Acceptance And Commitment Therapy Explained On A Postage Stamp


In my counselling practice in Cheadle, Cheshire I use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with many of my clients.

Why?  It works!

In this post I will introduce you to the main concepts and explain how you can use them to move yourself towards a richer, more fulfilling life.

Can you write small?

If so you could probably explain ACT on the back of a postage stamp. (I have big scruffy handwriting so don’t ask me to do this!)

  • Accept difficult thoughts and feelings
  • Connect with what’s important in your life (your values)
  • Take action towards your values

There – simple isn’t it!?!  Yeah, I know it’s not and it is totally doable.  Let’s expand out a bit and jump from the postage stamp to a napkin.

How Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is different

One important difference that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has compared to other modalities of therapy is that there is no goal of symptom reduction (I can hear your gasp of horror from where I’m sitting!).

If you are suffering from anxiety (or whatever feeling fits in this gap) then I am going to invite you to connect with it rather than try to magic it away.

Notice, press pause, connect with what’s important and do something different.

The funny thing is that in ACT symptom reduction frequently happens.  Your anxiety will take care of itself as we work together and move you towards a rich fulfilling life.

This is just a byproduct of the work we do together rather than the goal.

This all sounds counter intuitive but it believe me, it works.  Often it’s your attempts to reduce the difficult thoughts and feelings you are experiencing that get you further and further into the mess you are in.

The Hexaflex

Acceptance And Commitment Therapy Wilmslow, Cheshire Simple Hexaflex

The hexaflex contains the key concepts of ACT (thanks to Russ Harris and his book Act Made Simple for the stuff in red).

Whilst explaining each of these sections further I am going to use the example of someone who is suffering from anxiety.

If your issue is anger, depression, stress, jealousy, OCD, intrusive thoughts or whatever then just substitute this instead, the theory applies to all private mental events (posh for: stuff our brain tells us).

Contact with the present moment.  Be Here Now.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy you will be encouraged to notice what is actually happening in the here and now around you.  

Human beings have an amazing capacity to get themselves lost in thoughts and feelings and live in their heads.

“I’ve experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened.” – Mark Twain

Actually all we have is now.  This.  This is your life happening.  This is it. The ability to connect with this will help you start seeing life differently.

Acceptance.  Open Up.

OK, so there’s you and there’s those difficult thoughts and feelings you are having.

With anxiety that might be feelings of scare and worry.

Thoughts like “I have to get better” or “I’m going to have a panic attack” may be coming into your head.

Imagine they are monsters and you are having an almighty tug of war with them.  Between you and the monsters there is a pit.

You are trying to pull them into the pit and they are trying to pull you in.  The harder you work to get rid of them the harder they pull back.  Sound exhausting?

what is acceptance and commitment Therapy?

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy I will be encouraging you to stop pulling and let go of the rope.

Notice the monster is still there but you are getting far less tired.  In time and with practise you will be able to hang out with the monster and he will seem a whole lot smaller than he once was.

Acceptance is about connecting with the feelings you are having fully as they are, not as your brain says they are.  

What’s it really like to feel anxious?  Let’s look at this feeling with curiosity.

My guess is that as you do that you will find it’s something that you can put up with if it means you can move to a rich fulfilling life.

Defusion.  Watch Your Thinking.

If you decide to come and work with me I will bore you silly with the following phrases (now there’s an incentive!).

You are not your thoughts

Your mind is not your friend

You will learn how to look at your thoughts rather than from your thoughts.

This means that you will not feel all tangled up with the “I need to get fixed quickly or something really bad will happen” thought which no doubt induces even more anxiety and frustration in you.

Instead you can see the thought for what it is,  more stuff your brain is telling you, and go about living your life.

This is called defusion in ACT and I will teach you several different ways you can do this. (Read this blog post to find out more).

Self as context.  Noticing.

If you are not your thoughts then who are you?  Well, you are you!

You have the ability to step out of the autopilot behaviour that probably got you in this pickle in the first place (and boy I can get myself into some right old fruity chutneys so you’re in very good company).

Pickles - Avoid
Pickles – Avoid

Pressing pause and noticing what’s happening is an amazing process and can move you out of the struggle you feel and into much more conscious productive ways of behaving.

Values.  Know What’s Important.

Connecting with your values and knowing what’s important in your life is one of the most fundamental principles in ACT.  

If you know where you are going in life and can have a deep connection with the things that matter to you then everything shifts.

In my experience when working with clients many people have forgotten this.

You may be so consumed with trying to get rid of those horrible thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing that you haven’t even noticed what’s important to you is slipping away.

So what I’m inviting you to do is swap the goal of getting rid of your anxiety, depression or anger with an intention to move towards connecting with your loved ones more, enjoying your hobbies, spending time with friends or whatever it is that’s important.

Sounds like a more enjoyable way to spend your time on this planet doesn’t it?

Committed action.  Do What Matters.

The final piece in this jigsaw.  Once you know what’s important we will work out ways in which you can do things that take you in that direction.  It may be that you need to take baby steps and that’s OK.

You can take your anxiety monster with you and notice those thoughts that are chattering away and as you start doing things differently you will notice that actually they aren’t so bad.

As you fully engage with your life you may even notice that often they don’t even show up at all but you will be only vaguely interested in that as you will be far too absorbed with living your rich fulfilling life.

Work with me.

Interested in working with me and seeing your monsters for what they really are?  Fancy living a rich fulfilling life?  You can book in with me using my booking form here.

Haves some questions first? Give me a call on 07966 390857 or use the contact form to get in touch.

Want to read a good book on ACT?

I wish I had shares in this book, I recommend it so often I would be rich beyond my wildest dreams … well, maybe not but get hold of The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.  It’s easy to read and talks about all the stuff above in much more detail.

Want to come on a course?

Ok, I know I’m really milking it now but why not come on my two day introduction to ACT?  

There are no entry requirements other than you are interested and you have got a brain to take some of the stuff in.  

I’m hoping you will find it super useful.  Read more about it here.

2 Comments

  1. Annette Boden on October 26, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    A brilliant description and a clear, easy to follow message. A good explanation of ACT.Thank you

    • Ian Tomlinson on October 28, 2015 at 9:17 am

      Thanks for your comment Annette, it’s very much appreciated!

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