Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

What is ACT Therapy?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a relatively recent therapy founded on the idea that most psychological distress is tied to “experiential avoidance.”  This is an attempt or desire to suppress unwanted internal experiences, such as emotions, thoughts, or bodily sensations.

In contrast from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which aims to teach individuals strategies for improved control over thoughts, feelings, and memories, ACT focuses on helping men and women learn to observe, recognize, and accept their private events.

ACT strives to assist the individual in discovering an uplifting perception of self, separate from one’s thoughts, emotions, and recollections.  ACT aids an individual in achieving greater clarity in regards to personal values, inspiring to execute action on them, thus attaining increased vivacity and meaning to their life in the process.  This theory was developed by Steven C. Hayes, Kelly Wilson, and Kirk Strosahl.

Types of ACT Therapy

Techniques used by ACT practitioners include:

  • Awareness-Management: Focuses on a participant’s experience in the present moment
  • Mindfulness: The active state of observing thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad, having attention on the present
  • Cognitive Shifting Techniques: Methods that encourage the participant to make a conscious decision to take charge of their mental habits

Components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

The components of ACT include:

  • Cognitive Defusing: Discovering strategies to decrease the tendency to concretize thoughts, images, memories, and emotions.
  • Acceptance:  Permitting thoughts, images, memories, and emotions to frequent without struggling with them.
  • Contact with the present moment:  Mindfulness of the here and now, encountered with sincerity, approachability, and openness.
  • Observing the self:  Retrieving a transcendent significance of self, a connection of consciousness which is unwavering.
  • Values: Learning what is most significant to one’s authentic self
  • Committed action:  Prioritizing goals in relation to values and carrying them out conscientiously.

Uses of ACT

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of ACT in a variety of clinical disorders.  ACT is beneficial as it focuses on helping patients cultivate a healthier relationship with their emotions and intellect in order to achieve decisions founded on the values of a man or woman, versus decisions made through avoiding those issues.

For instance, instead of avoiding one’s family because you don’t want to share your issues with them, you might say, “I will be more open with my family because I love and respect them and want to share with them,” as opposed to avoidance.

Applied to eating disorder treatment, ACT can also be highly effective.  Often, those suffering from eating disorders practice experiential avoidance. The therapeutic goal of ACT in eating disorders treatment would be to assist patients in experiencing the emotionally-challenging thoughts and urges often encountered while helping individuals connect with their deepest ideals, values, and ultimate purpose in life.

Research has suggested that ACT is also a suitable form of therapy for sexual abuse survivors, at-risk adolescents, and individuals struggling with substance abuse or mood disorders (depression, anxiety, and stress). In addition, ACT therapy has been proposed for utilization in trauma treatment and with phobias and obsessive behaviors. Find a center for eating disorder treatment in our directory.

Articles on Eating Disorder Treatment Therapies

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 25, 2012
Page last updated: June 12, 2012
Published on, Eating Disorder Information Online