If you are struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) and are seeking help, you may be intimidated by the idea of starting therapy in a treatment program. Talking to a stranger about your feelings can seem frightening and overwhelming at first, but knowing what to expect can help ease the anxiety. Many different types of therapy could be used in your treatment program. The goal of many of these treatment modalities is to change your behavior and the way you think. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is one modality that is used in addiction treatment.

What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

ACT is a form of behavioral therapy that combines mindfulness skills with the practice of self-acceptance. It is a type of therapy that encourages individuals to accept their thoughts and feelings. In ACT, clients practice noticing and observing their thoughts and feelings without passing judgment. ACT encourages individuals to face their problems head-on rather than try to avoid stressful situations in their lives. The ultimate goal is to help individuals release unhelpful thoughts and feelings and instead take action that will make their lives better.

What Can I Learn?

ACT is based on the concept that suffering is a natural and inevitable condition that all humans experience; it’s part of everyone’s life. Through ACT, individuals learn to stop avoiding, denying, and struggling with their inner emotions and instead accept that these deeper feelings are appropriate responses to certain situations. Part of the basis for ACT is that much of our emotional pain comes not only from the experience we went through but also from trying to ignore or struggle against our thoughts and emotions that arise as a result of negative experiences that we have gone through.

In addition, individuals will learn what some practitioners refer to as “psychological flexibility.” In ACT, psychological flexibility is described as being fully in the present and changing or continuing with behavior that is in keeping with their values.

What Does It Look Like?

According to an article published on Psychology Today’s website, ACT is based on six processes that help clients become more flexible in their view of themselves and their behavior. Each of these core processes is considered a positive psychological skill:

  • Acceptance: Acknowledge and accept all your thoughts and emotions instead of trying to change, deny, or ignore your thoughts and feelings, even if they are painful
  • Cognitive defusion: Put some space between yourself and your thoughts and feelings; observe them; change your reactions
  • Being present: Be aware of what is happening now, both internally and in your surroundings
  • Self as context: Learn to see the self in context; find the part of you that can observe; you are more than your feelings
  • Values: Think about your priorities and what matters to you
  • Committed action: Take steps to make changes so that your behavior supports your values and will improve your life

How Does This Work?

According to the Psychology Today article mentioned above, “It is counterproductive to try to control painful emotions or psychological experiences; suppression of those feelings ultimately leads to more distress.” You may not even realize that by trying to control these emotions, you’re actually causing more to come to the surface. As you begin to change behavior that is not getting you any closer to what is actually important to you and stop trying to avoid painful emotions and experiences, your outlook on life can gradually change.

How Does ACT Aid in Addiction Recovery?

ACT is effective in addiction treatment. The inability to cope with negative thoughts and feelings can lead to SUD, as oftentimes, people turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate these negative feelings.

By strengthening the psychological flexibility of individuals struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, ACT helps them learn to accept and handle discomfort and pain without turning to substances to help ease their discomfort.

Using alcohol and drugs as a way to escape from painful thoughts and feelings is a time-honored solution. However, if people rely on drugs and alcohol to feel better too often, this can turn into SUD. When using ACT, individuals with SUD learn different strategies to cope with painful emotions and resist the cravings to use their substance of choice. After a person finishes treatment, these same strategies can help avoid them avoid relapse. These strategies are also helpful beyond their usefulness in attaining and maintaining sobriety. Using these techniques can help an individual figure out what is really important to them, and they can then work to create a life filled with purpose and meaning.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction that interferes with day-to-day life, it may be time to look into treatment. While it can be overwhelming at first, the realization that so many treatment options are available that can help should be comforting. At Bella Monte Recovery Center in Desert Hot Springs, California, we use acceptance and commitment therapy in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities to treat substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health issues. We use a holistic or “whole-person” approach to treatment, and we tailor an individualized treatment plan for each client in order to increase their chances for a successful recovery. Other treatment modalities that we offer include CBT, DBT, psychodrama, and experiential therapy. To learn more about what we have to offer at Bella Monte Recovery Center, call (800) 974-1938 and start your recovery journey today.