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What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of behavioural therapy that can have a profound impact on improving the quality of life for individuals dealing with a wide range of mental health conditions.

Developed by Steven C. Hayes, ACT draws upon the principles of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and combines them with experiential exercises to help individuals become more accepting of their internal experiences.

Read on to find out more about what ACT is and how it can help with mental illnesses, including addiction.

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What is ACT - Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that focuses on enhancing psychological flexibility and promoting values-based living. It is a form of behavioural therapy that has been widely recognised for its effectiveness in treating a wide range of mental health conditions.

At the core of ACT is the concept of psychological flexibility, which involves accepting and embracing difficult internal experiences, such as thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, instead of avoiding or fighting them. This is achieved through various experiential exercises and mindfulness skills.

One of the key principles of ACT is values-based living, which involves identifying and clarifying one’s personal values and using them as a guide for making meaningful choices and taking action in everyday life. By aligning one’s actions with their values, individuals can experience a greater sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.

Another principle of ACT is defusion from unhelpful thoughts. This involves recognising that thoughts are merely internal events and not necessarily true or accurate representations of reality. Through various techniques, individuals learn to create distance from their thoughts and reduce their impact on their behaviour.

The therapy offers a holistic and highly effective approach to addressing psychological suffering and improving quality of life. By learning to accept and embrace all aspects of human experience, individuals can live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Who Can Benefit from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)  can be particularly effective for those struggling with a wide range of mental health conditions. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Borderline personality disorder


ACT is a useful therapy for individuals with addiction because it helps them develop the necessary psychological skills to face the challenges of recovery. By practising acceptance, individuals can come to terms with the reality of their addictive behaviours and the negative consequences they bring. This acceptance allows them to let go of resistance and begin the healing process.

Let’s dive into some of the common mental health issues that can be addressed with the treatment.

Common Mental Health Issues That Can Be Addressed with ACT

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a highly effective psychotherapeutic approach that can address a wide range of common mental health issues. This therapy focuses on helping individuals develop psychological skills to manage and overcome their challenges.

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One area where ACT has shown great success is in treating addictions, such as alcohol addiction, drug addictions and behavioural addictions. By fostering acceptance, individuals can confront the reality of their addictive behaviours and the negative consequences they bring. This acceptance enables them to let go of resistance and begin the healing process.

Anxiety and Depression

ACT is also beneficial in managing anxiety and depression. Through mindfulness exercises, individuals can develop skills to identify and accept their anxious thoughts and feelings without allowing them to control their lives. Similarly, by identifying core values, individuals with depression can align their actions with what truly matters, thereby finding meaning in their lives and increasing their motivation to engage in activities that bring them joy and satisfaction.

Eating disorders

ACT has proven effective in addressing eating disorders as well. By practising acceptance, individuals can acknowledge their unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies, leading to a more compassionate and balanced view of themselves.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

In the case of OCD, ACT helps individuals accept and tolerate their intrusive thoughts and urges, reducing their impact on daily functioning.


ACT can assist individuals in managing stress and improving overall well-being. By developing mindfulness skills, individuals can better cope with stressors and navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and resilience.

In summary, ACT offers a valuable therapeutic approach for individuals struggling with addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, OCD, and stress. By practicing acceptance and developing mindfulness skills, individuals can gain greater control over their mental health and improve their overall quality of life.

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History and Development of ACT

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) was developed by Steven C. Hayes in 1986 and is considered one of the prominent therapies of the “third wave” of behavioural therapies. Hayes and his team spent years researching and studying the foundational principles and techniques of existing therapies in order to create the ACT model.

The “third wave” of behavioural therapies emerged as a response to the limitations of traditional cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) approaches. This wave sought to integrate mindfulness and acceptance techniques into therapeutic practice. Alongside ACT, other therapies that belong to the third wave include Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

The development of ACT has significantly contributed to the field of psychology and has been shown to be effective in treating a broad range of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, and borderline personality disorder. Its focus on acceptance and commitment to personal values provides individuals with the tools to lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Core Principles of ACT

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on six core principles that guide the treatment process.

1. Acceptance

The first principle is acceptance, which involves acknowledging and embracing one’s internal experiences, such as thoughts and emotions, without judgment or resistance. Instead of struggling against or trying to control these internal experiences, individuals practice allowing them to be present without judgement or avoidance.

2. Cognitive Defusion

The second principle is cognitive defusion, which helps individuals recognize that their thoughts are not literal truths but rather mental events that can be observed and let go. It helps people create distance from unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. By recognising that thoughts are simply mental events and not necessarily accurate reflections of reality, individuals can free themselves from their rigid influence and avoid getting entangled in negative thought patterns.

3. Being Present

The third principle is being present, which emphasises the importance of engaging fully in the present moment rather than being caught up in worries about the past or future. This involves fully engaging with and experiencing the here and now, rather than getting caught up in worries about the future or regrets about the past. This allows individuals to cultivate greater awareness and mindfulness of their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.

4. Observing Self

The fourth principle is self as context, which involves developing a flexible and compassionate perspective on oneself, recognising that one’s experiences do not define their worth or identity. This allows individuals to detach from their thoughts, gain insight into their inner experiences, and develop a more compassionate and non-identified sense of self.

5. Values Clarification

The fifth principle is values clarification, which helps individuals identify their core values and align their actions and behaviours accordingly. By identifying their core values, individuals can make choices and take actions that are in alignment with what is most meaningful and important to them.

6. Committed Action

Finally, the sixth principle is committed action, which emphasises taking steps towards one’s valued goals and engaging in behaviours that are consistent with one’s values, even in the presence of discomfort or obstacles.

By integrating these core principles into therapy, ACT helps individuals to cultivate psychological flexibility and live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

How Does ACT Work?

ACT incorporates mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and its core processes are based on the Relational Frame Theory, which explores the relationship between language and behaviour.

By teaching individuals psychological skills and techniques through experiential exercises and mindfulness exercises, ACT empowers clients to navigate their internal experiences and engage in purposeful actions, leading to improved mental well-being and satisfying life.

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Experiential Exercises During Sessions

During Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) sessions, individuals participate in experiential exercises led by mental health professionals that aim to enhance their mindfulness skills and promote values-based living. By engaging in these exercises, patients can develop the ability to accept difficult internal experiences and defuse from unhelpful thoughts.

One example of an experiential exercise used in ACT is the “leaves on a stream” exercise. In this exercise, clients are guided to imagine sitting by a stream and visualising each thought that arises as a leaf floating by on the water. Rather than getting caught up in the content of the thoughts or trying to change them, individuals are encouraged to observe the thoughts coming and going without judgment or attachment. This exercise helps individuals cultivate mindfulness by learning to observe their thoughts and detach from them, rather than getting entangled in them.

Another exercise that promotes values-based living is the “life compass” exercise. Clients are invited to explore their personal values and identify what truly matters to them in various domains of life, such as relationships, work, and self-care. By clarifying their values, individuals can set meaningful goals and make choices that align with what is most important to them. This exercise helps individuals navigate challenging internal experiences by providing a compass to guide their actions in a direction that is in line with their deepest values.

Through these experiential exercises, individuals in ACT learn to cultivate mindfulness skills, accept difficult internal experiences, and defuse from unhelpful thoughts. By practising these techniques, individuals can enhance their overall well-being and live a more values-driven and fulfilling life.

Use of Mindfulness Skills

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy incorporates mindfulness skills to help individuals effectively manage their thoughts and emotions. Through these skills, individuals can develop a greater awareness of their internal experiences and cultivate a more accepting and present-focused mindset.

ACT breaks down mindfulness skills into three categories: defusion, acceptance, and contact with the present moment. Defusion involves learning to step back from the thoughts and feelings that may be causing distress and recognising them for what they are – just thoughts, not necessarily the truth. Acceptance involves acknowledging and allowing these thoughts and feelings to arise, without trying to change or control them. Contact with the present moment involves intentionally bringing one’s attention and focus to the present, rather than getting caught up in worries about the past or future.

In ACT, the use of the “observing self” is essential in developing these mindfulness skills. This involves developing the ability to observe one’s own thoughts and emotions without judgment or attachment. Techniques such as meditation, visualisation exercises, and experiential activities like the “leaves on a stream” exercise mentioned earlier, can all help individuals cultivate the observing self and enhance their mindfulness skills.

By incorporating mindfulness skills into treatment, ACT enables individuals to relate differently to their thoughts and emotions, ultimately fostering greater psychological flexibility and a more meaningful life.

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How to get started with ACT

If you’re struggling with addiction or facing other mental health concerns, seeking help is crucial for getting on the path to recovery. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a highly effective form of therapy that can help you overcome obstacles and find a meaningful life.

You deserve it.

To get started with ACT, it’s important to reach out for professional help. At Which Rehab, we are here to support you in finding the best addiction treatment for your location and situation. Our team can guide you towards the best rehab centres that offer ACT programs, as well as connect you with support groups and therapy services.

Don’t let addiction or mental health concerns hold you back from living your best life. Seek help, get in touch with us at Which Rehab, and take the first step towards a brighter future.

Related articles


Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based psychological intervention that uses mindfulness and acceptance strategies, combined with commitment and behaviour-change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. The goal of ACT is to help people learn how to accept difficult thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them—allowing them to stay focused on the present moment and take action toward their values. ACT teaches people to observe their thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment or attachment, and to take action consistent with their values.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a newer form of therapy that has been gaining popularity over the last few years. ACT focuses on the acceptance of internal experiences, such as thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, while also encouraging commitment to values-based action. The goal of ACT is to help people learn to accept their difficult internal experiences and commit to taking action that aligns with their values.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a more traditional form of therapy that focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviours. CBT encourages people to challenge their distorted beliefs and work towards replacing them with more balanced thoughts.

While CBT and ACT can both be effective forms of treatment, they have different focuses and approaches.

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