Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)? In short, this therapy asks us to change the relationship we have with our thoughts, emotions, urges and memories. Instead of being hooked to them and following them around as though they are strict rules, we can step back and allow them to exist without judgement. Our mind doesn’t always act in our best interest and this is why our minds try to problem solve our internal struggles in the same way as they react to the external world such as fixing a broken engine or broken sink or sewing a pair of pants. Unfortunately, our internal difficulties don’t work like that. The more we try to control, dwell, avoid and fight, the more we experience it. For example, the more we dwell on the anxiety of not sleeping, the worse the anxiety is; or the more we think about our past mistakes, the more we become depressed.

Instead, we make room for our tough emotions, we loosen our grip on our negative and unhelpful thoughts and memories. We do this in order to follow the value-guided goals that lead to the fulfilling life that we desire. It asks such questions as, “What really matters, deep in your heart?”

Why would someone see an Acceptance and Commitment Therapist?

This approach has been designed to help a wide range of issues. This includes anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, eating disorders, addiction and for people who are just looking for a better quality of life. In ACT, the mission is not focused on getting rid of psychological pain, however, it is great if it does and it often does happen. But the real aim is for us to make room for healthier thoughts by allowing the painful ones to exist. The more we focus on getting rid of them, the more we have them. It is here where we can start to let go of the the tug-of-war rope and stop identifying with our suffering.

What would an ACT session look like if someone hasn’t attended before?

There are various ways an ACT session can be structured. However, the four main components include defusion and acceptance (open up), being present (be here now), self-as-context (pure awareness), and values and committed action (do what it takes). These four components are fluid in nature and aren’t fixed in any way. It really depends on what the individual’s needs are in the moment. With that said, it is recommended that each session starts with a mindfulness exercise, review of previous sessions, engage in the main interventions, and discuss any “homework.”

Who uses ACT at Safe Harbour?

Chris Haney, Clinical Social Worker/Therapist uses Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Chris Haney

Clinical Social Worker/Therapist

How does ACT work? What is the science underlying the process?

To start, we have to first look at Relational Framing Theory (RFT), which is the theoretical underpinning of ACT.

The reasons why ACT recommends we drop the struggle with our feelings and thoughts is based on research conducted in RFT. It has been found that a large portion of our psychological pain is actually derived from the way humans think. In short, it is based on something called “relational frames.” This is essentially the ability to arbitrarily connect one event with another. There doesn’t necessarily have to be any rhyme or reason for these connections, as long as our mind thinks it’s similar. Obviously, it’s very important that we learn from our past mistakes in order to make better choices going forward; however, sometimes we relate things that don’t need to be connected. For example, we might relate our current difficulty finding employment with our critical teachers growing up. Or we might relate our fear of not being good enough with comparison to others in our community. These relations go on to form large networks that become the basis for our identities, world views, belief systems, etc.

So what does this all mean for ACT? Well, it means that we are fighting an uphill battle if we choose to dwell, control, or avoid these difficult thoughts and feelings. Our minds are neither our friend nor our enemy; it will always try to problem solve its way out of difficult situations and relate things to one another. This can leave us vulnerable if we randomly hook ourselves to thoughts that lead us to unhealthy places. Instead, we need to allow those thoughts to come and go and to follow the ones that lead us in the right direction.


For ACT, there are 100s of published peer reviewed articles supporting its principles.

For meta-analysis supporting its use for various issues,

For a list of random control studies conducted on ACT from 1986 to present, visit

Who developed the protocol for ACT?

Steven C. Hayes is the creator of ACT.

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