Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is a growing practice used to treat patients with Obsessive-compulsive disorder, otherwise known as OCD. The effectiveness of ACT for OCD comes from a combination of mindfulness and behavioural techniques used to reduce symptoms.
This article will dive into ACT treatment for OCD and the benefits you can gain from a treatment plan that utilizes the willingness and growth that comes with acceptance and commitment therapy.
What is ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy)?
Acceptance and commitment therapy is based on a combination of traditional behaviour and cognitive behavioural therapy. Patients are taught to be action-oriented and encouraged to make necessary behavioural changes, regardless of their feelings towards them.
What are the goals of ACT?
The therapist’s goal is to teach clients that their feelings towards hardships are normal and appropriate reactions to external or internal stimuli. ACT for OCD or other disorders is built upon acceptance and helping clients cope with the difficulties and struggles that are present in life. It encourages mindfulness skills as the right tools and the most effective way of handling our emotions.
What does ACT do?
ACT is used to increase psychological flexibility and aid clients in understanding their emotions more healthily. Life is not black and white but forces people to overcome challenges and deal with their feelings. ACT provides the tools necessary to remove unwanted thoughts and make room for positivity and acceptance.
How does acceptance and commitment therapy for OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) work?
Acceptance and commitment therapy follows six core steps that help clients develop psychological control and flexibility over their emotions and behaviour.
These steps include:
- Acceptance: learning to embrace your emotions and thoughts.
- Cognitive Defusion: observing thoughts without judgment.
- Being Present: experiencing events clearly and for what they are.
- Self as Context: Realizing you are more than your thoughts and feelings.
- Values: identifying personal values and motivations.
- Committed Action: Taking steps towards these values and motivations.
This form of therapy and its six steps can help treat numerous mental health and cognitive disorders. This includes OCD acceptance and commitment therapy or using ACT for the treatment of anxiety, chronic pain, and eating disorders.
How effective is ACT OCD treatment?
ACT OCD treatment has proven to be significantly more effective than other forms of therapy. For example, a meta-analysis of 10 studies by the Recovery Research Institute concluded that approximately 61% of the study participants benefitted from ACT therapy. This number increased to 67% after a follow-up session.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder creates a very narrow range of responses an individual can have toward their compulsions. However, when using ACT for OCD, it allows clients to learn psychological flexibility and develop a range of healthy responses to be used.
What are the benefits of acceptance and commitment therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder?
ACT therapy for OCD is hugely beneficial as it teaches clients to take steps toward what is meaningful in their lives. Clients are provided with the necessary tools and skills to understand their emotions and adequately handle compulsions.
A client who goes through acceptance and commitment therapy will learn to recognize compulsions and anxieties for what they are, simple thoughts and feelings. This recognition helps build psychological flexibility and the control to respond appropriately. It allows the individual to have more control over their emotions and responses to stimuli.
How long does ACT for OCD need to get results?
It is crucial to acknowledge that acceptance and commitment therapy for OCD does not provide immediate results but requires time and effort. It will take many sessions with a highly-trained professional that understands the necessary steps for a successful treatment.
For example, the first step will likely include building a rapport with your therapist and discussing your goals and experiences in the past.
Following this, a therapist will help you to identify negative thoughts and work through any past trauma. Finally, you will be tasked with discovering your self-identity and core values that can be used to reach acceptance.
ACT vs ERP for OCD
ACT and ERP are similar methods of dealing with OCD that use exposure differently to help clients handle their compulsions.
What is ERP?
ERP is commonly referred to as the standard for treating obsessive-compulsion disorder. ERP is a form of cognitive behaviour therapy that pushes individuals with OCD to face scary stimulation head-on and refrain from the need to perform their compulsions.
It focuses on tolerance or the endurance an individual can create to counter compulsive behaviours. It sees compulsions and OCD as something to be struggled against and eventually controlled.
How does ACT fit into the OCD treatment, and how is it different from ERP?
ACT for OCD follows a similar exposure method as ERP but exchanges the endurance aspect of ERP for acceptance and optimism. In addition, ERP therapists will spend time tracking a client’s anxiety levels during exposure. ACT therapists view anxiety as a typical experience and reinforce the importance of reflecting on core values to deflect anxiety and compulsive behaviours.
Can OCD be treated without ERP and only ACT?
This is a common question asked by clients suffering from OCD, as they wish to avoid facing their fears and tackle compulsions head-on. ACT may seem like an easier treatment, but it will still require hard work and effort.
ACT for OCD is most effective when performed by a therapist with a high-level knowledge of the disorder. The therapist should understand the patterns and practices consistently seen or used with OCD patients. Therefore, ACT without ERP can be effective when done by a professional with an in-depth understanding of OCD treatment.
What is the best form of treatment?
That being said, the most effective treatment comes from combining the two practices. ACT therapy for OCD does an excellent of creating deeper motivation and understanding of the values you seek within your own life. Incorporating ERP practices into a treatment plan will encourage faster and more promising results.