You might be familiar with the idea that your thoughts can significantly influence your feelings and behaviors. Perhaps you've heard of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - a widely-used psychological treatment that helps you identify and change unhelpful thought patterns. But have you heard of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)? It's a slightly different approach that encourages you to accept your thoughts and feelings without judgment, and instead focus on living a life that aligns with your values.
While these therapies might seem to take different paths, they can actually work together beautifully to support your mental health. Think of it as a two-pronged approach: while CBT can help you manage the thoughts that cause distress, ACT can help you find peace with thoughts and feelings that might be harder to change.
The Power of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps us to see how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interact. When we experience distressing situations, we may start to develop negative thought patterns. Over time, these patterns can become automatic and deeply ingrained, causing us to feel and behave in ways that bring us down.
For example, let's say you've been feeling stressed at work lately. Your workload has increased, and you're struggling to keep up. The thought "I can't cope with this" might pop into your head. This thought could make you feel anxious and overwhelmed, leading you to procrastinate, which in turn makes you even more stressed - it's a vicious cycle.
CBT helps break this cycle by challenging these negative thoughts. Your therapist might ask you to question whether the thought "I can't cope with this" is accurate. Maybe you've coped with challenging situations before, or perhaps there are resources available to help you manage your workload. By challenging these thoughts, you can start to change your feelings and behaviors.
The Role of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
While CBT is excellent at tackling unhelpful thoughts, it's not always possible (or even necessary) to change every negative thought we have. This is where ACT can help.
ACT suggests that struggling against distressing thoughts and feelings can sometimes make them more powerful. Instead, it encourages us to accept these experiences without judgment. It's not about giving up or surrendering, but about reducing the struggle with these thoughts and feelings, and redirecting our energy towards actions that align with our values.
For instance, suppose you're feeling anxious about a presentation at work. Instead of trying to eliminate your anxiety (which could be difficult), ACT would suggest accepting that you're feeling anxious, and focusing on what you can do - like preparing thoroughly, and reminding yourself that it's natural to feel nervous before a presentation.
Combining CBT and ACT
You might be wondering how these two approaches can work together. After all, one is about changing your thoughts, and the other is about accepting them. Well, the beauty of these therapies is that they can complement each other in unique and beneficial ways.
For example, you might use CBT techniques to challenge the thought "I'm going to mess up this presentation," and replace it with a more balanced thought like, "I've prepared well, and I can only do my best." At the same time, you might use ACT to accept the feelings of nervousness you're experiencing, and focus on actions that align with your values - like doing the best job you can, and being authentic in your presentation.
In this way, combining CBT and ACT can help you manage your thoughts and feelings in a more flexible, adaptable way.
Balancing Change and Acceptance
One of the most powerful aspects of combining CBT and ACT is the balance between change and acceptance. CBT encourages us to challenge and change unhelpful thoughts, while ACT encourages us to accept those feelings and thoughts that we can't change or that it's unhelpful to change. This dual approach can help us navigate life's ups and downs with more resilience.
Imagine you're going through a difficult breakup. You might have thoughts like "I'll never find love again" that could be addressed with CBT techniques. Your therapist could help you challenge this belief and look at the evidence that contradicts it.
On the other hand, you're also likely to experience feelings of sadness and loss. It's natural to feel this way after a breakup, and trying to change or avoid these feelings might only make them stronger. This is where ACT could come in, encouraging you to make space for these feelings and accept them as a natural response to your situation.
By balancing change and acceptance, you can address unhelpful thoughts while also acknowledging and making space for your feelings. This can help you navigate challenging situations in a healthier way.
Living a Values-Driven Life
Another significant benefit of combining CBT and ACT comes from ACT's emphasis on values. In ACT, a lot of focus is put on identifying what's truly important to you - your values - and taking actions that align with these values.
This approach can give you a sense of direction and purpose, even when you're facing difficult thoughts and feelings. For instance, if one of your values is being a caring, supportive friend, you might choose to reach out to a friend even when you're feeling down yourself.
CBT can work alongside this by helping you manage any unhelpful thoughts that might get in the way. For instance, you might have thoughts like "I'm too down to be a good friend right now." CBT could help you challenge this thought, perhaps by reminding you of times when you've been supportive even when you were feeling low.
The Journey to Better Mental Health
So, can combining CBT and ACT provide superior results in therapy? The answer is, quite possibly, yes. Of course, everyone is unique, and different approaches will work for different people. But the combination of CBT and ACT offers a balanced, flexible approach that can be tailored to your individual needs.
Remember, the journey to better mental health isn't about eliminating all negative thoughts and feelings - that's an impossible and unnecessary goal. It's about learning to manage your thoughts and feelings in healthier ways, and living a life that aligns with your values. By combining the power of CBT and ACT, you can take significant steps on this journey.
Whether you're struggling with a particular issue, or you simply want to boost your mental wellbeing, consider reaching out to a therapist who uses CBT and ACT. You might find that this combination of approaches helps you navigate life's challenges with more resilience, acceptance, and personal growth.
And remember, while it can be tough to reach out for help, taking that step can be a powerful act of self-care. You're worth it.