Breaking down psychological treatments: Acceptance Commitment Therapy

17 August 2022

Speaking with a skilled psychologist plays an important role in moving forward from trauma and navigating mental health issues and other life hurdles. One common form of treatment is ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

At Mates4Mates, we understand just how challenging it can be to overcome injury and trauma. Using a range of evidence-based therapies, the team is here to support you when you need it most. 

ACT explained 

You may have heard the term ‘ACT’ before and wondered what it meant and how it can be beneficial for veterans and their families impacted by service.  

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and to understand ACT is to take its name literally, it is about utilising acceptance and fostering commitment. 

A common method of ACT is to support the individual to stop unhelpful focus on reducing or eliminating their symptoms or problems, but to instead focus on increasing or introducing actions that are helpful or valuable.  

An example of this may be a person who wants to speak up in social situations but is anxious and finds it almost impossible to do. With ACT, a clinician would work with that person to:

  1. Understand their anxiety,
  2. Come to an acceptance of it (not necessarily liking it but understanding what they can and cannot change about it),
  3. Support them to commit to helpful actions to increase speaking up (by creating small approachable goals), and
  4. Learn to manage/improve their relationship with anxiety rather than looking to eliminate anxiety. 

ACT is composed of several different psychological techniques, from clarifying values and making conscious choices based on these values, focusing on achievable goals, to defusing from thoughts, however, a central component of ACT is to understand that while you cannot always control all your thoughts, you can learn to manage them, and you can therefore start to choose helpful actions over unhelpful ones.  

Benefits of ACT for veterans and family members 

The user-friendliness of ACT is a benefit for veteran clients, in the sense that you can practice ACT by leveraging things you value (interests, hobbies) against difficulties (e.g., anxiety).  

In practical terms, this could involve a veteran going to the gym to maintain their fitness (value) to manage their stresses (difficulty).  

Generally, people already have some idea of what is important to them and what they value, however, they may not follow-through on these. This can be due to a number of reasons and at times may result from additional challenges they are navigating.  

ACT can support a person to learn to manage their issues in the short- and long-term rather than learning to eliminate an issue in the short-term while not being aware of future issues. 

Another prime example of this is anger management and road rage. 

ACT may teach a person that even though they can get cut off in traffic and have the option of trying to catch-up to the other person and get upset with them, this may only feel good in the short-term and it may be ultimately unhelpful in the long-term.  

Rather, ACT would encourage the person to acknowledge the unpleasant situation, to allow themselves to feel the emotion, and support them to choose to reconnect/re-engage with what matters (perhaps getting home safely and catching up with family at the end of the drive). 

Reaching out for support 

ACT is just one of various forms of psychological, evidence-based treatment that Mates4Mates provide. 

If you’re a veteran or family member and want to find out more about seeing a psychologist at Mates4Mates, reach out to us on 1300 4 MATES for a confidential chat. 

To book an appointment, you will need a Medicare or DVA referral from your GP. You do not need to be an inducted Mate to access psychological services. 

Alternatively, talk to a trusted General Practitioner about your health concerns or for 24-hour crisis-support phone Open Arms on 1800 011 046. If it’s an emergency, phone 000. 

Written by Marc MacDonald, Mates4Mates Psychologist 

  • Mental health
  • Veterans
  • Partners and families

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