Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) often uses metaphors to help you reach your therapy goals. The aim of ACT is to help you create a rich, full, and meaningful life, while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. The use of metaphors can help you get unstuck from unproductive thoughts or unworkable strategies, and help you to be present, open, and engaged with life. Here are some metaphors, organized by category, to help you move closer towards your goals:

Therapy Process

Therapy process refers to what happens in therapy. It’s the work of therapy. It also refers to what happens in your relationship with your therapist: your interactions, patterns of relating, and the quality of your emotional connection with each other.


Mindfulness means being present in the here and now, fully aware of our experience as it is happening instead of being lost in our thoughts. It involves flexibly paying attention to our inner psychological world and the outer material world.

The Observing Self

Your observing self is that part of you that is aware of whatever you’re thinking, feeling, doing as you’re thinking, feeling, or doing it. It’s the part of you that can observe your thoughts, feelings, sensations as you are experiencing them. As you go through life, your body, thoughts, feelings, and roles all 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.

Control as the Problem

When we insist on trying to control things that can’t be controlled, then control may the problem, not the solution. Letting go our our strategies to control or avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings opens the door for us to practice new ways of reaching our goals.


Defusion means learning to “step back” and gain some psychological distance from your thoughts, images, and memories. You watch your thinking instead of getting tangled up in it. You see your thoughts for what they are: nothing more or less than words or pictures. You hold them lightly instead of clutching them tightly.

Willingness and Acceptance

Acceptance is the willingness to allow your thoughts and feelings to be as they are, regardless of whether they are pleasant or painful. It means opening up and making room for them, dropping the struggle with them, and letting them come and go as they naturally do.

Values and Commitment

Values are statements about what you want to be doing with your life, what you want and stand for, and how you want to behave on an ongoing basis. Commitment means taking effective and flexible action, guided and motivated by your values.

Other Metaphors