Author – Laura Muth
Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) as a treatment for eating disorders is a relatively recent therapy with increasing amounts of success. This therapy postulates that most forms of psychological distress are linked to ‘experiential avoidance’. This refers to attempting to avoid painful situations and getting rid of disturbing or distressing thoughts and feelings. Eating disorder behavior may therefore be a form of avoidant coping. For example, in the case of someone suffering from Bulimia Nervosa, bingeing and purging may be used as a tool for avoiding the emotions associated with a painful situation.
ACT therefore teaches patients how to accept any thoughts, memories and emotions without struggling to keep painful emotions from showing up in their minds. ACT also involves encouraging patients to take committed action in their day-to-day lives by prioritizing goals in relation to values and carrying them out conscientiously. Individuals should therefore try to notice when action is not consistent with values and then gently turn back to valued living. For example, integrity may be one of your core values and perhaps you are encouraged by others to engage in a behavior which goes against this value. You should therefore try to notice that the behavior conflicts with your integrity value, without passing judgement on yourself.
Predominantly, the therapeutic goal of ACT is to help individuals ride out any unpleasant or painful thoughts and impulses whilst committing to action that corresponds to their goals and values in life. ACT may therefore involve carrying out specific goals linked to chosen values, starting with small steps and increasing to larger patterns of action.
Change what you do. Not what you feel or think. In turn, this behavior change can subsequently alter how you feel and think. In early stages of recovery, you may just focus on how bad your feeling but just remember, a shift in actions has the power to change your feelings too.