The Benefits of ACT for Recovery After a Life-Changing Injury
If you have been through a serious injury or trauma, then you may have been advised to opt for the gold standard treatment for trauma, stress, anxiety, and depression—cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
You may not yet have heard of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), since it is a newer therapy than CBT. However, ACT is a scientifically backed therapy that has been used for over 30 years. Unlike CBT, ACT does not focus on helping you reframe your thoughts and beliefs from negative into positive (or evidence-based) ones. Rather, its goal is mindfulness acceptance of difficult or uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and situations. Like CBT, it can be a key tool during recovery after a life-changing injury.
What Is the Central Tenet of ACT?
ACT is based on a psychological concept called Relational Frame Theory (RFT). The latter explores the ability that people have to understand the relationship between things. For instance, we know that even though watermelon, bananas, and kiwis fruits are all different, they are all fruits. This is helpful when it comes to analyzing objective things, but it can get us into trouble when it affects our emotions. Essentially, we can sometimes create associations between events that are not necessarily true. When we encounter a traumatic event such as an injury, it can impact the way we approach the rest of our lives.
The Six Core Values of ACT
ACT is based on six core values. The first is acceptance of challenging or painful thoughts. The second is cognitive diffusion (understanding that our thoughts are NOT facts), The third is mindfulness or being aware of the present moment. The fourth is “self as concept”—meaning we are more than what we think, feel, or experience. The fifth is values—exploring the things you value in life, so you can lead an authentic one. The sixth is committed action—agreeing to pursue a path that will enable you to live in accordance with your values and find meaning.
Getting Unstuck With ACT
After a life-changing injury, there are so many objective, difficult, yet necessary things you need to get done. Say you have been through a car accident, and you have an array of actions to complete. These can include finding a medical team, deciding on a rehabilitation program, choosing a therapist, and finding a lawyer specialized in car accidents. In fact, some of the most practical things you need to get done—including obtaining compensation from a person or organization that has caused your injury—are the ones you may feel least like doing. This may be because you may have PTSD, depression, or anxiety, caused by your experience. Therapies like CBT and ACT can help get you out of a rut, so you can check the items on your To Do list. ACT in particular can help you obtain a healthy distance from the thoughts and emotions that are bringing you down.
An ACT Worksheet
If you are interested in ACT, it is always a good idea to see a therapist, who can determine whether this therapy (or another gold standard therapy such as CBT) is best for you. You can also try this simple activity, which can give you a better idea of what ACT is about. This activity is called the Five Senses Worksheet. It invites you to: 1. Notice five things you see. 2. Shift your awareness to four things you can feel. 3. Shift your awareness to three things you can hear. 2. Identify two things you can smell. 1. Focus on one thing you can taste right now. Do this exercise when you are over-identifying with a thought or emotion throughout the day.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be a game-changer when it comes to healing after a life-changing injury. Unlike CBT, ACT does not ask you to reframe difficult thoughts or emotions. Instead, it embraces mindfulness acceptance and encourages you to redirect your mind to the present moment. If it sounds interesting, see a therapist and inquire whether it is an ideal approach for you.