Page title background

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance is a crucial part of the addiction recovery process. That said, accepting our realities and taking the necessary steps to a substance-free life can be challenging. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can guide you in this process. As you develop more compassion toward yourself and your emotions, you can begin the healing process and take positive action in recovery. 

What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a type of psychotherapy based on the idea that psychological suffering is caused by the struggle to control or avoid unwanted thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In ACT, individuals learn to accept their thoughts and emotions, even if they are uncomfortable or painful, and focus on living a meaningful and fulfilling life in line with their values.

ACT might include other therapeutic approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and mindfulness-based relapse prevention. The guiding principles of ACT include the following:

  1. Acceptance: Rather than fighting your feelings or thoughts about distressing situations, ACT asks you to view them and yourself without judgment. It’s a similar concept used in mindfulness-based therapies and crucial to hone before you can make meaningful changes.
  2. Cognitive defusion: This step involves changing how you see or interact with your thoughts to lessen the negative aspects. Rather than trying to stop thinking about the destructive thought, ACT shows people that a thought is just a thought and doesn’t have to carry any negative impact. They can allow the thought to pass through them without harm. 
  3. Mindfulness: Staying present and in the moment can help you gain a greater sense of self and experiences without judgment. ACT teaches patients how to be in touch with all that happens in their minds and bodies to establish a harmonious balance between values and behaviors.
  4. Observing the self: This principle involves learning to consciously observe, feel and process your thoughts and feelings without attaching your identity or self-value to them.
  5. Values: At this stage, patients choose qualities and values within themselves that can help them move toward positive action.
  6. Committed action: This principle involves developing and choosing to take meaningful action in your life and setting concrete goals related to your selected values. 

These core principles can help you develop psychological flexibility and balance in how you think about yourself and your behaviors. 

How Acceptance And Commitment Therapy (ACT) Works When Used For Addiction

It can be difficult to accept ourselves and our emotions in recovery, which is why many treatment centers utilize acceptance and commitment therapy for addiction treatment. ACT can be used as a standalone therapy or combined with other evidence-based therapies. Here’s how it works:

Mindfulness Exercises

Mindfulness Exercises

When you enter treatment, licensed therapists will guide you through mindfulness exercises to help you stay grounded in the present. Rather than dwelling on past events or worrying about future events, ACT asks you to view these experiences and emotions without reacting harmfully. For instance, you might take a second to breathe when faced with stressors or try mindfulness meditation to help you view your feelings and triggers calmly. 

The goal is to be present with your current thoughts and feelings rather than excessively worrying about the past or future. Over time, you might embrace challenges head-on rather than avoid them.

Learning About Yourself

ACT views addiction as a chronic pattern of learned behavior and like other detrimental learned behaviors, it can be modified. In therapy, you’ll learn more about your urges and cravings to help you avoid acting on them. You’ll confront the present moment and alter your actions based on your goals and values set in ACT. Only when you gain insight into your feelings, thoughts, perspectives, and behaviors associated with substance use can you begin to make healthy changes.

By defusing the impact of negative emotions, ACT can help you reshape your thinking and treat various co-occurring conditions. For instance, many people have used acceptance and commitment therapy for gambling addiction, depression, anxiety, and other substance use disorders. 

Developing Coping Skills

Developing Coping Skills

Professionals will help you develop coping mechanisms tailored to your specific situation. For instance, people who experience traumatic flashbacks or addiction triggers from everyday situations can benefit from mindful behavior changes as they encourage you to stay grounded in the present. Healthy coping skills can include exercise, creating art, listening to music, or deep breathing exercises.

Individuals are also encouraged to identify their core values in therapy, such as honesty, compassion, or family, and to use these values as a guide for their behavior. By focusing on their values, individuals with addiction can develop a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives and make choices that align with their long-term goals and aspirations.

Practicing Self-Acceptance

ACT promotes self-compassion, which can help prevent relapse and improve your overall well-being. When you learn to accept the things that are out of your control and be less judgmental of your thoughts and experiences, you can commit to the actions that fulfill you. Over time, ACT can promote a more balanced view of yourself.

It’s common for patients to judge themselves harshly for their lack of change or negative feelings about themselves. Therapists can help you make subtle shifts when reflecting on your emotions to help you feel less antagonistic about your negative behavior. 

You’ll start by identifying negative thought patterns or behaviors about yourself, such as when you feel avoidant or fearful in recovery. Over time, you can learn that you don’t have to change your feelings to take action, nor do you need to fight your emotions to create a healthier life. Reframing your experiences can help you be less “at war” with your thoughts about yourself. 

The Benefits of ACT

Acceptance and commitment therapy can be effective for individuals struggling with addiction, especially when combined with other evidence-based treatments. While ACT is not a quick fix, requiring commitment and effort from the individual, the benefits of ACT can be significant.

Encourages Acceptance

Encourages Acceptance

One of the main benefits of ACT is that it promotes acceptance. Rather than trying to control or avoid unwanted thoughts and emotions, individuals are taught to accept them as a natural part of the human experience. This practice can be especially beneficial for people struggling with addiction, as they might have a history of turning to drugs or alcohol to numb their feelings or avoid difficult emotions. 

By learning to accept and tolerate challenging emotions, individuals with addiction can develop greater self-awareness and emotional regulation. They can learn to manage their cravings and urges without resorting to substance use, and they can create a greater sense of resilience.

Focuses on Values

ACT also focuses on identifying and living according to one’s values, which can be a powerful motivator for behavior change. In addiction treatment, this means helping individuals to identify their core values and use them as a guide for behavior. By aligning their actions with their values, individuals can build a sense of purpose and meaning, which can help them to stay focused on their recovery goals.

For example, individuals who value honesty may recognize that their addiction causes them to be dishonest with themselves and others. By focusing on this value, they can be more motivated to change their behavior and become more honest and authentic in their relationships.

Builds Mindfulness Skills

Builds Mindfulness Skills

ACT also emphasizes mindfulness, or being present in the moment without judgment. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with addiction, who may dwell on the past or worry about the future. Individuals can develop a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation by learning to be present in the moment.

For example, an individual struggling with a craving for drugs or alcohol may learn to use mindfulness techniques to become more aware of their thoughts and emotions in that moment. They may recognize that the urge is a passing sensation and that they can choose to respond to it in a way that is consistent with their values and long-term goals. 

Over time, you can become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and develop skills for managing them without turning to drugs or alcohol.

Encourages Action

ACT emphasizes taking action toward goals, even when uncomfortable or difficult. This can be helpful for individuals with addiction who may feel stuck or overwhelmed by their addiction, as it encourages them to take small steps toward recovery. For instance, you might attend a support group or reach out to a therapist. ACT can help you develop greater agency and control over your life. 

You can also develop a greater sense of self-efficacy or the belief in your ability to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals.

Addresses the Root Cause of Addiction

Addresses the Root Cause of Addiction

Many individuals with addiction have underlying thoughts and emotions that contribute to their addiction, such as anxiety, depression, or trauma. By identifying these underlying issues, individuals can develop more effective coping strategies and reduce their risk of relapse. This can be especially beneficial in the long term, as it can help individuals to maintain their recovery and avoid future addiction-related problems.

For instance, maybe a traumatic experience has contributed to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. While it’s common for people to turn to substances to numb these feelings or to avoid thoughts about the trauma, ACT encourages you to identify the triggers and take meaningful steps toward overcoming them. 

Promotes a Healthier Life

While ACT can help with addiction, it can also promote greater well-being in general. By learning new coping skills, staying mindful, and accepting yourself with compassion, you can improve your mood and treat symptoms of co-occurring conditions. You might also set healthy goals to improve your overall health, such as exercise or creative activities beneficial for the mind and body. 

ACT shows us that we can always take small steps to enrich our lives — even when specific aspects are out of our control. It helps you see that you are more than your condition or illness and that it’s possible to lead a fulfilling life in line with your personal values. This realization can be powerful enough to reduce symptoms and gain a better, healthier perspective on life.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Available at Gateway 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Available at Gateway 

At Gateway Foundation, we can design a treatment program aligning with your unique needs and recovery goals. We provide acceptance and commitment therapy in Chicago and other treatment approaches, such as medication-assisted treatment, to provide a comprehensive and practical approach to addiction treatment. 

Whether patients are completing residential or outpatient treatment, ACT can play a crucial role in recovery. At Gateway, you might combine ACT with the following effective treatment strategies: 

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis treatment focuses on addressing both substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be contributing to the addiction. This type of treatment recognizes that addiction and mental health disorders are often intertwined, and to treat one, you must also treat the other. 

Dual-diagnosis treatment can benefit individuals with addiction and various mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At Gateway Foundation, we provide dual diagnosis treatment to ensure patients receive comprehensive care to improve outcomes and reduce the risk of relapse. 

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a counseling technique used to draw out and boost a person’s motivation and commitment to change. It is an effective approach to addiction treatment. Often used to address a person’s ambivalence about changing their substance use behavior, MI techniques include exploring the reasons for continuing and wanting to change.

At Gateway, our counselors work to create a safe, non-judgmental environment where patients feel heard and respected. In MI sessions, you are encouraged to discuss your thoughts and feelings freely, acknowledging your strengths and efforts toward change and discussing your abilities to recover. 

Overall, motivational interviewing is a collaborative and patient-centered approach that empowers the person to take responsibility for their own change process. It can be an effective tool for addiction treatment.

Trauma-Informed Therapy

Trauma-informed therapy is a type of therapy that recognizes the impact of trauma on a person’s mental health and well-being. Trauma-informed therapy can be vital in addiction treatment, as many people struggling with addiction have experienced trauma in their lives. 

Trauma can contribute to the development of addiction and make it more difficult for a person to recover. You might experience feelings of shame, anxiety, and depression that make it difficult to move forward and heal. Trauma-informed therapy aims to help the person identify and address these underlying issues. 

At Gateway, we create a safe and supportive environment where you feel comfortable sharing experiences and emotions and feel understood and accepted. Trauma-informed therapy can help promote healing and recovery from addiction by addressing underlying issues and empowering the person.

Group Therapy

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a common form of addiction treatment that involves people with similar addiction issues meeting regularly with a trained therapist. Group therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for people struggling with addiction to share their experiences, feelings, and challenges with others who understand their struggles. 

It can be an effective tool for addiction treatment, providing a supportive community where you can learn from one another, gain insights into your own struggles and develop the skills and accountability necessary for recovery. Group therapy can also let you practice interpersonal skills, such as active listening, empathy and communication. These skills can be valuable for building healthy relationships and developing a support system.

Family Counseling

Family Counseling

Addiction can significantly impact families, often leading to issues such as conflict, stress, and trauma. At Gateway, we offer family counseling to help address these issues and promote healing and recovery for both the individual and their family members.

Family counseling can help identify and address dysfunctional family dynamics that may contribute to the individual’s addiction. By addressing these dynamics, families can work together to create a supportive and healthy environment for recovery. Counselors will educate and support family members and how they can best support their loved ones in healing. 

Overall, family counseling can help improve communication, promote healthy dialogue, and support healing in recovery. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an addiction treatment involving medication to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. MAT is often combined with other forms of therapy, such as counseling and behavioral therapy, to provide a comprehensive approach to addiction treatment. 

MAT typically involves using medications that help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. These medications may include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, among others. These medications are safe, and MAT is managed and adjusted by health professionals to help you feel more comfortable and better able to focus on recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions About Acceptance And Commitment Therapy 

At Gateway, we provide acceptance and commitment therapy in Illinois to help those struggling with addiction. Here are a few common questions we receive about this therapy:

1. How Successful Is ACT? 

How Successful Is ACT?

ACT can be an effective treatment for people with addiction. A 2020 study found that ACT was effective in reducing opioid use and improving the quality of life among individuals with opioid use disorder receiving medication-assisted treatment. The study found that those who received ACT had more significant reductions in opioid use and improved quality of life.

A 2022 study found that ACT and other mindfulness-based treatments were effective in reducing alcohol consumption and improving psychological flexibility among individuals with alcohol use disorder.

2. Who Can Benefit From ACT? 

While ACT can benefit anyone who puts in the effort and determination, it seems most effective for people who have set beliefs or expectations about their symptoms returning and thus need help dealing with persistent issues. patients can work toward understanding their cravings are a reality that can be controlled over time. 

3. How Is Act Different From Other Forms of Therapy?

How Is Act Different From Other Forms of Therapy?

ACT differs from other forms of therapy in that it focuses less on changing thoughts and feelings and more on developing acceptance, mindfulness, and values-based action. It emphasizes the importance of accepting difficult emotions and experiences rather than trying to eliminate them since it’s unrealistic to live a life free of difficult emotions and experiences.

4. What Happens During an ACT Session?

An ACT-informed therapist will help patients identify their values and explore how they might want to change. From there, they may accept their dissatisfaction and begin making changes to align their values and behaviors. Overall, ACT focuses on creating new, healthy relationships with painful thoughts or feelings to start the path of recovery. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Chicago

ACT is a promising approach to addiction treatment that has been effective for many people. By focusing on acceptance, values, mindfulness, action, and the root cause of addiction, individuals can develop the skills and strategies they need to achieve long-term recovery. At Gateway, we are with you for life. We offer ACT and various therapies and treatments to help you or a loved one struggling with substance use disorder.

To learn more about our programs or start acceptance and commitment therapy near you, contact us today. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Chicago