Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in Edinburgh

Welcome to Edinburgh Therapy Service, where I, Cristina, am here to guide you through your journey to emotional well-being. As a dedicated therapist, I specialize in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), offering you a compassionate and evidence-based approach to navigating life’s challenges. Let’s dive into what is ACT!

What is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy rooted in the foundations of traditional behavior therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). ACT’s essence revolves around the notion that psychological suffering is a common aspect of human experience, aligned with the workings of our minds, contrary to societal notions that happiness and contentment are the norm. Despite this, ACT remains optimistic, adhering to the belief that while everyone encounters distressing emotions and thoughts, it is possible to cultivate a meaningful and purposeful life alongside acknowledging psychological pain.


The approach acknowledges the brain’s inclination to evade unpleasant emotions and thoughts. However, it recognizes that this avoidance and resistance prove counterproductive, leading to further unnecessary distress. ACT asserts that although pain is inevitable, the suffering intensified by avoidance can be averted by giving up the struggle with thoughts and emotions. By adopting an accepting stance towards these inner experiences, a method of dealing with them emerges, reducing their impact and facilitating focus on the creation of a purposeful life. Rather than expending energy on battling thoughts and emotions, this energy can be channeled into purposeful action.


Consider this analogy: visualize yourself swimming amidst a vast ocean during a tumultuous storm. Towering waves evoke fear and uncertainty. Spotting land at a distance, you strive to reach it, believing that it will stop the fear. Yet, the tempest’s strength pushes you back each time you approach the shore. Efforts become futile, leaving you drained not only by the original fear but also by frustration, panic, hopelessness, sadness, and desperation.


Now, envision an alternative: instead of battling the storm, you find an anchored buoy. Clinging to this anchor, you weather the storm. Fear and fearful thoughts persist, but you no longer contest nature, thereby avoiding additional suffering. Much like that buoy becomes a stabilizing force amidst the stormy sea, ACT serves as your anchor, offering support as you navigate the complex waves of your emotions and experiences. Just as the buoy helps you ride out the tempest without getting swept away, ACT equips you with practical tools to navigate your emotional storms skillfully. It’s about dealing with your thoughts and feelings without being overwhelmed by them, and using this newfound perspective to guide your actions towards a more meaningful and purposeful life.


ACT also champions living by one’s values and taking committed actions. By identifying what holds importance in life, understanding its meaning, and clarifying the desired self, a guiding path unfolds. In this manner, the pursuit of a rich, meaningful existence persists amidst emotional tempests. Life can’t always be happy, but it can always be meaningful.


ACT’s origins can be traced to the 1980s when psychologist Steven C. Hayes, a distinguished figure at the University of Nevada, laid the groundwork. Hayes’s journey, marked by panic attacks, shaped the foundation of ACT. This approach resonates with authenticity and empathy, offering a way to embrace life’s complexities while fostering growth and understanding.

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The ACT model and its six components

The model employed in ACT is grounded in the belief that psychological suffering is a natural part of the human experience. It offers a framework for individuals to navigate their emotions and thoughts more effectively while living a meaningful life.


At its core, the ACT model consists of six interconnected components that work together to cultivate psychological flexibility:


1. Cognitive defusion

The first aspect of ACT, cognitive defusion, revolves around changing our interaction with thoughts. It’s about understanding that thoughts aren’t absolute truths; they are mental events we can observe. This process allows us to step back from our thoughts, diminishing their influence over our actions.


2. Acceptance

Acceptance involves allowing our emotions, sensations, and thoughts without judgment or attempts to control them. It’s about acknowledging our entire spectrum of human experiences, even the uncomfortable ones. By embracing our emotions and letting them exist, we release ourselves from the struggle against them. Acceptance isn’t synonymous with resignation; rather, it fosters self-understanding and reduces emotional turmoil linked to resistance.


3. Present moment

Mindfulness is fundamental in ACT. It encourages us to be fully present in the current moment, heightening our awareness of internal and external surroundings. Practicing mindfulness lets us observe thoughts and emotions without becoming entangled in them. This leads to better emotional regulation and a deeper connection with the present, cultivating clarity and serenity.


4. Self-as-contex

Self-as-context involves recognizing that we aren’t solely defined by thoughts, emotions, or experiences. It’s about realizing that we observe these elements instead of being intrinsically tied to them. This aspect helps us gain perspective, enabling us to step outside our thoughts and emotions and view ourselves holistically.


5. Values

Values clarification entails identifying qualities, principles, and experiences that hold genuine significance. Aligning actions with core values propels us towards a more authentic life. This component guides us in making choices that resonate with our true selves, serving as a compass through challenges and uncertainties.


6. Committed action

Committed action encourages purposeful steps towards values, even in the face of discomfort. It’s about translating values into tangible actions that foster growth and a sense of accomplishment. Committed action overcomes inertia stemming from fear or avoidance, enabling engagement in meaningful activities.


By integrating these six components, acceptance and commitment therapy empowers individuals to nurture psychological flexibility – the ability to adapt and respond effectively to various situations and emotions. This approach equips us with a comprehensive toolkit for navigating life’s complexities while fostering resilience, authenticity, and enduring well-being.

How can ACT help

ACT can offer transformative benefits in various aspects:


  • Emotional regulation: Acceptance and commitment therapy provides strategies to manage and regulate emotions effectively. By accepting emotions without judgment and understanding their impermanent nature, individuals can respond to emotions more skillfully and avoid getting caught up in unproductive patterns of emotional avoidance or suppression.


  • Enhancing resilience: Through the development of psychological flexibility, ACT enhances resilience. Individuals become better equipped to cope with life’s challenges, adapting to stressors and setbacks while maintaining a sense of well-being and purpose.


  • Improving relationships: ACT fosters improved communication and empathy in relationships. By enhancing emotional regulation and cultivating mindfulness, individuals can respond to others with greater understanding and openness, leading to healthier interactions. Additionally, by encouraging committed action based on values, clients might start nurturing their relationships better.


  • Promoting self-awareness: Mindfulness practices in ACT encourage self-awareness and introspection. This heightened awareness of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors enables individuals to better understand themselves and make conscious choices aligned with their values.


  • Cultivating meaning and purpose: By clarifying personal values and committing to actions aligned with these values, this type of therapy helps individuals create a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. This alignment empowers individuals to pursue goals that resonate deeply with them.


  • Overcoming avoidance: Acceptance and commitment therapy addresses the tendency to avoid discomfort by teaching individuals to approach challenging situations rather than evade them. This approach enables individuals to confront fears and engage in actions that align with their values, leading to personal growth and fulfillment.


  • Stress management: Through mindfulness and acceptance practices, ACT enhances stress management skills. Individuals learn to stay present and respond to stressors with greater clarity and calmness, reducing the impact of stress on their overall well-being.


  • Boosting self-compassion: ACT promotes self-acceptance and self-compassion. By acknowledging imperfections and embracing oneself with kindness, individuals can cultivate a more positive self-image.


  • Creating lasting change: The combination of acceptance and committed action helps individuals create lasting behavioral change. By aligning actions with values and approaching challenges with openness, individuals can change unhelpful behavior patterns and engage in meaningful actions.


In essence, acceptance and commitment therapy empowers individuals to navigate life’s challenges with resilience, authenticity, and emotional well-being. By developing psychological flexibility and adopting mindful, values-based living, individuals can experience profound personal growth and a deeper connection with themselves and others.

What issues does ACT counselling help with? 

ACT can provide support for a wide range of psychological and emotional challenges. Some of the issues that ACT can effectively address include:

Anxiety disorders

Social anxiety


Stress management

‣ Chronic pain

Eating disorders and body image issues

Grief and loss

‣ Relationship issues


Work-related stress and burnout

Cancer patients and physical health

‣ General well-being

Examples of research showing ACT’s effectiveness

Forman, E. M., Herbert, J. D., Moitra, E., Yeomans, P. D., & Geller, P. A. (2007). A randomized controlled effectiveness trial of acceptance and commitment therapy and cognitive therapy for anxiety and depression. Behavior modification, 31(6), 772–799. 

Ong, C. W., Lee, E. B., Krafft, J., Terry, C. L., Barrett, T. S., Levin, M. E., & Twohig, M. P. (2019). A randomized controlled trial of acceptance and commitment therapy for clinical perfectionism. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 22, Article 100444. 

Dalrymple, K. L., & Herbert, J. D. (2007). Acceptance and commitment therapy for generalized social anxiety disorder: a pilot study. Behavior modification, 31(5), 543–568. 

Bahrami, S., & Asghari, F. (2017). A controlled trial of acceptance and commitment therapy for addiction severity in methamphetamine users: Preliminary study. Archives of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 19(2), 49–55. 

Brinkborg, H., Michanek, J., Hesser, H., & Berglund, G. (2011). Acceptance and commitment therapy for the treatment of stress among social workers: a randomized controlled trial. Behaviour research and therapy, 49(6-7), 389–398. 

Gibson Watt, T., Gillanders, D., Spiller, J. A., & Finucane, A. M. (2023). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for people with advanced progressive illness, their caregivers and staff involved in their care: A scoping review. Palliative medicine, 2692163231183101. Advance online publication. 

The Edinburgh Therapy Service is a psychotherapy and counseling practice based in Edinburgh, Scotland (United Kingdom). We offer therapy both in-person in Edinburgh and online, available in English and Spanish.

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Contact us for more information or to book your first appointment: [email protected]