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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) For Grief

by edinburghtherapyservice
9 minutes read

ACT for grief

Grieving is a profound and universal human experience that accompanies loss. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the end of a significant relationship, or any major life change, grief can permeate every aspect of our being. Coping with grief is a unique journey for each person, and finding effective therapeutic approaches is crucial. In this blog post, we’ll explore how acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for grief can offer valuable insights and strategies for navigating the complex terrain of bereavement.

Understanding ACT therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a therapeutic approach rooted in the principles of mindfulness and acceptance. ACT encourages people to embrace their thoughts and feelings rather than suppressing or avoiding them. The central premise is to help people clarify their values and commit to actions aligned with those values, promoting a more meaningful and purpose-driven life.

ACT includes six core processes: cognitive defusion, acceptance, present moment awareness, self-as-context, values clarification, and committed action.

Here you can read more about ACT therapy.

ACT for grief

In grief, many individuals become entangled because they attempt to avoid the emotional turmoil. This avoidance creates resistance, an additional layer of suffering atop the pain of loss. These layers of suffering can dissipate when we accept the pain inherent in grief.

Imagine you live on the 20th floor of a building, and one day the elevator malfunctions, leaving you no choice but to climb the stairs. It’s an arduous and exhausting journey, but it’s the only way home. You accept the unpleasant sensations that come with it because there’s no alternative. Similarly, with grief, adopting an attitude of acceptance means realising that you can’t evade the pain and choosing to collaborate with what is inevitable. ACT equips you with the tools to achieve this. 


Six components of ACT

ACT incorporates six key components that can be particularly meaningful within the context of grief and bereavement:

Defusion from unhelpful thoughts: In ACT therapy, we learn to detach from unhelpful thoughts by allowing them to exist in the background, neither taking them as absolute truths nor engaging in judgments about their content. We merely let these thoughts come and go while concentrating on what truly matters to us.

Acceptance of emotions: It’s all about the attitude we have towards pain. When we view pain as normal, acceptable, and even as a catalyst for personal growth, its impact becomes manageable. Conversely, if we assign a negative meaning to the pain, it becomes a formidable struggle to bear. ACT teaches us how to drop the fight with our emotions and the feelings that loss and grief bring. By relinquishing the struggle, the initial pain remains, but our attitude towards it changes, making it significantly more manageable.  

Present moment awareness: Being fully present in the current moment helps us defuse from thoughts and prevents us from getting lost in the past or future. 

Observing thoughts: ACT emphasises that we are not our thoughts but rather the awareness capable of witnessing our thoughts. This perspective, rooted in Buddhism, may initially seem challenging to grasp but becomes clearer through ACT practice. 

Clarifying values: Identifying our core values and the kind of life we aspire to create serves as our compass. These values guide our actions and behaviours. 

Committed action: Once we have a clear understanding of our values, we can set goals and take committed actions that align with these values. This approach allows us to channel our energy into building a meaningful life on our terms, rather than expanding it on battling thoughts and emotions.


Benefits of ACT for grief

In the context of grief, ACT offers valuable benefits: 

Reframing your approach to pain: ACT guides you in embracing the emotions that accompany grief, teaching you to experience them fully and allow them to naturally come and go. Through this process, these emotions lose their dominating influence on your life, cease to be the central focus, and enable you to concentrate on meaningful actions. 

Reducing the influence of your thoughts: ACT equips you with techniques to detach from your thoughts, creating distance so they no longer wield overwhelming influence. You discover how to coexist with these thoughts, akin to a background radio that plays throughout the day, merely uttering words without dictating your actions. 

Regaining identity: It helps you regain a sense of identity and purpose, even amidst the pain of loss. 

Creating meaning: ACT infuses your life with meaning and guides how to live despite the grief. 

Staying committed: It offers a framework for aligning your actions with your values, even when faced with unpleasant emotions.

ACT empowers you to move forward, honouring the memory of your loved one and discovering reasons to continue, regardless of the pain that accompanies grief.

Further reading

Do you offer ACT therapy for grief near me?

Edinburgh Therapy Service offers both in-person ACT therapy for grief in Edinburgh (United Kingdom), and online therapy accessible worldwide. We specialise in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), along with cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), compassion-focused therapy (CFT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

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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.

Contact info

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