Comparing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Like all forms of health care interventions, psychology has many diverse specialties and variations. Perhaps the best-known approach is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. It has the most research done so far to support it. It also has a proven track record since the 1950s. As a result, CBT has essentially become “mainstream” psychotherapy — and this is a good thing. 

It is not, however, the only thing. 

Among those many diverse specialties and variations mentioned above is something called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT. Dating back to the early 1990s, ACT has sprung from the foundation of CBT and built on it. Therefore, it is only logical to compare and contrast each approach when it comes to your mental health needs.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is the most widely used practice for mental health disorders. It is typically short-term and aimed at a specific issue or problem. The focus of CBT includes:

  • A core tenet that our feelings and thoughts influence our actions
  • Development of coping strategies for problems that presently exist
  • Recognizing and challenging patterns in our beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts that are counterproductive
  • Changing the patterns that have impacted our lives for years or even decades
  • Helping patients identify what they cannot control (most of the world around them)
  • Helping patients focus on what they can control (how they interpret and react to what occurs in their daily life)

In CBT, you will engage in anywhere from 5 to 20 sessions of 30 or 60 minutes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Issues are identified and broken down into 5 categories: emotions, physical feelings, situations, thoughts, and actions. Together, you and your therapist will work on how these five areas are connected. For example, you may explore how your emotions about something can influence your thoughts and your physical sensations or condition.

Some of the many conditions commonly treated with CBT are:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • OCD
  • PTSD
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Panic disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep issues
  • Management of physical conditions like IBS and fibromyalgia

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

I’ve written a fair amount about ACT in recent posts. To sum up, it is a practice growing in popularity and gathering positive results. It does so by encouraging patients to use mindfulness to work towards 3 goals:

  • Accept and be mindful of an emotion
  • Choose the direction you wish to take
  • Take action to get you moving in that direction

The acceptance part dovetails with CBT by parsing out what is and isn’t under your control. Choosing a direction is motivation. Taking action is empowerment.

Some of the many conditions commonly treated with ACT are:

  • Social anxiety
  • OCD
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Workplace stress
  • Test anxiety
  • Substance abuse

Like CBT, ACT can be helpful when dealing with chronic physical conditions (e.g. diabetes).

ACT protocols can range from interventions that last minutes or hours to those that take place over many sessions. ACT can be used in:

  • Individual therapy sessions
  • Group therapy
  • Couples counseling
  • Workplace training
  • Classroom settings

What Approach is Right For You?

Remember, we’re not talking about competition or contest between CBT and ACT. Both approaches can often be powerful steps toward recovery. When it comes to choosing your own path forward, it helps to speak with a therapist who is skilled and experienced in both approaches. They will not push you in one direction to the other. Rather, your counselor will guide you through the specifics of how they use both practices. They will also outline how ACT or CBT would impact whatever problem or situation you wish to address. 

Reach out today for a free consultation to garner the crucial information you need to set off on your own personal journey of healing.