Island Views

“Be present, open up, and do what matters.” (Harris, 2009)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) stems from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and is a direct approach to counselling and therapy.  The acronym “act” is about acting out behaviourally; this is the ACT in action. 

Steven Hayes created ACT in the 1980s.  Using his own real-life experience to develop the therapy, Hayes learned to stop running away from himself.  Hayes chose to accept himself and take action in line with his values. We do not just want to talk about what is important to us, we want to do what matters to us.  Rejecting avoidance and learning to fully accept ourselves facilitates opportunity to do the things that matter.  When we take action in line with what we value then we can begin living our best lives. 

ACT is a valuable tool for many types of mental illness or stress including:

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Hoarding
  • Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Life transitions
  • Stress management
  • Substance use
  • Chronic illness
  • Chronic pain
  • Phobias
  • Emotional dysregulation

Main Concepts of ACT

Contacting the Present Moment:  deliberately connecting with and engaging in whatever is happening in the current moment, bringing out awareness to the physical world around us or the psychological world within us.

Values: know what matters.  Deep in your heart, what do you want your life to be about?  What do you want to stand for?  Values describe how we want to behave on an ongoing basis.  Clarifying values is an essential step in creating meaningful life.

Committed Action: do what it takes.  Means taking effective action, guided by our values.  It is all well and good to know our values, but it is only by acting in line with our values that life becomes rich, full and meaningful.

Self-as-Context: pure awareness of what we are thinking, feeling, sensing or doing each moment.

Diffusion: watch your thinking.  Separating from your thinking.  Instead of getting fused with our thoughts or being pushed around by them, with diffusion we learn to see our thoughts for what they are, nothing more or less than words or pictures in our heads.

Acceptance: This is a key construct in ACT and means making room for painful feelings, sensations, urges, and emotions.  We drop the struggle/battle with them, give them breathing space, allow them to be as they are (note, this does not mean liking them or wanting them, but just accepting them).

The Basics

A: accept your thoughts and feelings, be aware of them without judging them

C: commit to a direction in line with your values

T: take action in line with your values

Becoming your own coach is part of the therapy process.  As a coach you learn to identify what problems require immediate ACTion and which require acceptance.  Part of learning how to coach ourselves is a shift in focus to becoming more psychologically flexible (able to be present, open up, and do what matters).

If you are interested in exploring ACT, try out a free consultation with one of our ACT therapists.

Written by Kathryn Atkinson


Harris, R. (2009). ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.