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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Mental Health Center of San Diego

As an action-based technique to therapy that combines traditional behavioral therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) helps clients learn how to stop struggling with emotions. The key is to help clients accept the challenges that often confront them and instead of denying negative thoughts and emotions, take steps to change their behavior despite the problems they face in their lives.

Developed by psychologist Steven C. Hayes in the 1980s while working as a professor at the University of Nevada, ACT developed from the challenging psychological experiences Hayes endured, especially his background of dealing with frequent panic attacks. The basis of Hayes’ epiphany was a promise that he would never again run away from his problems by accepting his challenges and making an unwavering commitment to overcome them.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy educates patients about how to implement mindfulness techniques to behave in a manner that coincides with their personal values. The underlying premise of ACT is to develop the skills required to maintain flexibility in following psychological principles that match unique emotional challenges.

Clients that follow the principles established by ACT learn how to recognize why controlling and suppressing emotional experiences creates difficult challenges to overcome. When you recognize an attempt to control and suppress an emotion, you have a much better chance of implementing one or more value-focused actions that foster the development of a healthy mental state.

ACT does not target unwanted emotions. Instead, it implements techniques that help clients to stop looking at themselves as flawed individuals. The goal is to help patients accept negative emotional experiences by being proactive to reduce the impact they have on our lives. Developing a more positive outlook on life can help a client become more compassionate when interacting with other people.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Used to Treat?

Numerous studies have discovered acceptance and commitment therapy treats a wide variety of mental conditions.


ACT has produced promising results for clients that suffer from addictions. Clients that live with one or more addictions typically experience negative thoughts that motivate them to dull their feelings by abusing drugs and/or alcohol. ACT educates an addicted patient to make sense of the negative thoughts by discussing them with a therapist. Once a patient reveals negative emotions, the therapist treating the client can help the client find ways to confront the negative thoughts and emotions.

What to Expect with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

By working with an ACT therapist, you can expect to learn how to pay attention to the way you internalize negative thoughts and emotions that develop because of issues such as coping with a traumatic event or dealing with a contentious relationship. After you learn how to listen to your negative emotions, you take steps to change how you think by not relying on the strategies you have used in the past when trying to overcome difficult emotional challenges.

Your ACT therapist is instrumental in educating you about how the five core principles that form the foundation of acceptance and commitment therapy can improve your mental health.


Accept every one of your thoughts, instead of denying they exist. Your ACT therapist teaches you how to stop trying to change negative thoughts and emotions by accepting they are a part of your thought process.

In the Moment

Applying basic mindfulness techniques keeps you in the moment instead of dwelling on past challenges that diminished the quality of your life. One of the most important techniques taught by your ACT therapist involves controlling your breathing pattern.

Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion represents a psychologically-driven exercise that changes the way you react to negative thoughts and emotions. By distancing yourself from stressful thoughts and emotions, you alleviate the harmful consequences that are associated with dwelling on negative thoughts and emotions.


The values component of ACT requires you to recognize your values and take steps to live your life according to those principles. One of the obstacles for an ACT client to overcome involves not following the personal values that can help the client avoid distressing interactions with other people.


The bookend core principle of ACT is called commitment. This core principle asks you to make changes in your life that match your values, which can lead to several positive changes in the way you view challenges. You might establish goals and/or develop skills that mitigate the impact of negative thoughts and emotions.

The Benefits of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy


Getting Started with
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in San Diego

You can receive acceptance and commitment therapy from the professionals at the Mental Health Center of San Diego, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health counselors, to learn more call 858-465-7722.