ACT: Wholehearted Living
Updated: Oct 17
“In ACT, our main interest in a thought is not whether it’s true or false, but whether it’s helpful; that is, if we pay attention to this thought, will it help us create the life we want?”- Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling And Start Living.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a Third-Wave Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, meaning that it is reminiscent of CBT, but with its own nuanced direction. An Evidence-Based Therapy with proven efficacy for a wide range of mental health issues (Anxiety, Depression, OCD, ADHD, etc.), ACT is founded on the following ideas:
Values-driven living produces the type of life we long for.
Feelings and thoughts are along for the ride, but they do not get to drive.
Life happens in the present, and mindfulness allows us to live with greater vitality.
Beach Ball Metaphor: Feelings Resurface
One commonly used metaphor in ACT is that of a beach ball in the water. Most of us have had the experience of pushing a beach ball under the surface of the pool, only to have it pop right back up (often with greater fortitude than expected!). In the same way, we are tempted to shove our feelings “beneath the surface” in hopes of ridding ourselves of the pain or discomfort. Yet, they keep popping back up, often with greater fortitude than expected. Some may feel like this is their only option, like the pain is simply too much to bear. However, ACT proposes another way.
Acceptance can be found when we acknowledge our emotions fully, without letting them dictate our every move. We can let the beach ball stay within view, hold onto it for a while, and eventually it may drift to the other side of the pool when we’re ready to set it down. Emotions are meant to be felt, but they are temporary. They will not remain forever, particularly when we have the tools to process and self-regulate. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy equips clients with the mindset and resources to process difficult thoughts and feelings, live in the present moment and move in their desired direction of growth.
Our values determine the direction of growth in our lives. When you identify your values, you are better able to envision the type of life you want to live. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to start naming your values:
What makes me cry? Often, on the flip side of pain is a value.
What makes me feel most alive?
How do I spend my time? or How would I most like to spend my time?
What am I most proud of?
At my 80th birthday, what are some of the things I hope people say about me?
If you have been feeling overwhelmed by painful feelings and negative thoughts, out of touch with your feelings or “stuck” in this particular season of life, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy could be the catalyst for growth and healing.
For more information, check out these resources:
The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris
Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steven Hayes