ACT vs CBT: What is the difference?

ACT vs CBT: What is the Difference?

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Malaysha Castillo (like many therapists) started off as a CBT therapist before learning about ACT.  She now utilizes both in her practice, in ways to best meet the needs of her clients.  ACT is considered the third wave of CBT.  I’ll talk about ACT vs CBT here but instead of using one against the other, see them as different tools that are interchangeable and even attachable.  

ACT vs CBT: What is the Difference?

Imagine a giant tree.  You notice the base of the tree is large and looks like it’s been there a while.  This stump represents CBT.  As you glance at the top of the tree is a new branch with bright green leaves.  This area of the tree is ACT.  It helps fill in the areas that CBT didn’t cover originally.  

Both CBT and ACT are solid, evidence based therapies.  There’s a lot of research behind both, and if you’re spending time debating which to do, move forward anyways.  ACT and CBT are both in the same therapy “family” meaning you are in good hands either way.  

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT therapy focuses on six core principles:

  • Acceptance. Accepting thoughts, feelings, and other life experiences without evaluating or trying to change them.
  • Cognitive defusion. Develop a new relationship with negative thoughts and emotions so they don’t control your life.
  • Be present. Stay focused on the present moment instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
  • Self-awareness. Observe your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors objectively.
  • Values. Identify what you want most out of life so you can prioritize living according to those values.
  • Committed action. Take steps toward meaningful goals with purpose, flexibility, and persistence despite challenges and obstacles along the way.

ACT focuses on teaching coping strategies for difficult experiences, rather than trying to change the way you feel. The goal is to minimize your negative thoughts and feelings so you can focus on living a happy, healthy life.

ACT helps you focus on the present moment without judgment or evaluation. You may be encouraged to spend time in nature or participate in other mindful activities that help you live in the moment.

You may also be asked to consider what’s most important to you, such as family, friends, or spiritual beliefs, and how you could structure your life around these values. This can give you a sense of meaning and purpose when dealing with stressful situations.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on how your thoughts and perceptions affect the way you behave. CBT includes both theory and practice. The theory is based on the idea that negative thoughts cause negative behaviors. This means that if you change the way you think, it will change the way you feel and behave.

CBT teaches you to identify negative thoughts so that you can then learn coping skills to respond differently. For example, if you tend to tell yourself that no one likes you, then CBT will teach you to identify this thought as false and unrealistic. You will then learn how to replace it or challenge the thought with more realistic language.   

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a two-part process. First, the therapist helps you recognize negative thoughts and feelings as they happen. Then, you learn to change them to try to change behavioral outcomes.

Recognizing Negative Thoughts

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the therapist works to help you gain awareness of your negative thoughts and feelings as they occur. This step usually involves keeping a daily record of your moods and writing down your automatic thoughts when they happen.

Cognitive behavioral therapists call these automatic thoughts “cognitive distortions” because they aren’t based on reality. They’re faulty ways of thinking that contribute to depression and anxiety. Some examples of cognitive distortions include:

All-or-nothing thinking: You see things as black and white, with no middle ground or shades of gray. For example, if your diet isn’t perfect, you view yourself as a failure rather than someone who tried something new but needs to make changes.

Overgeneralization: You see a single event and assume it will always happen the same way rather than accepting that it can be different each time. For example, after one bad experience with online dating, you assume all dates will go badly instead of considering the possibility that it was an isolated incident.

ACT and CBT Therapy Together

Before CBT, “No one likes me at work”.

After CBT, “When I talk to my coworkers, they talk back.  We’re very busy and it may look like they don’t like me.”

ACT, “I’m having the thought no one likes me.  When that happens, and I follow it, I end up eating lunch alone at my desk without talking to anyone.  Because I do want work friends, I’m going to go to the break room and see if there’s anyone to chat with anyways.”

You can see how ACT takes into consideration values, and committed actions.  Whereas with CBT even though we challenged the thought, that may not be enough to see meaningful changes! 

Schedule today to start ACT and CBT therapy with a professional.  

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