Category: self-acceptance

ACT vs. CBT What is the Difference?

For those more savvy, self-help accepting, curious potential psychotherapy clients out there, I’ve created a brief description of the differences of two of the more common types of therapy being used by clinicians these days. I don’t expect most people to know the differences between therapeutic techniques, but surprisingly, I’m finding more and more people are knowledgeable about this stuff and are genuinely interested in how this works. This is a good thing as you should know what kind of evidenced-based treatment your therapist is providing to you anyway! Below I have included a general explanation of both CBT and ACT and how they are both similar and different in treating something like depression.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a psychosocial intervention that is the most widely used evidenced based practice for treating mental disorders. CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs and attitudes). The underlying concept behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in our behavior.

CBT is generally short-term and focused on helping clients deal with a very specific problem. During the course of treatment, people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior. Many people begin to identify “core beliefs” that have dictated their emotions and behaviors for years. CBT teaches individuals to notice thoughts that are contributing to their suffering. i.e. “I will always be lazy and I will always be depressed”.

Example of CBT works:  An individual  reports that he/she is “hopeless that things will get better”. CBT would help the individual  identify the thought distortion and help them discover thoughts that are realistic and effective in helping them feel better. i.e  “I do not always feel depressed. There are times when I enjoy my life”.  Noticing and shifting one’s thinking affects one’s emotions which affects one’s behavior.

Further explanation from above example: When the individual  applies a more optimistic (and realistic) thought, their emotion changes (more hopeful) and their behavior changes (get out of bed and takes a walk).

The goal of cognitive behavior therapy is to teach patients that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT, pronounced “act”)

ACT is a form of psychotherapy commonly described as a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. It is an empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance, mindfulness strategies, commitment and behavior-change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.

ACT differs from CBT in that rather than trying to teach people how to better control their thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories and other private events, ACT teaches them to just notice, accept and embrace their private events.

ACT is a powerful tool that can reduce suffering by helping one observe thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to change them. ACT also emphasizes behaving in ways consistent with valued goals and life direction.

Example of how ACT works: One would develop acceptance around depression and learn how to develop a relationship with it rather than avoid it (what ACT refers to “experiential avoidance”).  The basic premise of ACT with depression is that while emotional pain hurts, it is the struggle with pain that causes suffering.

ACT is proven to be effective in treating not only depression but also addiction and anxiety. ACT doesn’t attempt to improve or alleviate symptoms, but rather aims to help the person stop obsessing over his or her symptoms, create new lifestyle patterns, and make healthier choices. It encourages being fully conscious in the present moment and maintaining or changing behavior based on what the moment involves.

Lindsay Melka LPC Empathic Counseling and Therapy Denver

Lindsay Melka, LPC

Empathic Counseling and Therapy

If you connected with this post and would like to speak with me please call 720-295-5490 or contact me here.

Stop Fighting Your Negative Thoughts

What You Resist Persists.

Ignoring Negative Thoughts and Painful Feelings Makes Them Stronger.


What are the Costs of Avoiding a Negative Thought?


As a therapist who practices Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), I know full well the costs of avoiding a negative thought. Now you’re probably asking yourself, what’s wrong with avoiding bad thoughts or feelings? Good question. Let me show you why accepting your thoughts is better than avoiding them.


Let's Experiment.


I’m going to ask you to participate in a small thought experiment with me. An experiment that I was also taught while training in how to accept “bad” thoughts and feelings. I’m going to be a little more creative here, so bear with me. I promise, it’s fun.


Find a Quiet Place.


I want you find a place where you can sit down and relax for a couple minutes. You there? Okay. Next, I want you to close your eyes for one minute and do everything in your power not to think of a blue unicorn. Take the whole entire minute to not think about that blue unicorn.


You done? How’d you do? Were you able to not think about the blue unicorn? I’m going to go out on a limb and say you imagined a blue unicorn.


What You Resists Persists Denver Therapy


Now imagine that that blue unicorn is a negative thought or feeling. What happens when we try to avoid thinking about it? When we resist it? It sticks around, doesn’t it. We think about more! This is the unfortunate paradox of avoiding or altering experiences. Who knew?


You’re now probably wondering..”well what do I do with all these negative thoughts I’m no longer pushing away?” The great and surprising news is, accepting your negative thoughts can actually help you experience them less.


Develop a New Relationship with your Thoughts.


Let me explain. When you accept all your thoughts, not just the good ones, you begin to develop a relationship with them. You accept that they’re there, thus not having to spend so much time pretending that they’re not.


Here, I have another great example.


More Visualization.


I want you to close your eyes and imagine you are in a pool. A nice, cool, refreshing swimming pool. I want you to think of a negative thought/feeling/experience/memory that you’ve been trying to get rid of. Got it? Great. Now I want you to imagine this thought/feeling/experience/memory as a giant beach ball. I want you to try to keep the ball underwater. Hold it down. Okay, you get the picture here? What happens? A few scenarios.


You get tired of holding the ball down. You struggle to keep the ball under water. The ball pops back up in your face. You get the deal. There is an alternative and a much better solution. 


Imagine that instead of struggling to keep the ball underwater you just let it float around in the pool with you?


Result: You Feel Better.


Doesn’t that feel so much better? Think about all the other fun pool toys you can play with now. “Other fun toys” being pleasant thoughts/feelings/experiences/memories. They're all there for you too.
So next time you try to avoid an uncomfortable thought, take a break, relax and let the “ball” float around in the pool. I promise, it works.


Lindsay Melka LPC Empathic Counseling and Therapy Denver

Lindsay Melka, LPC Empathic Counseling and Therapy