What Is Act?
ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and it is a component of Cognitive Behavioral
Therapy. Steven Hayes, a clinical psychologist, formulated this anxiety treatment in 1982 to help
clients develop psychological flexibility to accept and deal with life’s challenges.
In essence, ACT is mindfulness-based anxiety therapy to help you overcome negative thoughts and feelings and to reduce controlling or avoidance coping styles. This anxiety treatment consists of several steps.
The first step is to stop worrying or obsessing about things that are out of your control. During the acceptance stage of this anxiety treatment, you learn how to accept your situation, personality traits, or emotions and to work with what you have.
Defusing the Experience
Next, you have to learn how to cognitively defuse a psychologically heightening experience by identifying it for what it is—for example, a passing unpleasant feeling. Defusing does not constitute avoidance, but it makes the experience more manageable for you.
Get An Outside Perspective
Learning to be present is a critical component of ACT and anxiety treatment, and it involves having an objective view of both your environment and the psychological heightening experience as it happens. During this phase of anxiety therapy, you learn to distance yourself from the experience, get an outside perspective, and realize the true price of control or avoidance.
Choose A Valued Direction
In this step of anxiety treatment, your psychologist helps you to determine your values, which are things that are important to you—for example, your relationships or career. Then, you will formulate your values as outcome goals so that you can start following a direction in your anxiety treatment.
Finally, you have to start working toward your goals. Committing to following an actionable goal is crucial to breaking down your physiological barriers.
Realize That Change Is Necessary
Without you even knowing it, your mind absorbs and stores information that has a significant effect on your behavior and emotions. You have a highly sophisticated brain, and one of its primary functions is to protect you from environmental threats.
For example, your subliminal mind embeds all images you see of snakes and labels all of them as a threat for future reference. When you walk in a field and see a snake, you will immediately react to the danger.
Your subconscious mind and fight-and-flight response work together. However, to save time, your cognitive thought processes don’t take part in this initial response. Thus, when you see a rope lying on the ground, you may still feel frightened, even though a rope poses no threat.
Your mind is not only susceptible to programming in terms of potential threats, but also beliefs. Additionally, your subconscious belief system may not represent the truth. For example, if someone verbally abused you during your formative years, you may inherently believe that you are worthless, which can lead to anxiety and affect future relationships and decisions.
Cognitively trying to control your feelings of worthlessness and anxiety typically does not work because you are consciously trying to control a subconscious belief system.
Culturally shaped solutions to control or avoid psychological distress can be positive or negative, but they are inherently unworkable, which is why you are still seeking anxiety treatment. If you have unsuccessfully tried everything to alleviate painful thoughts, emotions, sensations, or memories, it is time for a change.
What Would Be Your Perfect Outcome?
What would your situation look like if you could resolve your anxiety? This question helps your anxiety specialist to determine your goals before starting anxiety therapy.
There are two types of goals, namely, process goals and outcome goals. A process goal is usually an unwanted private event or subliminal belief that prevents you from getting on with your life. Examples of process goals include the following:
- Not taking criticism to heart
- Being intimate without experiencing the emotional pain of sexual abuse
- Taking on important tasks without feeling anxious or worthless
Process goals involve unpleasant events or experiences that you may be trying to control, suppress, or avoid. These emotional obstacles are the result of subconscious beliefs, and they may also be your current concern for which you are seeking anxiety treatment.
When your psychologist asks you what your situation would look like if you could resolve your anxiety, the chances are that you will immediately consider a process goal.
Outcome goals are visions of a better life. This type of goal can be a definable objective—for example, you may want a promotion. An outcome goal can also be a value— you may want to be a caring and involved parent or a loving spouse.
In short, feeling good is a process goal, and living well is an outcome goal. Ultimately, achieving your outcome goal, and not feeling good, should be your perfect outcome.
Your efforts to achieve process goals can prevent you from reaching your outcome goals. For example, you can consume alcohol to alleviate negative emotions and feel good, but this solution will prevent you from your outcome goal, which is living well.
What Is Your Current Approach?
What have you tried to alleviate your anxiety? During anxiety treatment, your psychologist will ask you this question to start the process of evaluating all the methods you tried, as well as the outcomes they produced.
According to anxiety treatment methods, you have to describe your current approach, as well as all the previous approaches you followed, to solve the problem. In most cases, the solutions that people try to alleviate stress and anxiety follow traditional cultural rules.
As you take an in-depth look at the cultural solutions you tried, you will notice that you have probably tried several different approaches without success. You will also realize that you directed your efforts toward achieving process goals while assuming that they would help you reach your outcome goals. Additionally, you will see that all the strategies you followed involved avoiding or controlling an unwanted private experience.
As you describe the solutions you tried, you will begin to notice the discrepancies between what the cultural rules say should happen and what actually happens. If the cultural rules you applied worked, you would not be seeking anxiety treatment.
To your mind, these traditional strategies should work to, say, improve your self-confidence. However, these strategies don’t work because changing subconscious belief systems with willpower is difficult. Your mind then resolves this by finding the problem with you. For example, you may tell yourself that you are too weak or that you didn’t try hard enough.
One of the objectives of anxiety therapy is to help you take a step back and view your mind’s workings objectively.
What Has That Approach Cost You?
In your efforts to achieve your process goals, you will make sacrifices. Avoiding or controlling unwanted private experiences may have debilitating consequences, but to your mind, these sacrifices are necessary to alleviate pain or anxiety and, ultimately, achieve your outcome goals.
For example, if you suffer from severe anxiety at work, you may start consuming alcohol as a way to avoid or control your stress. This solution may help you achieve a process goal, but it will affect your attentiveness and productivity. In your mind, losing your job is a justifiable price to pay.
Another example is the pain of sexual abuse during intimacy. You may prefer to avoid intimacy altogether, which will put your relationship in jeopardy. Subjectively speaking, you may consider your relationship worth losing to avoid anxiety.
Getting an outside perspective is a prominent aspect of anxiety therapy. When you objectively consider the traditional solutions that you applied to neutralize distress, you will realize that they were not only ineffective but also resulted in adverse consequences.
Anxiety treatment also helps you to consider the price you pay while trying to control or avoid psychological pain.
Creating A Treatment Agreement
ACT as an anxiety treatment is an alternative to the traditional rules that you followed to alleviate anxiety and other forms of emotional distress.
Your anxiety is the result of things that you subconsciously believe. As a result, you cannot control or avoid this psychological distress. Any control or avoidance attempts you try with traditional methods can result in adverse consequences.
Because traditional methods should work according to your mind, you refuse to accept your anxiety, and you rigidly continue to apply these methods. You also view negative consequences as necessary collateral damage. Additionally, you put pressure on yourself to implement these solutions successfully, which contributes to psychological distress.
To change your relationship with anxiety, create an anxiety treatment agreement with Houston Heights.
When administering anxiety therapy, the first step is to help you accept your situation and eliminate your fixation on applying traditional cultural rules. Then, we will help you defuse the psychological distress by helping you realize what it is and make heightened psychological episodes more manageable.
Additionally, we will help you to be present and objectively view psychological distress. Having non-judgmental contact with your environment as well as psychological events will help you realize that your values and outcome goals are more important than controlling or avoiding events that trigger anxiety and stress.
If you need professional anxiety treatment, Houston Heights can help. Our ACT anxiety therapy can help you accept your sources of anxiety, deal with these causes, and live mindfully without fear or stress.