“Fight-or-Flight” describes a physiological response to stress. It is a survival mechanism that is meant to let us react in dangerous situations (Harvard, 2018). However, many people face all kinds of fight-or-flight inducing stress every day. Rather than running away from or fighting against daily stressors, counsellors can help individuals consider supportive methods for maintaining mental health and wellbeing.
Finding alternatives to and relief from our natural fight-or-flight response is important because this type of stress can have long-term effects on both physical and psychological health (Harvard, 2018). One method to consider when supporting someone through a stressful time or situation is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Keep reading to learn more about ACT.
What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Professionals who employ ACT with clients encourage individuals to pay attention to their feelings and accept them instead of fighting emotional reactions and psychological experiences (Ackerman, 2020). In other words, ACT is neither fight nor flight. One of the main ideas behind ACT is that suppression of tough emotions or difficult experiences can lead to more distress.
The commitment aspect of ACT refers to what is possible after a person gives attention to their difficult experiences. This part of ACT may be understood as an individual committing to “acts in service of chosen values while acknowledging and accepting the existence of contrary thoughts, rules, and emotions” (Zhang, 2018). If you are interested in counselling therapist school, then learning more about how this method is beneficial.
How Does ACT Work with Counsellor Therapist Training?
Professionals with counsellor therapist training are prepared to help clients identify and deal with blocks to personal wellness. Acceptance Commitment Therapy can directly contribute to this part of counselling because ACT-based interventions support individuals developing “the ability to contact the present moment more fully with acceptance and mindfulness” (Zhang, 2018).
The core processes involved in ACT are as follows: acceptance; cognitive defusion; being present; self as context; values; and committed action (Harris, 2011 in Ackerman, 2020). These processes provide a framework for individuals to accept their complex emotions, understand their experiences, and decide how to make sure their behaviours align with their values and goals through committed action.
For example, a client may experience stress at school because of several assignment deadlines in a short period of time. An ACT approach would have them accept that it is reasonable to experience stress because of deadlines. When the client tries to understand their experience rather than turn away from it, ACT then encourages them to commit to behaviours that are conducive to their goals. For example, they might commit to working hard because they value their education, while also making time for self-care because they also value their mental health and wellbeing.
What Are the Goals of ACT?
Rather than taking an approach that tries to avoid negative emotional situations, ACT can empower individuals to confront difficulty, accept it, and move forward (Ackerman, 2020). Crucially, Ackerman points out that “acceptance is not a goal of ACT, but a method of encouraging action that will lead to positive results,” which means that counsellors can use this type of therapy to work with individuals on personalized aims.
When an individual engages with ACT and is mindful of their psychological experiences, they can identify issues and work toward wellness. ACT-based counselling is meant to inspire individuals to understand that their emotions “are appropriate responses to certain situations that should not prevent them from moving forward in their lives” (Psychology Today).
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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. (No date). Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/therapy-types/acceptance-and-commitment-therapy
Ackerman. 2020. How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Work? Positive Psychology. Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/act-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy/
Understanding the stress response. 2018. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
Zhang, Chun-Qing, et al (2018). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Health Behaviour Change: A Contextually-Driven Approach. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02350/full