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ACT therapy refers to acceptance and commitment therapy, a therapeutic technique that focuses on teaching a patient to accept their thought processes and behavioral patterns and then commit to improving them.

Key Takeaways:

  • Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches patients to accept their negative thoughts and behaviors and then commit to working towards changing them.
  • ACT is an evidence-backed technique that shows high rates of effectiveness for many patients.
  • The ACT process consists of 5 steps, including building rapport with your therapist, exploring your current mental health state, defining your ideal self and core values, determining action items to work towards practice, and focusing on committing to those actions.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is based on several other types of therapy, such as cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy.

Let’s explore this form of therapy and determine exactly what ACT is, how it can help you, and what you can expect from a session.

ACT Therapy Resources on This Page:

How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Work?

What is ACT therapy best for?

What To Expect From an ACT Therapy Session

Where To Find Therapy in The Austin Area: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Work?

Acceptance and commitment therapy rejects the idea that negative thoughts and emotions must be changed by brute force, ignored, or bottled up.

Therapists who specialize in acceptance and commitment therapy teach their patients that these thoughts and emotions are a natural part of the human condition, and that one should not expect to never experience them.

Rather, ACT works to accomplish a number of goals, including:

  • Giving patients peace of mind through acceptance of their negative emotions
  • Showing patients how to commit to improving their thoughts and emotions, or at least to accepting them in the long term
  • Teaching patients psychological flexibility in relation to thoughts and behaviors

Psychological flexibility is the ability of a person to respond in a controlled way to changes in their thoughts and feelings.

By nature, it is very difficult to accomplish these goals on our own. If you have ever experienced anxiety or depression, you know that many mental health conditions or patterns are self-enforcing.

A person who is anxious may consistently think of the worst-case scenario for any given situation. This, in turn, can make them even more anxious and create a spiraling thought pattern that is very difficult to break.

By teaching psychological flexibility, acceptance and commitment therapy can help patients understand why their thoughts track the way they do and teach them ways to control spiraling thoughts and negative emotional patterns, ideally in the long term.

What is ACT therapy best for?

Acceptance and commitment therapy can be used in a very wide range of mental health concerns, including

  • Anxiety: ACT can help anxiety by giving patients more control over where their mind goes when spiraling.
  • Depression: ACT may help depression by helping patients choose (or commit to choosing) what to focus on about the world around them.
  • Substance abuse: ACT may help those addicted to substances to try, or maintain, sobriety by understanding where negative behavior patterns come from.
  • Self-esteem issues: ACT teaches self-compassion, which can help patients in acceptance and commitment therapy to begin switching self-degrading thoughts into self-affirming ones.

Acceptance and commitment therapy can be applied to several other mental illnesses and mental health concerns, making it a common choice amongst both patients and therapists.

When delivered by a qualified therapist and possibly used in conjunction with other therapies, acceptance and commitment therapy can be extremely effective.

Is ACT or CBT more effective?

In scientific studies, acceptance and commitment therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy show similar rates of effectiveness, likely because they stem from the same overarching philosophy and share many techniques.

Your therapist will decide whether to use ACT, CBT, or both depending on your symptoms or concerns, the way you think, and their personal experience using both techniques. Often, what starts as a treatment plan for one technique may change into one for another, depending on patient response.

In general, it's not productive to try to place one evidence-based therapy technique above another since every patient is different and what works for you may not work for someone else.

Is ACT better than CBT for anxiety?

Because cognitive-behavioral therapy has been around longer and has therefore been studied more than ACT, most therapists will start there and then switch to ACT or integrate it with the treatment plan if they believe it will add value to the patient's journey.

But ACT can help some people with anxiety more than others, so it's part of a therapist's training to know when and how to use it.

Is ACT better than CBT for depression?

One recent study shows that, for depression, CBT has a higher likelihood of working. Of course, CBT may not work for a specific patient, in which case ACT might be used to fill in any gaps.

Because depression and the way one thinks about depression are different for every person, it can be difficult to determine whether ACT or CBT is better for it. On an individual basis, your therapist may be able to make this judgment for you.

Both techniques are evidence-backed and scientific in nature and show high effectiveness rates overall.

What To Expect From an ACT Therapy Session

A standard session of ACT therapy will typically consist of five stages of discussion:

  • Building a relationship with your therapist
  • Mental health exploration
  • Core values discussion
  • Action items
  • Commitment

Building a Relationship with Your Therapist

A commonality between most types of therapy is that building rapport with your therapist is an essential first step.

Discussing your problems with anyone requires that you trust that person. And while everything you say to your therapist (with certain legally required exceptions) is confidential, if you don't trust them, you won't open up the deepest parts of your psyche.

This is why the first portion of an ACT therapy session will be about getting to know your therapist as much as it is about your therapist getting to know you.

Mental Health Exploration

After building an initial rapport, your therapist will talk to you about your past experience with therapy and mental health services, as well as your current symptoms or concerns with your mental health.

This step establishes a foundation for the rest of the session, so it's important to be honest at this stage.

Core Values Discussion

Next, your therapist will try to find out what's truly important to you. Your core values will be invaluable tools for the later steps, so dig deep and focus on what truly matters to you.

This stage can also be used to define what your ideal self looks like, which can help your therapist determine the action items discussed in the next step.

Action Items

At this stage, your therapist will work collaboratively with you to define specific actions you can take to live life in a mentally healthier way.

Actions your therapist may recommend:

  • Focusing on the present moment
  • Practicing mindfulness skills
  • Accepting life transitions that are out of your control

Your therapist will give you more specific, evidence-based recommendations, so be sure to follow their guidance.


Commitment means putting the things you learned and the action items you made into your everyday life.

ACT seeks to give patients long-term relief, so ensuring that the skills and activities learned in the session can be translated into your lifestyle is an important step of the process.

Where To Find Therapy in The Austin Area: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Williamsburg Therapy Group commits itself to being the best therapy collective in Austin. Every member of our therapy staff has a doctoral degree and is committed to serving your mental health needs.

Schedule an appointment today for therapy in the Austin area. Feeling better may be closer than you think.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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