What Is Acceptance & Commitment Therapy?

Chronic pain in children and teenagers can lead to severe disability. This is particularly true when kids give up activities because the pain overwhelms them.

A recent study has shown that children and teenagers living with chronic pain have experienced less pain and better functioning after being treated with Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT).

So what is it and where did it come from?

ACT is a development of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

“ACT commonly employs six core principles to help clients develop psychological flexibility:

  • Cognitive defusion: Learning to perceive thoughts, images, emotions, and memories as what they are, not what they appear to be.
  • Acceptance: Allowing them to come and go without struggling with them.
  • Contact with the present moment: Awareness to the here and now experience with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
  • Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is changing.
  • Values: Discovering what is most important to one’s true self.
  • Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.   Source:Wikipedia

The study was conducted by Karolinska Institutet, one of Europe’s largest medical universities and Sweden´s largest centre for medical training and research.

Rikard Wicksell who conducted the study is a researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska and psychologist at the Pain Unit at the Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital in Solna.

In his study of  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, the patient (children and teenagers in chronic pain) and the therapist together define long-term goals and the consequences of letting the pain control and restrict the patient in his or her daily life.

A central theme in ACT is to help the individual to identify valued life directions and start acting in those directions.

The results showed that the kids experienced pain less and were able to function better when focusing on a positive direction for their lives.

You can read more about the ACT in this 2007 paper published in Paediatric Pain Letter. You can also look at an abstract of the 2009 paper Exposure and acceptance in patients with chronic debilitating pain : A behavior therapy model to improve functioning and quality of life on the Karolinska Institutet website.

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