An extensive treatment plan for addiction should involve more than one type of therapy. It’s essential for counseling methods to meet people’s unique needs too. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one that benefits a majority of those who struggle with substance abuse. Understanding what it is and how it works can put people at ease when they begin substance abuse treatment programs.

What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Couple and therapist attempting acceptance and commitment therapy

As an action-oriented treatment, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a branch of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Researchers developed it to improve the rate of long-term recovery for mental health disorders.

They based it on relational frame theory, which is a school of research on human cognition and language. It suggests that rational skills could be ineffective at overcoming mental pain. ACT teaches people that mental pain is normal, and not that it promotes healthier living.

With this objective, the therapy doesn’t define unwanted emotions as problems or symptoms. Instead, it teaches people to stop denying, avoiding and struggling with their feelings. It also helps them recognize the vitality and fullness of life.

Then, people can accept that their emotions are appropriate in certain situations and move forward with their lives. The acceptance also allows them to change how they behave. Because of that, it’s a useful treatment method for a range of conditions. Some examples include anxiety, chronic pain, depression, eating disorders, psychosis, and substance abuse.

The Core Process

The general goal for this counseling method is to increase mental flexibility through several core processes. Each process involves a positive skill that supports the others.


In many situations, people want to erase painful events or the feelings that those events cause. Because of that, they initiate avoidant behaviors. However, trying to escape this emotional pain won’t work.

They can learn acceptance as an alternative. It involves actively embracing private emotions without changing how often they occur. For instance, people with anxiety learn to feel that emotion without defending against it.

Defusion and Deliteralization

This process in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy redefines experiencing and thinking as ongoing behaviors. It demonstrates that thoughts aren’t always realities. People also learn that direct experiences and feedback from life are more reliable ways to solve problems.

Therapists may sit next to people and present experiences and thoughts as objects to defuse. The goal is to reduce how believable the experiences and feelings are rather than change their frequency.

Present Situations

This next process in ACT encourages people to identify strategies that they’ve tried and determine if they’ve worked. This state of “creative hopelessness” allows them to make room for new approaches to develop. The goal is to experience events directly so that their actions are more flexible and consistent with their values. To achieve that, they learn how to describe experiences rather than judge them.

Self as Context

Self as context is an idea from which relational frame theory and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy grew. It teaches people to perceive their identities as separate from their experiences. Simplified, it involves getting in touch with their observing selves. This approach allows them to watch and experience situations.

Life Values

People’s values are qualities that they can’t obtain as objects but that give their lives meaning. The goal in ACT is to help individuals distinguish between goals and values. Then, they can set their values and establish a willingness to achieve related goals.


Finally, people make a commitment to stop fighting or denying their private feelings or past events. This process usually involves homework to achieve short- to long-term behavioral changes. Meanwhile, it opens the door for empowering behaviors to develop.

Reliable Addiction Recovery Services at Gateway Foundation Chicago Independence

Do you need help to overcome substance abuse or addiction? Gateway Foundation Chicago Independence is a nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment center that uses a range of addiction therapy services and treatment which include:

Gateway Foundation Chicago Independence also has Dual Diagnosis Enhanced Treatment certification to provide treatment for co-occurring mental disorders. Because of that, we can treat underlying mental health conditions that occur alongside addiction. Also, our active Recovery Community provides support that enhances the journey toward recovery.

Don’t wait any longer to get the help you need. Find out first hand how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can improve your quality of life. Call Gateway Foundation Chicago Independence to learn more at 773.234.1903.