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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a type of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).  However, ACT differs from CBT in terms of its approach and strategy to warrant a different name.[1]  CBT involves strategies to control and overcome troubling memories and experiences whereas ACT aims to support people to recognise that such memories and experiences are a normal part of life. Rather than trying to control the memories ACT proposes that people develop methods and ways of thinking that allow such memories, thoughts and sensations to naturally pass and co-exist with the rich and meaningful parts of life.[2]

What is the basis for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

ACT suggests that many psychological problems are caused or aggravated by overreacting and dwelling on unpleasant thoughts and feelings.  These unpleasant thoughts and feelings take control of everyday life.  They prevent people from being able to take part in and enjoy the experiences in their life at the time those experiences are happening because they are dwelling on their past unpleasant thoughts and feelings. The natural instinct people have is to do everything they can to control the negative thoughts and feelings.  This may include avoiding people and situations which remind them of the thoughts and feelings they want to avoid.  In addition, ACT also suggests that people are likely to provide themselves with reasons which justify their attempts to control their behaviour in order to avoid the painful thoughts and feelings.  For instance, people tell themselves that if they avoid a particular person or situation they are less likely to experience the negative thoughts and feelings.  In turn, this creates a vicious cycle where people prevent themselves enjoying the positive experiences in their life in order to avoid the negative thoughts and feelings.  The very steps they are taking to control their thoughts and feelings are preventing them enjoying and taking part in the positive experiences life has to offer them.

ACT proposes that the reason people struggle to cope with the unwanted thoughts and feelings in the first place is because there is a false belief that for the most part people should not be suffering from any psychologically problems.[3]  ACT suggests that due to the sheer number of people who suffer from psychological problems it is far more reasonable to assume that having a psychological problem at some point in your life is a normal part of life.[4]  Starting from this assumption ACT proposes that a far more healthy solution is to recognise that unwanted thoughts, feelings and sensations are a normal part of life and attempts to control or get rid of these thoughts and feelings prevents people from taking part in the positive parts of their life when they are happening.  ACT suggests that people should accept that having these thoughts and feelings are largely out of their control.  Rather than trying to control their unwanted thoughts and feelings people should adopt strategies and techniques that allow these feelings to naturally pass, whilst also being committed to taking whatever steps are required to have a valued and meaningful life.

How does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Work?

In practice ACT aims to teach mindfulness.  The concept of “mindfulness” is not a new one.  The practise and known benefits of it date back thousands of years.[5]  There is no consensus definition on what “mindfulness" is.[6]  However, for practical purposes in counselling and particularly from an ACT perspective it is useful to acknowledge that the basic idea behind “mindfulness” is about learning techniques that teach you about living in the “here and now” rather than getting lost in your thoughts.  The aim of this process is to allow your thoughts and feelings to naturally come and go rather than seeking to control them.[7]  To recognise that the thoughts and feelings are not immediate threats, facts or truths that you have to live by but are instead pictures and words in our minds.  To understand that the thoughts and feelings are not who you are but are merely a changing and evolving part of you.  People change over time.  Past thoughts and feelings do not define who you are at the present time.  Finally ACT seeks to support you to identify what is important and meaningful in your life and what type of person you want to be with a view to setting goals and taking action to achieve that life.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy suitable for?

Evidence based research in psychology indicates that ACT is effective at treating a range of conditions such as Anxiety, Depression, Chronic Pain, Tinnitus, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Mixed Anxiety and Depression, Drug Abuse, and Stress.[8]


If you are ready to explore if this type of therapy is suitable for you or if you want learn more about what we offer by way of Counselling in Dundee and throughout the UK we offer a Free Counselling Consultation by telephone for 20 Minutes to see if we are good fit for you.

(Created: 27/03/2022)

  1. For a detailed overview of the distinctions see H. Russell “Embracing Your Demons: an Overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”, Psychotherapy in Austrailia vol 12, No.4, 2006, P.2-3 available at

  2. R. Harris “The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling starting living” 2nd Edition, Little Brown Book Group 2007, P. 9-10  available at

  3. Op Cit H. Russell (2006) P.3

  4. Ibid

  5.  F. Lindsay and S. Hayes,” Relational Frame Theory, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and functional analytical definition of mindfulness, Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Vol. 23, No. 4, Winter 2005, p.315 available at

  6. For a detailed overview see Ibid.

  7. Op Cit H. Russell (2006) P.2

  8. For a detailed overview of the research see L-G Ost “The efficacy of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis” Behaviour Research and Therapy (2014) P1-17 available at

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