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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a contemporary psychotherapeutic approach that focuses on helping individuals develop psychological flexibility, cope with distress, and create meaningful lives.

Developed in the late 20th century by Steven C. Hayes and his colleagues, ACT combines elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with mindfulness-based strategies. It has gained significant recognition in the field of psychology and psychotherapy for its unique approach to addressing psychological issues. 

ACT sessions help people practice acceptance by viewing their experiences without judgment or attachment. In doing so, you can achieve a greater sense of freedom and well-being in acceptance and commitment therapy.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

What Is ACT?

Compared to other therapies like CBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), ACT places less emphasis on symptom reduction and more on helping individuals accept their experiences and commit to positive, values-driven actions. It differs from CBT in that it doesn’t seek to challenge or change thoughts but instead aims to change one’s relationship with thoughts. In contrast to DBT, ACT does not focus exclusively on emotion regulation but rather on a broader range of psychological flexibility skills. 

ACT is particularly effective for conditions like anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and substance abuse, where the emphasis on acceptance, mindfulness, and values-based living can be transformative. Its holistic approach makes it a valuable addition to the toolkit of mental health professionals seeking to help clients lead more fulfilling lives. 

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Core Principles of ACT

ACT is built upon six core principles: 

  • Cognitive Defusion: Helping individuals detach from unhelpful thoughts and view them as mental events rather than facts. 
  • Acceptance: Encouraging individuals to accept their thoughts and emotions without judgment. 
  • Present Moment Awareness: Promoting mindfulness to foster awareness of the present moment. 
  • Self as Context: Encouraging a transcendent sense of self, distinct from one’s thoughts and emotions. 
  • Values Clarification: Identifying and aligning with one’s core values to guide behavior. 
  • Committed Action: Encouraging individuals to take meaningful actions in line with their values, even in the face of discomfort. 

What Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Treat?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a versatile therapeutic approach that has shown effectiveness in treating a wide range of mental health conditions. It is particularly valuable for individuals who may not fully respond to traditional cognitive-behavioral approaches.

Below are several mental health conditions that ACT is commonly used to treat: 

The Effectiveness of ACT

It’s important to note that the effectiveness of ACT can vary from person to person and condition to condition. While it is considered a transdiagnostic approach, meaning it can be applied across various mental health conditions, it may work better for some individuals or conditions compared to others. It tends to be particularly effective when individuals are open to the concept of mindfulness, acceptance, and values-based action. Additionally, it is often used in combination with other therapeutic modalities or as part of a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the individual’s specific needs. Ultimately, the success of ACT depends on the client’s willingness to engage in the therapeutic process and apply its principles to their life. 

How Does ACT Work?

The process of undergoing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) typically begins when an individual is diagnosed with a mental health disorder or seeks help for emotional and psychological challenges. Here’s a step-by-step overview of how ACT works, from diagnosis to integration into inpatient and/or outpatient care: 

  • Diagnosis and Assessment: The journey often begins when an individual recognizes distressing symptoms or receives a formal diagnosis of a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder. At this point, they may seek professional help from a therapist or counselor. 
  • Initial Consultation: During the first meeting with a therapist, the client discusses their mental health concerns and treatment goals. The therapist assesses the severity of the condition and whether ACT is an appropriate treatment option. 
  • Psychoeducation: If ACT is deemed suitable, the therapist provides the client with an overview of the ACT framework. They explain the core principles, emphasizing acceptance of thoughts and emotions, mindfulness, values clarification, and committed action. 
  • Assessment of Values: The therapist helps the client identify their core values and what truly matters to them in life. This step lays the foundation for setting meaningful goals.
  • Mindfulness and Acceptance: Through various exercises and techniques, the therapist guides the client in developing mindfulness skills. This involves learning to observe thoughts and emotions without judgment and accepting them as transient mental events rather than facts. 
  • Experiential Exercises: ACT often involves experiential exercises that help clients practice mindfulness, defusion (detaching from thoughts), and acceptance. These exercises can include metaphorical storytelling, role-playing, and creative techniques. 
  • Values-Based Action: Clients work with their therapist to create a plan for taking action that aligns with their values. This may involve setting specific, achievable goals and implementing behavior changes. 
  • Integration into Care: Depending on the severity of the mental health condition, ACT can be integrated into various levels of care. In inpatient settings, it may be part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes medication management, group therapy, and individual counseling. In outpatient care, clients attend regular therapy sessions, often combined with group therapy or support groups. 
  • Ongoing Support: ACT is typically not a short-term intervention; it involves ongoing support and practice. Clients continue to work on mindfulness, values-based actions, and managing distress as they progress in their recovery. 

ACT’s integration into inpatient or outpatient care depends on the individual’s needs and the treatment team’s assessment. It is often used as a complementary approach alongside other therapeutic modalities, fostering a holistic and individualized treatment experience. 

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Tips for Successful ACT

Approach ACT with an open mind and a willingness to engage fully in the therapeutic process. Embrace the idea of accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

Incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Regular mindfulness exercises, even outside of therapy sessions, can enhance your ability to observe your thoughts and emotions objectively.

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Reflect on your core values and what truly matters to you. Identifying your values provides a roadmap for setting meaningful goals and making committed actions.

Understand that ACT is not a quick fix. It involves ongoing practice and self-discovery. Be patient with yourself as you navigate your journey towards psychological flexibility.

Actively engage with your therapist. Share your thoughts, feelings, and concerns openly, and work collaboratively to develop a treatment plan that aligns with your goals.

What To Expect in ACT

ACT is a dynamic, individualized therapy, and your experience may vary based on your unique circumstances and needs. By embracing these tips and maintaining a commitment to personal growth, you can make significant strides toward psychological flexibility and overall well-being through ACT. 

Here’s what to expect during treatment: 

Assessment and Goal Setting

Initial sessions may involve a thorough assessment of your mental health condition and goal setting. Your therapist will work with you to clarify your values and identify areas of your life where you’d like to make changes. 

Mindfulness Training

You’ll receive guidance on mindfulness practices to help you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. 

Defusion Techniques

You’ll learn techniques to “defuse” or detach from unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. 

Values-Based Action

Your therapist will help you create a plan for taking action in line with your values, encouraging you to step outside your comfort zone. 

ACT at South Coast Behavioral Health

At South Coast Behavioral Health, we recognize the profound impact that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can have on individuals seeking to overcome mental health challenges and lead more fulfilling lives. ACT is an integral part of our comprehensive treatment approach, designed to empower individuals on their journey to recovery. 

ACT is a highly effective therapeutic modality that emphasizes psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and values-based living. Our experienced and dedicated therapists use ACT principles to help clients accept their thoughts and emotions without judgment, cultivate mindfulness, and align their actions with their deeply held values. 

Here’s why seeking help from a professional therapist or treatment center like South Coast Behavioral Health is crucial when undergoing ACT: 

  • Expert Guidance: Our team of licensed therapists and mental health professionals are trained in ACT and have extensive experience in applying its principles effectively. They provide expert guidance, creating a safe and supportive environment for clients to explore and implement ACT strategies. 
  • Tailored Treatment Plans: ACT is a versatile therapy that can be personalized to address various mental health conditions. Our therapists work closely with clients to tailor treatment plans that align with their unique needs and goals. 
  • Structured Environment: Treatment centers like South Coast Behavioral Health offer a structured environment where clients can focus on their recovery without the distractions and stressors of daily life. 
  • Consistency and Accountability: Regular therapy sessions and ongoing support ensure that clients remain engaged and accountable in their ACT journey, fostering a deeper understanding and application of ACT principles. 
  • Comprehensive Care: Our treatment center offers a range of therapeutic modalities, including individual and group therapy, medication management, and holistic wellness programs, creating a comprehensive approach to mental health and recovery. 


Incorporating ACT into our treatment approach at South Coast Behavioral Health is part of our commitment to providing holistic and evidence-based care. We believe that professional guidance and support in the context of a treatment center can significantly enhance the effectiveness of ACT, enabling clients to achieve lasting positive changes in their mental health and overall well-being. Contact us today to start your journey to health and wellbeing.  


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ACT in Orange County, CA

If you are struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, ACT may be an effective treatment option for you. It is important to note that ACT requires active participation in order for it to be successful. If you think ACT might be right for you, please reach out to us today!

We provide ACT for men within our medical detox and residential treatment centers in Irvine, CA. 

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We offer ACT for women at our medical detox and residential treatment centers in Huntington Beach, CA. 

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We provide ACT for men within our residential inpatient facility in Costa Mesa, CA. 

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We provide ACT during our PHP and IOP programs in Newport Beach, CA. 

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