For the next few weeks Wellness Wednesday will explore different treatment modalities to assist readers in recognizing the variety of options available to them to support their needs and move forward towards wellness. We will also feature a few guest authors who specialize in different modalities, while #WellnessWednesday's Jessica enjoys a little vacation-based self-care. This weeks guest author is Michael Decaire, clinical psychologist, registered psychotherapist, and the founder of FLEX Psychology.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a more recently developed approach to therapy that integrates and expands on the key elements of many popular treatments that preceded it (e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy [CBT]; Mindfulness Therapies). ACT starts by having the individual identify their values and goals, which will ultimately act as a guidepost to where they hope to end up at the end of the day. Once a direction is chosen, an ACT therapist will help you identify thoughts that emerge and tend to push you down a path that moves you away from your identified values and goals. These thoughts might be distortions similar to those that are identified in CBT, or they just may simply be unhelpful.
While breaking down and reconsidering distorted and unhelpful thoughts can be fruitful, ACT is more of an action oriented treatment. It is anchored on the idea that we can choose a path that moves us towards our values and goals in the face of unhelpful thoughts. More often than not, in the moment, we act in a manner that may respond to or resolve an uncomfortable thought, but that act ultimately moves us away from our goals. For instance, while writing this post I found myself struggling to find the words I was looking for. This was mildly frustrating. I have the option to choose to put off writing this post and go read something on my phone. This would resolve my momentary frustrations, but it would also move me away from my goals of submitting this on time and supporting Jessica while she is on her wellness vacation. Alternatively, I could choose to read over what I have already read and see if that triggers the words I was looking for to finish my thought. Since my goal was to support Jessica (and not to avoid frustration) it makes it fairly easy to decide what choice to make.
ACT therapists will often integrate mindfulness meditation into treatment. Mindfulness approaches focus on increasing one’s moment-to-moment awareness. In ACT, this assists in noticing unhelpful thoughts when they emerge and that facilitates an increased ability to make an informed choice in how you want to respond to those thoughts. Sometimes you will still miss a thought and my notice once you are already down the wrong path. Returning to my original example, consider a scenario where I began with the intention of writing this post and suddenly found myself on my phone reading the news. This means I may have missed a thought that pulled me off my initial goal, but, most importantly, I am noticing now that I am heading in the wrong direction. That awareness allows another path to emerge to my initial goal, causing me to put down my phone and reengaging with my writing.
Often ACT-informed therapists will integrate these principals into their work, but may also include other approaches that fit your needs. So do not be surprised if you see some of these concepts emerge in the course of another treatment. In essence, this was the therapist’s choice to create an alternative path to meeting your agreed upon goals. At the end of the day, it’s all about noticing and then choosing wisely.
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Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.