can help people make sure their actions are more in line with the values they hold most highly, and live in a way that feels natural and fulfilling.

Got even more questions? Wondering what it might be like to do ACT with me? Contact me using the button below; I'm looking forward to hearing from you!