ACT – acceptance and commitment therapy

ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment therapy, is one of the ‘third wave’ psychological behaviour therapies. These therapies comprise a movement in psychology that add mindfulness and acceptance to change-oriented treatment strategies.

ACT leans on the assumption that life involves pain in some way or another. If we try to fight against this pain which is a part of life, we experience suffering.

But we can try our best to handle this pain in the best way possible and in doing this it helps to have psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means an ability to handle life’s difficulty with flexibility and adjustment. You won’t be able to make the pain go away, but through six different techniques you may be able to handle it better.

In ACT there are six different core processes which contribute to psychological flexibility

1. Contacting The Present Moment or Mindfulness

This means being mindfully aware or psychologically present instead of too much occupied with thoughts about the future or thoughts about the past. We  consciously connect with whatever is happening right here and right now.

2. Cognitive defusion

A normal human being have ordinary between 60-70.000 thoughts per day. That’s a lot. We very easily get entangled in our thoughts and get pushed around or caught up by them. Instead of going into a thought and get identified with it or use your thoughts as sunglasses when perceiving the world around you, you can learn the art of detaching from them.

Cognitive defusion means learning to step back or detach from your thoughts and watch the thoughts instead of letting them colour your perceptions. Instead of inviting them in for a “cup of tea”, you can learn to watch them come and go, as leaves passing on a flowing river, as clouds passing in front of you at the sky or as cars passing by on a busy motorway. You try not to jump in a car which will take you one way, or in another car which will take you another way. But you try to let your thoughts come and go, let your attachment to your thought go and watch them pass instead.

In this way you get a larger psychological flexibility, because meanwhile you observe the thoughts you have, you can relate to other things that happen to you independently of the thoughts you get. You get a larger psychological flexibility because your thoughts won’t colour your perceptions of the world.

3. Acceptance

Often we find ourselves in difficult life circumstances, in painful feelings, relations or situation. If we fight against this, we usually just add to the pain and increase our suffering. We may not like what happens to us, but we can practice the art of accepting what happens to or within us.

Acceptance means opening up and making room for painful feelings, experiences or sensations. You give them breathing space, and let them be there and be what they are. The more you can open up and tolerate what is already there, the easier it is for the painful to come and go.

4. The Observing Self or Self as context

Usually we often become identified with only one or a few parts of ourselves, like our everyday roles. We become identified with our roles, feelings, bodily sensations or thoughts instead of seeing ourselves as the context where all these roles, feelings or sensations or thoughts are played out. We get identified with a piece from a chess play instead of seeing ourselves as the chessboard at which the play is being played.

Instrad of being identified with the content in yourself, you try to perceive yourself as a context where everything in you is played out.

The observing self is the part of you that is aware and attentive to what is going on in you.  The observing self is the part of your mind that is aware of what you are thinking, feeling or doing at any moment.

Mindfulness helps us develop this skill.

5. Values

are like lighthouses navigating ourselves towards what we would like our life to be about. They reflect what we deeply truly want in our life and how we want to be in our life. They reflect what we want to stand for, what ultimately matters to you and what you would like to be remembered for by the people you love.

Values are deeper than goals which are more behavior oriented.

6. Committed action

Committed action is action which is guided by your values. You do the things that matters instead of doing things that don’t matter to you. Your actions reflect your values, even if this doesn’t guarantee that you will bump into difficulties or uncomfortable situations or feelings or relations. Around the lighthouse or the mountain you want to climb there may be a river of mud which you need to go through to get there. Then you commit yourself to your actions and your values and head for the lighthouse or the mountain even though it will take you through some unpleasant experience before you can reach your destination.


Psychological flexibility is the ability to be in the present moment with awareness, accept what happens to you and choose actions which are guided by your grounded values. This can lead to greater vitality, wellbeing and quality of life.