Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) bunk?
November 19, 2014 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Hi all. A close friend is starting therapy with a therapist "certified in Client Focused Therapy and in ACT (Acceptance and Committment Therapy)". I'm a bit worried for her - what is the medical consensus on ACT? Is it bunk? Are there any resources I can direct her towards?

Caveat: I am a layperson - I don't know the first thing about psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. Something about the way she described it and my few googles make me suspicious. I'm afraid she is being swindled by some pseudo-scientific pop psychology bunkum.

PS: Please do tell me if I am wrong, I would most certainly like to be. Please do direct me towards empirical evidence of the same. I have this paper here but I do not know how much to trust the authors though: A Randomized Controlled Effectiveness Trial of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Therapy for Anxiety and Depression
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a clinical psych specialist but I have a background in psychology and as far as I know ACT is not bunk. It is based on mindfulness, and mindfulness has been shown to improve people's lives in many different ways, controlled studies on it are accumulating.

The article you posted is a good indication that it's an effective treatment.

This link is helpful in explaining ACT I think:

Of course, your friend should try it out and make sure she likes the therapist and starts to see results if she's doing her homework, different therapies fit better with some people than others.
posted by lafemma at 3:21 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's legit - That's the style of therapy I had. The extract is saying that it works just as well as traditional cognitive therapy. ACT meshes well with my personal inclination toward Buddhism/mindfulness which when googling can indeed devolve rather quickly into new ageiness. Perhaps her description was less than medical?
posted by jrobin276 at 3:44 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

As far as trusting those authors, those are legitimate researchers at a legitimate research institution published in a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. They might be wrong because sometimes studies are wrong even when the authors do everything right, but there's no real reason to think they are, and definitely no reason to think they are biased or wrong on purpose.
posted by brainmouse at 3:53 PM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yeah, it's a pretty well-established therapy. There are definitely established therapies that are seen as bunk by some (EMDR is a prominent recent example), but I have never heard a psychologist suggest that ACT is bunk. Here's a recent meta-analytic review- they collect all of the studies on ACT and analyze their findings as a whole. They conclude that it's more effective than no treatment, "treatment as usual" (usually talk therapy), and "psychological placebos" (treatment that they don't expect to be effective) for some conditions, and it's not necessarily better than established treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. It also seems to depend on the particular problem- it's better than no treatment for depression, but not for comorbid depression and anxiety.
posted by quiet coyote at 4:20 PM on November 19, 2014

The psychologist who did CBT with me has been studying ACT, as a treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder. As far as I can tell, he is not really a bunk kind of guy.
posted by Coatlicue at 5:19 PM on November 19, 2014

I found ACT to be incredibly beneficial, much more so than CBT. But that is me and my personality--many people swear by CBT.

ACT is not bunk, it is just newer than some tried-and-true methods. It may or may not work for your friend, but it is worth a try.

here's a summary from psychology today.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:54 PM on November 19, 2014

It does depend on your therapist, because some therapists out there are pretty "woo-woo" under the guise if ACT. But, if you're like me, other therapy modalities like CBT don't work as well, and ACT can be pretty beneficial.

Kaiser health group is known for only offering highly evidenced based treatment, and while their mental health coverage is goddamn abysmal, they still cover ACT. If kaiser backs it, there is at least some modicum of acceptance that it can work.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:34 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would imagine that ACT is probably no worse than any of the other therapies out there, and if it appeals to your friend, she should pursue it without interference. Much research supports the notion (perhaps counter-intuitive) that all psychotherapies are equally effective. This idea is called the "Dodo bird verdict" (or sometimes the Dodo bird hypothesis or effect). See also this article by Scientific American blogger John Horgan.
posted by alex1965 at 4:17 AM on November 20, 2014

Check out the book "The Happiness Trap."
posted by Clustercuss at 9:16 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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