As I started my training in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), my world began to change. As I saw people’s lives transform in practice, I became more aware of my own core beliefs and the thoughts and behaviours I got stuck in when my own distress showed up. I gained a better understanding of myself, the context behind my struggles and discovered that I could develop more effective coping mechanisms that would improve my relationships and my experience of life in general.
Later in my career, I discovered acceptance and commitment therapy, commonly referred to as ACT. ACT can be considered a descendant of CBT, inspiring a refreshing approach to working with human distress and difficulty that steps away from the more diagnostic, ‘symptom’ focus that CBT can take. The main premise behind ACT is that accepting suffering and distress as an inevitable and even normal part of life can actually reduce distress itself, and that it is entirely possible to commit to living a meaningful, full life while navigating difficult, personal experiences.
These concepts made a lot of sense and were like a breath of fresh air to me. Over my career I had noticed two major difficulties that erode our mental health and wellbeing. Firstly, the commonly held belief that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions, and that we must do all we can to avoid experiencing the bad ones. And secondly, many of us suffer from a deep disconnection from ourselves. This leads us to experience self-doubt, anxiety, disconnection from others, the present moment and from the things in life that we value the most. This disconnect, combined with avoidance of distress and discomfort, can significantly reduce our quality of life and impact our ability to look after ourselves when we face small but distressing bumps in the road or devastating life events.
ACT provides simple, effective and meaningful ways to address our problems in life, helping us to accept distressing feelings, thoughts and sensations, while learning to show up for ourselves in a way that allows us to be able to successfully regulate our own emotions. When we don’t get so stuck in the perpetuating cycle of trying to avoid distress, we gain the ability to move our focus and efforts towards identifying and connecting into what we value most in life, including ourselves and our whānau.
I believe the practices and ideologies behind ACT should be incorporated into every aspect of our society, and no doubt are already part of many ancient and indigenous cultures. I still love CBT and consider it a great basis in starting to do some of that deep mahi we could all benefit from.
There are some simple, fun resources around that can introduce you to ACT and CBT. Take a look and discover what these approaches have to offer you!
Anna is a CBT therapist and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Anna works in practice for Tamaki Health and is the clinical lead for Just a Thought, a free digital CBT service offering online therapy courses.
Learn more about CBT
Just a Thought
Just a Thought provides free CBT resources and online CBT therapy courses.
Video explanation of CBT by Mind
An excellent video explaining the main concepts of CBT.
Free CBT resources on Psychology Tools
A range of great CBT resources including worksheets and informational guides.
Learn more about ACT
Act Mindfully website
A fantastic Australian website containing articles, free resources and access to online training
Positive Psychology website
Helpful information and resources on ACT
New Zealand Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Training
Fantastic ACT training and supervision, delivered in New Zealand
Harris, R (2006) Embracing your demons: An overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Article available at: https://www.actmindfully.com.au/upimages/Dr_Russ_Harris_-_A_Non-technical_Overview_of_ACT.pdf