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What is acceptance and commitment therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy is defined as a hybrid of traditional behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. This means that the technique takes practices from cognitive behavioral therapy, like teaching clients how to identify how their thinking can affect their behavior, and integrates them with the practice of mindfulness so that clients become more resilient to adversity.

The focus of acceptance and commitment therapy is on changing our “self-talk,” or our internal dialogues. Our self-talk can be destructive at times, especially if we are struggling with addiction or mental health issues. We have the power to confront this negative self-talk, change our perspectives to be more positive and adjust our behaviors accordingly.

This can be done in three steps, with the help of your therapist:

1. Accept your reactions and be present

A key tenet of acceptance and commitment therapy is being accepting, rather than dismissive, of negative self-talk. Say, for example, that you are struggling with drug addiction. At some point, you may think to yourself, “I am a bad person.” Sometimes it’s easier to push these kinds of thoughts to the side and suppress the corresponding emotions, but this can lead to pent-up anxiety and negativity.

Acceptance and commitment therapy will instead teach you to recognize and accept your negative self-talk. When you think that you are a bad person, you will stop and think to yourself: “This is a negative thought. This is not who I am and this feeling will pass.” You will begin to be more aware of your thoughts and how they subsequently impact your mood and behavior.

With acceptance and commitment therapy, you will learn to understand your thoughts, for example, you will learn to recognize why exactly you feel your struggle with drug addiction makes you a bad person.

2. Choose a valued direction

Instead of this being your internal dialogue, imagine that you heard your friend say they are a bad person because they are struggling with drug addiction. You would never pile on and list all of their negative aspects; rather, you would support them, reassure them, and remind them that drug addiction is a disease of the brain rather than a character fault. 

Now try this exercise with yourself and your self-talk. When you think negatively about yourself, you have the choice to either shove the thoughts away, insult yourself further, or accept that you are having negative feelings and reassure yourself. When you get to this stage, you will become more and more resilient to negative self-talk and choosing to love yourself will feel more and more natural.

3. Take action

Once you feel comfortable confronting your self-talk, you can focus on the commitment aspect of acceptance and commitment therapy. Once you recognize a negative thought, try to respond to yourself with something positive. Instead of listing all of the reasons you are a bad person, think of the ways in which you are a good one. Grounding techniques can help with this as they can get you out of your own head and pull you into the present moment.

This form of therapy is meant to be carried with you throughout your life, teaching you mindfulness tools to overcome adversity. Next time you find yourself with harmful or destructive thoughts, remember the three steps that you’ve worked on in therapy: accept that you are having negative thoughts, choose how you want to respond and act accordingly.

Acceptance and commitment therapy benefits

Acceptance and commitment therapy can help you to better understand yourself, your mind and your anxieties.

Benefits include:

  • Control over your own behaviors, emotions and mental health
  • Improved mood
  • Increased mindfulness, both in everyday life and in stressful situations
  • Resilience in the midst of adversity
  • Effective behavior patterns informed by healthy thoughts, feelings and goals
  • Ability to accept experiences rather than reacting negatively

Silvermist Recovery offers acceptance and commitment therapy as part of our holistic addiction and behavioral treatment programs. Reach out today at 724-268-4858 to learn more.