Entering addiction treatment therapy is a valuable decision, but not without its difficult moments.
While pursuing recovery, there may be any number of unpleasant thoughts racing through your mind. You may feel under pressure to be perfect all the time, or endlessly beat yourself up over any slip-ups, no matter how small.
But learning to live in harmony with these moments — all the good, bad, and ugly of your recovery journey — is the goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?
Frequently abbreviated as ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is true to every part of its full name. It teaches patients to accept the difficult thoughts and feelings they’re dealing with as a natural part of their recovery journey. And commitment is cultivated through building and maintaining a healthy and fulfilling routine.
Unlike many other types of addiction treatment therapy, which focus on actively changing a person’s thought patterns, ACT takes a more mindfulness-oriented approach. It teaches patients how to simply experience a thought, then let it go. Worse than having a bad thought, ACT explains, is fixating on it, even if the intention is trying to change it.
Rather than spending time and energy on altering their thoughts, patients are asked to change their actions instead. The idea is that this type of change can work backward, with healthier actions leading to improved self-esteem, which then, in turn, leads to healthier — and happier— thoughts.
While more research is needed, several studies have found these types of strategies to be successful in helping people with substance use disorder, specifically people attempting to stop drinking.
How Does ACT Work as Addiction Treatment Therapy?
In general, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy works by employing six major principles:
- Acceptance: Allowing inner thoughts to occur without actively trying to change, fight, or ignore them.
- Cognitive defusion: Seeing oneself and one’s inner thoughts as separate entities.
- Self as context: Seeing oneself as an ever-changing and learning entity, rather than someone defined by a label or fixed identity.
- Being present: Staying mindful of external surroundings and conditions, and adjusting behaviors accordingly.
- Values: The areas of one’s life that provide value and direction, considered worthy of protecting or cultivating through action.
- Commitment: Dedication to those identified values and a routine of changed, healthy behaviors.
And while these concepts have proven effective for people struggling with a range of conditions, they can provide particular help for someone struggling with substance use disorder.
Acceptance Commitment Therapy and Addiction
One of the biggest benefits of ACT is the therapy’s aim of building cognitive flexibility.
This mental trait represents a person’s ability to cope with, accept, and adjust to difficult thoughts or situations. And several studies have linked it with an improved quality of life and reduced levels of stress.
Cognitive flexibility allows someone to stay rooted in the present moment while keeping their own thoughts in mind. They can then proceed in a way that best aligns with their values and goals. Essentially, flexibility helps people switch their focus to longer-term plans and deal with the present moment accordingly. This is key to addiction treatment therapy — to focus on the present first.
The emphasis on mindfulness and self-acceptance also helps ACT patients foster a sense of self-compassion — another powerful tool in addiction treatment therapy.
Especially helpful in the early stages of recovery, this type of self-love not only helps people better manage their emotions and cravings but helps build higher self-esteem and reduce self-criticism. This is a critical component of sustainable sobriety.
All told, the teachings and strategies imparted by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are meant to help people learn from their emotions. They can begin to see their emotions not as a thing to be feared but as a natural extension of their living experience.
Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Right for Me?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an empirically-based form of psychotherapy with proven results. It’s a good course of action for all kinds of people.
Generally, the focus on acceptance in ACT makes it less suitable for people in particularly dangerous situations, such as those in abusive relationships or with behavioral problems that may be a health risk, for them or others.
But, by and large, ACT offers a number of great psychological tools for staying present, staying calm, and staying committed to a life in recovery. If you’re interested in building a path forward by building a new, more loving relationship with yourself, then Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is right for you. As an addiction treatment therapy, ACT can help you improve self-esteem, goal-setting, and stress-resiliency.
Ready to talk to a treatment specialist? Contact us today at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) to learn about our flexible treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction.
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