Glossary

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  • Acceptance

    Acceptance means opening up and making room for painful feelings, sensations, urges, and emotions. We drop the struggle with them, give them some breathing space, and allow them to be as they are. Instead of fighting them, resisting them, running from them, or getting overwhelmed by them, we open up to them and let them be. (Note: This doesn’t mean liking them or wanting them. It simply means making room for them!)

    SOURCE: Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

    Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has developed as a behavioral therapy to help people learn strategies to live life more in the present, more focused on important values and goals, and less focused on painful thoughts, feelings and experiences. ACT teaches people how to engage with and overcome painful thoughts and feelings through acceptance and mindfulness techniques, to develop self-compassion and flexibility, and to build life-enhancing patterns of behavior. ACT is not about overcoming pain or fighting emotions; it’s about embracing life and feeling everything it has to offer. It offers a way out of suffering by choosing to live a life based on what matters most. ACT has developed within a scientific tradition, and there continues to be a thriving research community that examines the basic science underlying ACT and the effectiveness of applying ACT techniques to numerous life problems such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, chronic pain, psychosis, eating problems, and weight management, just to name a few.

    SOURCE: Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. (n.d.). ACT for the public. Retrieved from https://contextualscience.org/act_for_the_public.

  • Committed Action

    Committed action means taking effective action, guided by our values. It’s all well and good to know our values, but it’s only via ongoing values-congruent action that life becomes rich, full, and meaningful. In other words, we won’t have much of a journey if we simply stare at the compass; our journey only happens when we move our arms and legs in our chosen direction. Values-guided action gives rise to a wide range of thoughts and feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant, both pleasurable and painful. So committed action means “doing what it takes” to live by our values even if that brings up pain and discomfort.

    SOURCE: Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

  • Contacting the Present Moment

    Contacting the present moment means being psychologically present: consciously connecting with and engaging in whatever is happening in this moment. Humans find it very hard to stay present. Like other humans, we know how easy it is to get caught up in our thoughts and lose touch with the world around us. We may spend a lot of time absorbed in thoughts about the past or the future. Or instead of being fully conscious of our experience, we may operate on automatic pilot, merely “going through the motions.” Contacting the present moment means flexibly bringing our awareness to either the physical world around us or the psychological world within us, or to both simultaneously. It also means consciously paying attention to our here-and-now experience instead of drifting off into our thoughts or operating on “automatic pilot.”

    SOURCE: Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

  • Defusion

    Defusion means learning to “step back” and separate or detach from our thoughts, images, and memories. (The full term is “cognitive defusion,” but usually we just call it “defusion.”) Instead of getting caught up in our thoughts or being pushed around by them, we let them come and go as if they were just cars driving past outside our house. We step back and watch our thinking instead of getting tangled up in it. We see our thoughts for what they are—nothing more or less than words or pictures. We hold them lightly instead of clutching them tightly.

    SOURCE: Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

  • Observing Self

    In everyday language, we talk about the “mind” without recognizing that there are two distinct elements to it: the thinking self and the observing self. We’re all very familiar with the thinking self: that part of us which is always thinking—generating thoughts, beliefs, memories, judgments, fantasies, plans, and so on. But most people are unfamiliar with the observing self: the aspect of us that is aware of whatever we’re thinking, feeling, sensing, or doing in any moment. Another term for it is “pure awareness.” In ACT, the technical term is self-as-context. For example, as you go through life, your body changes, your thoughts change, your feelings change, your roles change, but the “you” that’s able to notice or observe all those things never changes. It’s the same “you” that’s been there your whole life. With clients, we generally refer to it as “the observing self” rather than use the technical term “self-as-context.”

    SOURCE: Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

  • Psychological Flexibility

    Psychological flexibility is the ability to be in the present moment with full awareness and openness to our experience, and to take action guided by our values. Put more simply, it’s the ability to “be present, open up, and do what matters.” Technically speaking, the primary aim of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility. The greater our ability to be fully conscious, to be open to our experience, and to act on our values, the greater our quality of life because we can respond far more effectively to the problems and challenges life inevitably brings. Furthermore, through engaging fully in our life and allowing our values to guide us, we develop a sense of meaning and purpose, and we experience a sense of vitality.

    SOURCE: Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

  • Values

    Deep in your heart, what do you want your life to be about? What do you want to stand for? What you want to do with your brief time on this planet? What truly matters to you in the big
    picture? Values are desired qualities of ongoing action. In other words, they describe how we want to behave on an ongoing basis. Clarifying values is an essential step in creating a meaningful life. In ACT, we often refer to values as “chosen life directions.” We commonly compare values to a compass because they give us direction and guide our ongoing journey.

    SOURCE: Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.