Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders

As a strategy for transcendence rather than coping, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an intriguing option for many people suffering from mental health disorders. Therapists who specialize in ACT believe we all have the potential to live a full and rich life, and that our encounters with depression, anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic stress or other psychological disorders do not have to define us or limit us. This form of psychotherapy can work exceptionally well for those diagnosed with anxiety disorders. People suffering from anxiety can be plagued by excessive self-consciousness, and become trapped inside a web of negative thoughts and emotions. Acceptance and commitment therapy can help those in such situations disconnect and disengage from these types of self-sabotaging mental patterns, gradually reducing the strength and staying power of unproductive thoughts and emotions.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Action

Over a number of therapy sessions, ACT specialists lead patients through a series of steps designed to promote true self-awareness and eliminate over-identification with their psychological and emotional problems. As a treatment regimen progresses, patients are introduced to the six core principles of ACT in action:

  • Cognitive defusion: Learning to correctly identify troubling thoughts, memories and concepts as subjective phenomena with no actual objective reality. It’s all in the mind, in other words.
  • Acceptance: Fully acknowledging unpleasant thoughts and unwelcome emotions with no attempt to deny, suppress, or rationalize them away.
  • Contact with the present moment: Cultivating total absorption in the here-and-now. Recreating the effect of mindfulness practices like yoga or meditation through conscious effort.
  • Recognizing the observing self: Becoming conscious of yourself as conscious, as a separate being who can’t be defined by your thoughts, emotions or sensory experiences. The observing self is detached, lucid and able to achieve a clear perspective.
  • Identifying values: Identifying what is most important and meaningful in life, and being prepared to (finally) make it a priority.
  • Committed action: Setting long-term goals and short-term milestones and developing effective strategies to achieve them.

This style of psychotherapy only focuses on the problem in the very early stages of the process. The primary focus in acceptance and commitment therapy is on positive transcendence and achievement —recovery from mental illness is the launching pad, but the final destination is self-mastery and emotional wellness.

Accepting Anxiety Disorders and Committing to a Better Way

Anxiety disorder sufferers need practical strategies to overcome their disabling physical and psychological reactions to stress, both real and imagined. Acceptance and commitment therapy offers mindfulness as the remedy for that anxiety. Those using ACT techniques engage in a process that fearlessly confronts the symptoms of anxiety head on, embracing them, accepting them and draining them of their strength and influence. Acceptance and commitment therapy for anxiety disorders charts an ambitious course, offering the possibility of taming anxiety. ACT does not promise anxiety disorder sufferers a stress- or worry-free life, but it does help remove the exhausting and paralyzing burden that prevents them from finding satisfaction in day-to-day life and reaching their full potential.   Source: Association for Contextual Behavioral Science: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

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