Treatment Interventions

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Written by Carron Manning, Co-Founder of Chiron and Chartered Physiotherapist MSc BSc MCSP

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a therapeutic approach that can be particularly beneficial for individuals dealing with chronic pain. ACT focuses on promoting psychological flexibility, acceptance and mindfulness of difficult experiences, and the pursuit of meaningful life goals. 

How ACT can Help with Chronic Pain

To commit to behavioural change, you can use ACT. Below are 10 ways that ACT can help with chronic pain. 

Acceptance of Pain

ACT encourages individuals to accept the presence of pain, while not struggling against it. Rather than attempting to eliminate pain, the emphasis is on acknowledging and allowing pain to exist while choosing to move forward in life.

Mindfulness and Present-Moment Awareness

Mindfulness is a core component of ACT. It involves being fully present and engaged in the current moment without judgment. Mindfulness practices help individuals observe their thoughts and sensations related to pain without becoming entangled or overwhelmed by them.

Values Clarification

ACT assists individuals in clarifying their core values and what matters most to them in life. This process helps individuals identify meaningful goals and activities, providing a motivational framework for moving forward despite the challenges of chronic pain.

Defusion from Thoughts

ACT emphasises "defusion," which involves distancing oneself from unhelpful thoughts and recognising them as passing events rather than absolute truths. This helps individuals reduce the impact of negative or distressing thoughts related to pain.

Commitment to Action

Once values are clarified, ACT encourages individuals to commit to specific actions aligned with their values. This involves setting and pursuing meaningful goals, even in the presence of pain, rather than waiting for pain to diminish before engaging in activities.

Behavioural Activation

ACT promotes behavioural activation, encouraging individuals to engage in activities that bring a sense of purpose, joy, and accomplishment. This counters the tendency many have to avoid activities due to fear of pain and contributes to an overall improvement in quality of life.


ACT fosters a compassionate and non-judgmental attitude toward oneself, recognising that living with chronic pain is challenging. Cultivating self-compassion can reduce feelings of guilt, frustration, and self-criticism often associated with chronic pain.

selective focus photography of woman holding yellow petaled flowers

Cognitive Defusion Techniques

ACT uses cognitive defusion techniques to help individuals relate to their thoughts differently. This involves viewing thoughts as passing events rather than facts, reducing the impact of negative thought patterns.

Enhanced Emotional Regulation

ACT provides skills for managing difficult emotions associated with chronic pain. By accepting emotions without judgment and choosing actions aligned with values, individuals can improve emotional regulation and well-being.

Overall Psychological Flexibility

The overarching goal of ACT is to enhance psychological flexibility, which involves being open, adaptable, and effective in the presence of changing circumstances, including chronic pain. This flexibility allows individuals to respond to life's challenges in a way that aligns with their values.

Why Choose Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of ACT in improving psychological well-being, reducing the impact of pain on daily functioning, and enhancing overall quality of life for individuals with chronic pain. 

It’s not an elimination of difficult feelings, but about being present with what life brings you. So, if you’re looking for a positive spin, to understand your emotions and have that lead to a better understanding of truth, you might want to try ACT out.