6 Core Processes of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

By Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA 

Acceptance and commitment therapy, also known as ACT, aims to increase one’s psychological flexibility. This can be an important skill that many individuals who receive applied behavior analysis services could benefit from improving.

The Association for Contextual Behavioral Science defines ACT in this way:

“In theoretical and process terms we can define ACT as a psychological intervention based on modern behavioral psychology, including Relational Frame Theory, that applies mindfulness and acceptance processes, and commitment and behavior change processes, to the creation of psychological flexibility (Hayes, ND).”

Psychological flexibility is a complex concept. It includes being able to be in the present moment with your mind and your body in a way that allows you to be aware of what is happening in the now. Additionally, psychological flexibility includes being able to intentionally act in ways that are beneficial and helpful to yourself. By being more psychologically flexible, you can behave in ways that are connected to your own personal values and goals.

To obtain healthy levels of psychological flexibility, a person can utilize a combination of the six core processes of ACT.

6 Core Processes of ACT

  1. Acceptance
  2. Cognitive Defusion
  3. Contacting the Present Moment
  4. Self as Context
  5. Values
  6. Committed Action


Acceptance doesn’t mean you are okay with something. It doesn’t mean you want the pain or struggle. Acceptance means that you open up and make room to experience the unpleasant thoughts and emotions and events of the human experience. You stop fighting with them. You don’t engage with the struggle to get rid of the unpleasant sensations or discomfort.

Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion – or just defusion – has to do with being able to recognize our thoughts as just that…They are just thoughts (words or pictures in the mind). Defusion allows you to be able to step back from your thoughts and not be consumed by them.

Contacting the Present Moment

Contacting the present moment has to do with “being in the now.” This principle means that you are focused on what is happening with you and/or in your environment right now and less-so with what has happened in the past or what may happen in the future.


Self as context refers to “the observing self.” This is the part of you that is able to step back and watch what is happening within you. You can know that you are thinking and experience physical or emotional sensations. You can think about your thinking.


Values are what you most care about. Values have to do with what you want your life to be about, what you want to stand for, and what you ultimately experience as your true drive. Values help you to steer your behaviors toward what is meaningful to you.

Committed Action

In ACT, it is important not to forget or downplay the part where you must take action on your values. Committed action is about taking effective action and behaving in ways that are guided by your values. This allows you to create a fulfilling and satisfying quality of life (Harris, 2009).


Harris, R. 2009. ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read-Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.actmindfully.com.au/upimages/ACT_Made_Simple_Introduction_and_first_two_chapters.pdf

Hayes, S. ND. The Six Core Processes of ACT. Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. Retrieved on Sept. 12, 2019: from: https://contextualscience.org/the_six_core_processes_of_act#.

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