ACT Made Simple
by Russ Harris MD
At ACT workshops around the world, author Russ Harris is often asked one question: 'If you could recommend just one book on ACT, what would it be'? "ACT Made Simple", a clear, accessible, and jargon-free ACT primer, is the answer to that question. Though many mental health professionals are intrigued by the concepts presented in the ACT model, they are often hesitant to delve into intimidating technical volumes that are heavy on theory but lacking in real-world tips and solutions. Based on ACT in a Nutshell, Harris' popular ten-week crash course on the ACT model, this makes the six ACT processes easy to understand and implement in therapy. ACT professionals seeking a refresher course on the model as well as therapists new to ACT will appreciate this practical approach. The book includes conversational responses and questions, but also encourages readers to tailor ACT techniques to their practices and their clients.
Basic techniques in ACT
ACT uses three main techniques to challenge negative thinking and feelings:
- Mindfulness: Being aware of what is happening in your experience, in your mind and your body.
- Acceptance: Trying to rid ourselves of pain only increases it. Instead you can 'turn towards' your difficult experiences and cultivate an attitude of acceptance. This doesn't mean being defeated or just 'putting up with' suffering. Rather, you can explore what thoughts lie beneath the difficult experiences, and learn ways to 'defuse' from them.
- Commitment: Learning to free yourself from the traps and barriers of life, and see what you really want your life to be.
ACT - a definition
ACT has been defined by Steven C. Hayes, Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Nevada as: "an approach to psychological intervention defined in terms of certain theoretical processes, not a specific technology. In theoretical and process terms we can define ACT as a psychological intervention based on modern behavioral psychology, including Relational Frame Theory, that applies mindfulness and acceptance processes, and commitment and behavior change processes, to the creation of psychological flexibility."
The core conception of ACT
The core conception of ACT is that psychological suffering is usually caused by experiential avoidance, cognitive entanglement, and resulting psychological rigidity that leads to a failure to take needed behavioural steps in accord with core values. As a simple way to summarize the model, you can say that ACT views the core of many problems to be due to the acronym, FEAR:
- Fusion with your thoughts
- Evaluation of experience
- Avoidance of your experience
- Reason giving for your behaviour
And the healthy alternative is to ACT:
- Accept your reactions and be present
- Choose a valued direction
- Take action
ACT - six core principles
ACT commonly employs six core principles to help clients develop psychological flexibility:
1. Cognitive Defusion: Learning to perceive thoughts, images, emotions, and memories as what they are, not what they appear to be.
2. Acceptance: Allowing these to come and go without struggling with them.
3. Contact with the present moment: Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
4. Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is changing.
5. Values: Discovering what is most important to one's true self.
6. Committed Action: Setting goals according to one's values and carrying them out responsibly.
ACT - a 'Third Wave' Behavioural Therapy
Together with MBCT, ACT is one of a number of 'third wave' behaviour therapies. These have been defined by Steven C. Hayes, (Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Nevada) as follows: "Grounded in an empirical, principle-focused approach, the third wave of behavioral and cognitive therapy is particularly sensitive to the context and functions of psychological phenomena, not just their form, and thus tends to emphasize contextual and experiential change strategies in addition to more direct and didactic ones. These treatments tend to seek the construction of broad, flexible and effective repertoires over an eliminative approach to narrowly defined problems, and to emphasize the relevance of the issues they examine for clinicians as well as clients. The third wave reformulates and synthesizes previous generations of behavioral and cognitive therapy and carries them forward into questions, issues, and domains previously addressed primarily by other traditions, in hopes of improving both understanding and outcomes."
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