ACT on Health

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  • What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

    Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an empirically-based behavioral therapy that incorporates acceptance and mindfulness strategies with behavioral change strategies. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) challenges the Western idea of ‘getting rid of symptoms,' also know as symptom elimination; instead, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) focuses on how to accept emotional difficulties related to day-to-day stress or chronic illnesses in order to reduce the grip these difficulties have over your life. In addition, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) focuses on improving overall quality of life by recognizing what is truly valuable in life, and committing to action that is in line with these values.

    There are six core principles in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), the first four of which incorporate the concept of mindfulness. When all six of these core principles are combined and practiced successfully, psychological flexibility is the result. Psychological flexibility is direct and open contact with present experiences in a way that allows behavior to continue or change according to present opportunities as well as goals and values.

    Acceptance does not mean giving up or giving into certain negative thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Acceptance means allowing unwanted feelings or experiences to be present, without allowing them to control your behavior. If your thoughts dictate your behavior, then you are acting reactionary. Watch a video that can serve as a guide for dealing with difficult emotions.
    Cognitive Defusion
    Cognitive defusion involves reshaping one’s relationship with thoughts, feelings, and language in order to weaken the stronghold that language has on our perception of reality. This means recognizing that a thought is not an ultimate truth, but more like an opinion, constantly changing depending on the context.
    Self-as-context recognizes the difference between the self as an observer and the self as an actor. No matter how hard you try, you cannot stop thinking, and the thought process is one of creation as well as observation.
    Contact with the Present Moment
    Contact with the present moment emphasizes the importance of being here and now and focusing on the task at hand. Instead of getting caught up in our thoughts about the past or future, being aware of the present moment is key. This aspect is incorporated directly in mindfulness exercises like meditation, yoga, or biofeedback. If you are interested in some guided mindfulness exercises, a collection of them can be found at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Media Library.
    Values are aspects or qualities of life that we find important on a day-to-day basis. Values allow us to create a roadmap or guide for behaving in a way that is consistent with what we truly care about. And unlike a goal, a value is never accomplished.
    Committed Action
    Committed action is based on one’s values, and goals that are consistent with these values. For example, if one of your values is health, then eating five servings of vegetables a day would be considered values-based action. Sometimes the steps we must take towards our values can be scary, but if they are truly important to you, they are steps worth taking. Watch a video that demonstrates committed action.

    When put into practice, the six core principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) often overlap and occur in union. For a demonstration of how many of these principles work together as we live our lives, watch a video of the Demons on the Boat, a metaphor for acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) used in The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, PhD.

    Information on the empirical support for acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be found at the Society of Clinical Psychology:

    Even more information about acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be found at