Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/Training (ACT)
Tom Luken & Albert de Folter 2000 & 2012A strange but easy way to remember the essence of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is the following saying:
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Acceptance and Commitment Theory is:
- Integrated within the contextual theory of cognition and behaviour Relational Frame Theory (RTF) (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes and Roche, 2001)
- Is related to, and builds upon CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) but is different in the sense that CBT attempts to identify and change irrational thoughts. ACT tries to change the function of cognitions, of what clients know about themselves, and aims to achieve flexibility in how these feelings and cognitions are handled by the client.
- ACT is a mix of Western and Eastern perspectives
According to ACT:
- There are six interrelated elements or processes that form the psychological reality of individuals.
- You can’t control what happens in your life but you can control how you handle, look at and act upon what happens (within reason).
- Working within the present, rather than ruminating about the past or a future that may or may not happen – Mindfulness strategies
- Developing strong values, rather than ‘being washed around’ by life
- Committing to action, instead of residing in thought and worry
- Seeing yourself as the context of your story, rather than being the story
- Taking distance from your thoughts and seeing them for what they are, rather than fusing with your thoughts and worries
- Accepting your situation, rather than trying to avoid it through unhelpful behaviours and thought patterns
There is an old farmer who had worked his fields for many years. One day his only horse ran away and after a long search, they couldn’t find it. His neighbours said “such bad luck…” . “Maybe…” the farmer replied. The next day the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses. “How wonderful!” the neighbours exclaimed. “Maybe…” replied the old man. The day after, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses and was thrown off, breaking his leg in the process. The neighbours again came to offer their sympathy and said again what bad luck this was. “Maybe…” answered the farmer. The next day, military officials came to the village to draft all young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe…” said the farmer.
Interpretation:Within the context of Act, the story is about accepting things you can’t change and seeing things differently. Most people would be like the neighbours, reacting to everything that happens. The farmer however, can see both sides and waits and sees what happens, accepting what comes. This doesn’t mean that you just leave everything to happen without response. Within ACT, the argument is to change what you can, but if something happens you can’t change, to accept and reframe it. What looks like the worst thing ever, can prove to be the opposite. The cognition within the story is that having your only horse run away as a farmer, relying on it for ploughing etc…, is one of the worst things that can happen. However, the farmer changes the function of the cognition and applies flexibility, accepting what has happened awaiting the outcome which can be both negative or positive. The Buddhist moral to this story goes further in that the farmer doesn’t ‘cling’ to positive outcomes either in that change is inevitable. ‘This too will pass’.
How can this work in modern career guidance practice?
Cognitive defusion – Self as context rather than contentExample technique: Reframing: helping a client see that in a redundancy situation, the client isn’t the redundancy. That the redundancy is happening outside of the client as part of their story, rather than them identifying with what happened. Example technique: Using metaphor: working with the client from “I am the problem” to “the ‘problem’ is outside me and I can work on this” using the metaphor of internal/external landscape: what I see around me IS the landscape (what I think IS going on and is the only interpretation of the world around me) to the map (that I have made in my mind of the world around me) is not the landscape. This means that I can change my internal map to a more positive perspective.
Acceptance/avoidance – Present rather than future:Example technique: You could support the client in confronting the reality they are faced with in the present, rather than them applying (fantasy) thinking which avoids action that will help them escape the situation they are in. “This has happened, but these are the skills I have to get me another job” instead of “they don’t want me anymore but all I have to do is wait for my friend x to offer me another job when I tell them about my redundancy.”
Values and committed action:Example technique: Supporting the client in moving from “this always happens to people like me” to “I have a strong work ethic and have a lot to offer. I’m going to contact other employers to see if they can take me on…”. Techniques that can help here can be motivational interviewing, challenging perceptions, providing contrary evidence (other people in his company who have found a good job again) and exploring and discussing realistic options for progression.
The theory’s genetics:ACT is linked to psychological theories but also motivational interviewing and solution focused theories. It is also loosely related to Scott and Jaffe’s model of change and constructivist theories (the stories we tell ourselves), Integrative Life Planning Theory, part of Life-is-Career Theory as well as the values based theories.
This is a counselling based approach, so caution is required and the practitioner may need to engage in specific training to avoid possible harm to the client. Just like we all use counselling skills, while we are not necessarily counsellors, elements of this can be integrated in general career guidance practice, as above.
- Think about how ACT compares to other career guidance theories. How does it compare to other counselling theories for instance?
- Is ACT something you can use in your own practice?
- What are its limitations with the client group you are working with?
- What objections could different groups of clients have, and how could you get around those?
- Is this best to be used in individual consultations? Or is ACT a useful tool for workshops as well?
- Why is this theory a positive theory?
- What are its weaknesses for a career context?
- https://positivepsychology.com/act-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy/ – this link contains a lot of resources to assess, adapt and use.
- https://www.aipc.net.au/articles/six-principles-of-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy/ a more in depth exploration of the 6 basic principles of ACT