Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): What is it and how can it be helpful?

It Isn’t Always Easy to Be Happy

Life can be both truly spectacular and incredibly challenging. We will experience the delights of success and spectacular failure, great love and heartbreaking loss, and moments of amazement, despair, and darkness. The unfortunate truth is that almost everything that makes life rich, full, and meaningful also comes with a painful downside. This means that it’s hard to be happy for long. It can even be hard to be happy to be in the short. Life is tough and this can result in plenty of pain for all of us.

This is probably not the most encouraging of openings. You may be thinking: is it really this dire? Is there nothing that can be done about this? Should I just give up? As you probably might have guessed, the answer to those questions is no. This is where ACT comes in, to show us a way forward when life has its many hardships and challenges. ACT teaches us how to reduce the impact and influence of difficult and painful thoughts and feelings, while at the same time, take action to build a rich, full, and meaningful life.

What is ACT?

Put simply, ACT is a therapy that aims to help people build a rich and meaningful life while effectively handling the pain that inevitably goes with it. At its core, ACT is about taking action. Action that is guided by your values, behaving like the sort of person you want to be. What really matters deep down? What do you want to stand for in life? How do you want to treat yourself, others, and the world around you? ACT aims to support you to get in touch with what really matters to you in the big picture. You can then use your values to guide, inspire, and motivate what you do and be the person you want to be.

ACT is also about “mindful” action, that is, action that you take consciously while being fully aware – being open to your experiences and engaging in whatever you may be doing. The main aim of ACT is to increase what psychologists call “psychological flexibility”. Psychological flexibility, in short, is about being aware of your own experience, allowing yourself to feel what shows up, know what matters to you, and then act according to your values. For example, suppose you are in a fight with a loved one, you can acknowledge the pain, embrace it as a learning opportunity, and make plans to move forward and be stronger together. It can support you to stop fighting yourself, and move your life in a meaningful direction, doing what matters to you. Like any other skill, the more you practice it, the better you get at it.

So How Can ACT be Helpful?

ACT aims to maximise your potential for a rich, full, and meaningful life by:

  • Supporting you to learn new psychological skills to reduce the impact of difficult emotions and thoughts – so that they lose their power, can’t push you around, get in the way or hold you back from life.
  • Clarify your values (how we want to treat ourselves, others, and the things around us) and use them to guide what you do and enhance your life.
  • Focus your attention on what is important and engage fully with the world around you.

ACT can help with treating a variety of mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression, trauma, grief and loss, stress, anger, psychosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance use. ACT can be helpful in maintaining emotional well-being and supporting you to live a healthy life.

What the Research Tells Us

A recent study (Hayes et al., 2022) analysed 54,633 psychological studies to learn what really helps people make a change. The results found that there is not just one pathway for change, but many, that help people differently in different situations. The surprising result is that one set of skills proved far more commonly effective than anything else. The most common pathway of change was your psychological flexibility and mindfulness skills.

Looking For a Psychologist who Offers ACT?

At Clear Health Psychology, we have a range of psychologists with availability who are experienced in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and can support you to meet your goals. Book your appointment today by calling (08) 6424 8177.


Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: An overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4).

Harris, R. (2019). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger Publications.

Hayes, S. (2022, August 13). The Most Important Skill for Mental Health. Psychology Today.

Hayes, S. C., Ciarrochi, J., Hofmann, S. G., Chin, F., & Sahdra, B. (2022). Evolving an idionomic approach to processes of change: Towards a unified personalized science of human improvement. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 104155.


James Pegus

James is an empathetic, kind, and caring clinician who believes in having a respectful, authentic, and collaborative therapeutic relationship with his clients. James works with adults, adolescents, and children aged 8+ with a wide range of concerns, including cognitive assessments, specific learning disorder assessments, and ADHD assessments. You can find out more about James here or book an appointment with him at our Mt Lawley or South Perth by clicking here.

James Pegus is a registered psychologist