by Bright Vista Counselling March 2023 | Counselling | Coaching | Mindfulness.
Counselling at Bright Vista.
The Principle of Acceptance with ACT Counselling;
Article 2 of 6.
As outlined in the first article of the series Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of talk therapy that focuses on increasing psychological flexibility by offering individuals a process for accepting their experiences and committing to actions that align with their values. ACT is based on six core principles, each of which is supported by extensive empirical research. The earlier article looked at the principle of being present. In this article, we will discuss the principle of acceptance, its utility for people seeking assistance through counselling and some of the evidence that supports it.
The second principle of ACT is acceptance, which involves embracing one's experiences and letting go of the struggle to change them. Recent research has shown that acceptance can improve well-being, reduce psychological distress, and increase emotional regulation (Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010; Hayes et al., 2004).
What is Acceptance in Counselling
The principle of acceptance is a key component of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which emphasizes accepting one's experiences rather than trying to change or control them. Acceptance involves acknowledging and allowing negative thoughts, emotions, and sensations to arise without trying to eliminate or avoid them. Instead of struggling with these experiences, individuals are encouraged to observe them with curiosity and compassion.
In order to understand acceptance and how it can be of use for people seeking assistance in counselling for daily life stressors, feelings of overwhelm and anxiety or feelings associated with depressed mood it is important to clarify what acceptance isn’t and the effect this non-accepting behaviour can have in exacerbating our problems and diminishing our daily experience of life and living.
The opposite of acceptance according to ACT is avoidance and suppression. Day to day this might look like trying to distract ones self from negative thoughts and emotions by pushing them away or bottling them up somehow. Often these avoidant strategies might feel right at the time and even seem to have an effect in the short-term. However, in the longer term there is a cost. The cost is that the uncomfortable situations reoccur. The immediate effect when these thought and feelings come back often involves a critical, measuring and judgemental internal dialog; along the lines of I should be able to control these problems, I should try harder ,or I should have done better last time. This pattern come with an intensity, demanding our attention and anergy. It's an internal dialogue that often leaves us feeling worse, and inadequate as we realise our earlier efforts have not “fixed” anything. These uncomfortable feelings add to our burden, and we then feel the need to increase our avoidant and controlling behaviours, in the hope of feeling better and an achieving different outcome "this time". This repeating patterns of suppression, control and avoidance require more of our time and energy for little relief and no long-term benefit. Often moving our lives in a direction away from where we want to go. Leaving us with that feeling of being stuck. A spiral of repeating behaviours that are not getting us what we want in our life, our relationships, or our work.
How much time and energy do we all use up each day worrying about past events, trying to get a different outcome for an event that has happened and can’t be changed, or to control the future that hasn’t happened yet; all the while missing out on what is actually happening in the present, with us as individuals, with our important people, and in our immediate environment? This is not a criticism; this is what we all do from time to time. The challenge we all face whether we are participating in ACT counselling or not is noticing what we are doing with our time and energy, and through the practice of acceptance make different choices and with small steps to move our lives in a direction that we want.
Learn to Flexibly Respond to Stress, Anxiety and Depression with Counselling
Day to day living is fast paced with many demands, where we may feel unable to deal easily and effectively with what is asked of us. These demands of our day to day can often feel unrelenting as tasks stack up our time slips by with no sense of relief or respite, leaving us with a feeling of being depleted stressed and anxious.
It is a very relatable feeling of the “daily grind” lurching from task to task, meeting to meeting, shops to school run. Whatever your day looks like the stressors of daily living can wear us down to the point where it feels like there is nothing else but more of the same.
It can be a very quick process to spiral down with the weight of our tasks, demands and general stress of daily life. In counselling at Bright Vista we can talk about the effect of stress in your life and explore processes for alleviate these feelings and find alternative ways of engaging with our day-to-day experience with the hope of feeling better with acceptance practices. Studies have found that individuals who are more accepting of their experiences tend to experience less stress and anxiety. For example, one study (Larsson et al., 2016) found that mindfulness-based stress reduction, which involves acceptance of present-moment experiences, led to reduced stress, and improved emotional regulation.
By utilising acceptance as a tool to help avoid the thinking traps of judging, measuring, and critiquing; based on our past (which we know cannot be changed) or our idealised future (which is yet to happen) we can learn skills to be in the present moment(there here and now). By pausing and noticing what we are doing in the present moment we can make space for a different choice; maybe something more in line with what's actually important for us now. By pausing and noticing the present moment for what it is we are able then to taking action, a small step to move in a direction that is more in line with who and what is important to us now. This can have the benefit of leading to greater emotional regulation, satisfaction and the formation of effective coping skills.
One example of acceptance-based practices for stress management is being mindful. An example is mindfulness meditation. This involves finding a comfortable space for a minute or so, accepting and observing your present-moment experiences, with a focus (for example noticing your breath), for a period of time (let's say 45-60 seconds), without judgment. Try it and after a minute see if you can notice any difference to how you were prior to practicing the exercise. Is there a calming and relaxing effect for you, does your body seem less tense, maybe a sense of being revitalised or a little less burdened by what was happening earlier? By practicing mindfulness regularly, individuals can learn to respond to stressful situations with greater acceptance and emotional regulation.
Acceptance as a Pathway to Successful Change Counselling
In addition to its effectiveness in treating specific psychological problem like stress, anxiety and depression, acceptance has also been shown to be beneficial in promoting general psychological well-being. For example, one study found that acceptance was associated with greater happiness and life satisfaction (Hayes et al., 2012). Another study showed that acceptance was associated with greater resilience and emotional intelligence (Bawa et al., 2013).
Overall, the evidence suggests that acceptance is a valuable approach for improving psychological well-being and reducing psychological distress. By accepting their experiences, individuals can reduce their resistance to negative thoughts and emotions and move towards greater psychological flexibility resilience and satisfaction.
At Bright Vista Counselling we practice ACT and offer clients tips, tools, and strategies you can use in your everyday life, for taking small steps in the direction you want your life to go. Learning simple but powerful skills to help reduce the impact of persistent unwanted thoughts, difficult emotions, uncomfortable body sensations and patterns of behaviour. ACT and specifically acceptance offers that when individuals accept their experiences, it affords them an opportunity to relate to them in a different way. Instead of seeing difficult thoughts and unpleasant emotions as a threat, individuals can view them as passing events that do not define them as a person. If this sounds interesting to you, call me on 0431 212 099 for a quick conversation about your day to day and how counselling with ACT could be useful for you.
Next in the series:  Defusion from thought.
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Suvak, M., Taft, C., Goodman, E., & Dutton, M. (2012). An investigation of the construct validity of the acceptance and action questionnaire–II in women with intimate partner violence. Psychological Assessment, 24(4), 894-904.