ACT is a behavioural treatment with is derived from the position that suffering comes not from the experience of emotional pain, but from our attempted avoidance of that pain. It has the overarching goal to help people be open to and willing to experience distress while focusing attention not on trying to escape or avoid pain (because this is impossible to do) but instead, on living a meaningful life.
Five Goals of ACT
ACT can be broken down into five goals/ stages:
1. Realising that trying to avoid emotional pain does not work
This is called creative hopelessness. This goal is met when the individual sees that all the things they have been trying to do to avoid emotional pain do not work, and there likely will never be an effective way of completely eliminating emotional pain from one's life.
2. Control is the problem
Problems come not from the emotional pain itself but from attempts to control or avoid that emotional pain. This is often realised when your experience shows that trying to avoid emotional pain is counterproductive. In addition to potentially increasing the pain, there is also the lost opportunity of pursuing positive or meaningful activities in life.
3. Viewing yourself as separate from your thoughts
Although thoughts appear believable. A person who has experienced a traumatic event may have thoughts that they are a bad person or that they are "broken" or "damaged." Although thoughts may feel true, they are just thoughts and not a reflection of what is real. The third goal in ACT is to help people "take a step back" from their thoughts and not buy into them as truth. A thought is just a thought and not a reflection of who you really are or what will really happen.
4.Stopping the struggle
At this stage in ACT, people are encouraged to stop their fight with their thoughts and feelings. People are encouraged to let go of attempts to avoid or control thoughts and feelings and instead practice being open to and willing to experience thoughts and feelings for what they are and not what we think they are (for example, bad or dangerous).
5.Commit to action
Avoidance can dictate how you live your life. Where you go, what you say or what you do can be determined by how fearful you are of having unpleasant feelings. This may consume or distract the person from focussing on living a meaningful and rewarding life. The final goal of ACT is to identify areas of importance in your life (referred to as "values" in ACT) and increasing the proportion of time spent acting in accordance with those values, regardless of what emotions or thoughts may come up.
Hayes, S.C., Luoma, J.B., Bond, F.W., Masuda, A., & Lillis, J. (2006). Acceptance and commitment therapy: Model, processes, and outcomes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1-25.
Hayes, S.C., Wilson, K.G., Gifford, E.V., Follette, V.M., & Strosahl, K. (1996). Experiential avoidance and behavioral disorders: A functional dimensional approach to diagnosis and treatment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 1152-1168.
Walser, R.D., & Hayes, S.C. (1998). Acceptance and trauma survivors: Applied issues and problems. In V.M. Follette, J.I. Ruzek, & F.R. Abueg (Eds.), Cognitive-behavioral therapies for trauma (pp.256-277). New York: Guilford.