Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has been shown to be more effective than many other therapies in managing substance use disorders. While some parts of this therapy can sound confusing, it begins with and focuses on mindfulness and accepting emotions without judging or resisting the feelings that come up. Many substance abuse treatment programs like Everlast Recovery Centers, now incorporate ACT into their treatment planning.
What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Listed on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, ACT uses mindfulness and behavioral therapy techniques to achieve results with many types of substance abuse and mental health disorders. ACT teaches people how to handle negative emotions so they can live a happier life.
People practicing ACT learn to accept all types of emotions, allowing themselves to experience them; this lets people adapt better to challenging situations. The program has six main parts:
The person learns to accept all emotions, understanding that none of them are bad and all of them will pass. The person does not act on these emotions but just accepts and feels them.
The language people use when talking about an emotion changes how they experience the emotion and the situation. ACT might teach a person who often thinks “I’m stupid” to switch the thought to “I’m having a thought about being stupid.”
ACT teaches people to focus on the present moment and experience feelings as they come. In ACT, people learn to be mindful of the world around them and practice acceptance. Sometimes letting the mind drift feels less stressful than staying in the moment, so mindfulness takes practice and patience.
People who practice ACT work on letting go of inflexible, unhelpful ideas they have about themselves. When they stop thinking of themselves in terms of these rigid self-concepts, people begin to work on understanding how they change based on the situation around them.
In ACT, values are not just ideas; it requires meaningful action to live these values. People take time to discover what they value most and what action they can take to live those values when they practice ACT. They learn to stop treating things they “should” do as values and live a life based on what matters most to them.
In this phase of ACT, people commit to making steady, meaningful progress toward their life goals. After all the other steps, only commitment can make sure people keep experiencing the therapy’s benefits.
How Do We Teach Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Because ACT requires the person undergoing therapy to make the choices and experience the emotions, treatment may include worksheets and assignments to track emotions and responses. Journaling also helps clients process their experiences or complete tasks their therapist has assigned.
People can only achieve the desired results from ACT by using the skills at all times, retraining the brain in new patterns. Those who participate in ACT spend a lot of time working on their skills and determining their values, both with a therapist and in their daily lives.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Addiction
People in active addiction often practice the opposite of mindfulness, trying to avoid the present moment with substances. After dealing with a substance use disorder for a long time, some people become very good at avoiding unpleasant feelings. When starting their recovery journey, people with a substance use disorder experience uncomfortable emotions along with physical symptoms. For people without the skills to process these emotions, substance use may be the only coping skill they have.
ACT has been demonstrated to be effective for many types of addiction, ranging from methamphetamine addiction to opiates and alcohol addiction. When the substances are taken away, ACT offers a road map to long-term recovery by helping our clients learn to cope with their emotions without the use of drugs or alcohol.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Residential Treatment
Even our clients who have never experienced an addictive behavior can struggle with accepting their feelings. As humans, we develop many strategies to avoid uncomfortable feelings, including spending too much time at work, refusing to talk about feelings in our relationships or telling ourselves to ignore them. For clients with a substance use disorder, this challenge becomes more significant.
Ways people might practice ACT in residential treatment include:
In individual and group therapy, our clients practice naming their emotions, accepting them, and letting themselves feel their feelings. Everlast’s residential program allows people to spend the time needed to work on this intensive therapy.
As evidence of the numerous benefits of ACT continues to grow, Everlast Recovery Centers is committed to offering this modality for substance abuse treatment. ACT does not prevent relapse but increases the chances that our clients will stay sober after treatment. At Everlast, our clients will develop the values taught in ACT before they leave our care. They can use these to develop specific actions to move along their recovery journey. Teaching the principles of ACT may be challenging, but once learned, these tools can benefit our clients for the rest of their lives.