Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in Addiction Treatment
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
ACT (pronounced as the word “act,”) is a type of evidence-based psychotherapy developed in 1982 to treat a wide array of mental health and substance use disorders. Using mindfulness and acceptance techniques and exercises, ACT helps to “unhook” from critical thoughts, accept painful emotions, and connect with their underlying values – all in the service of living a rich and meaningful life in recovery. Here are a few of the basic principles of acceptance and commitment therapy:
- Acceptance of difficult experiences
One of the most common myths that prevails in our society is the notion that happiness is our natural state, and all deviations from this our due to our shortcomings. In reality, our natural state is a diverse array of ever-changing experiences, which includes happiness but also sadness, anger, disappointment, grief, and fear, among other things. Acknowledging and being at peace with the full spectrum of the human experience is part of living a flourishing and authentic life.
While we may feel the urge to change or eliminate painful thoughts and feelings, ACT helps us to accept our experience just as it is, without trying to change or avoid it. Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction can frequently arise as a means of attempting to mute or otherwise avoid thoughts and emotions that feel unbearable, and is most often the result of an underlying mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. ACT may give clients in early recovery the tools to be at peace with these difficult experiences so that they no longer need to turn towards maladaptive coping strategies such as drinking or using drugs.
According to ACT’s basic philosophy, we cannot change our thoughts and emotions, and when we try, we only increase our struggling. Using a wide array of techniques, ACT helps us to accept and make friends with our experience just as it is, so that we can be fully present in our lives. While other therapies, such as CBT, teaches you to change your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones, ACT promotes simply noticing the thoughts as they arise, remaining curious about their origins and purpose, without needing to let them control your behavior.
- Creating distance between yourself or your thoughts
One principle ACT teaches is that if you can observe something, it is not you. Your thoughts, your emotions, your physical pain—these are experiences that come and go, but are not a core part of who you are. Through mindfulness techniques, ACT helps you to not only observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement, but may make them feel less overwhelming.
Sometimes it can feel as though a thought or emotion is so loud and intense that we cannot see past it. It can feel like it is consuming our entire being, and we are powerless to stop it unless we try to shut it out entirely, perhaps with drugs or alcohol, or through other avoidance techniques. ACT helps us to feel as though we have some space around these experiences, that we are bigger than they are, and while they may feel intense at times, we can handle them without letting them control our lives.
- Identifying your values and aligning your life with them
People seek recovery from addiction because they want to live a more meaningful life, one that is driven by what they truly value. Part of ACT is identifying these values, and then taking committed action towards living a life in line with these values. Values are different than goals in that they are not something we “accomplish.” Rather, our values act like our compass towards a meaningful life. Values are highly individualized, and differ from person to person. Here are a few values that people identify for themselves in ACT:
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy at Flatirons Recovery
ACT is part of our holistic clinical approach to addiction treatment at Flatirons Recovery. In addition to using ACT with our clients, we also offer clinician trainings in ACT that are open to therapists and other healing professionals in our community. We integrate ACT with a wide array of other mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions, including DBT, art therapy, nature/adventure based therapy, EMDR, yoga, motivational interviewing, and equine therapy, among others to treat a wide array of substance use and mental health disorders. Flatirons Recovery provides clients the opportunity to begin their healing process from substance use/dual-diagnosis disorders on 30-, 60-, and 90-day tracks. We provide a sober living residence for clients to live in a supportive, structured, healthy environment while taking part in our Day Treatment and Intensive Outpatient (IOP) programs. Over the course of their time with Flatirons Recovery, clients can expect to be introduced to new many new skills to develop their personal foundation for recovery.