Faculty Spotlight: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented approach that emphasizes acceptance of oneself, the importance of living a value-based life, and psychological flexibility. ACT has been used for a variety of mental health concerns, such as stress, anxiety, depression, substance use, and chronic pain.

Exploring ACT for college students as an effective intervention has recently gained traction. Recent research has utilized ACT as an online web-based self-help program with a randomized (to ACT or to a wait-list group) undergraduate sample.1 A six session, four-week, web-based ACT program covered the following topics: costs of experiential avoidance, defusion, mindfulness, acceptance of difficult emotions, clarifying personal values, and committed action and goal setting.1 The study found that students were reasonably accepting of the web-based version of ACT and satisfaction ratings were high. More importantly, the study provided evidence for the trans-diagnostic effects of a web-based version of ACT. Specifically finding that students reported improvement in general distress, social anxiety, academic concerns, positive mental health, depression, and general anxiety, in comparison to the wait-listed group.1

Another randomized controlled trial employing ACT for undergraduates targeted academic procrastination, a common phenomenon among students.2 Students were randomized to either an ACT intervention, a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) intervention, or a control group. Each intervention group met for eight weekly three hour sessions. 2  The findings indicate that ACT may have better long-term effects for reducing academic procrastination, and for reducing negative affect and improving self-esteem.2

Overall, the effectiveness of ACT for undergraduates is looking promising! What can we do to help? Being aware of different approaches to addressing mental health and common undergraduate issues, like procrastination, can be useful. Often, we are caught up in problem solving and immediate solutions and do not seek alternative resources, like ACT!

1Levin, M. E., Haeger, J. A., Pierce, B. G., & Twohig, M. P. (2017). Web-based acceptance and commitment therapy for mental health problems in college students: A randomized controlled trial. Behavior Modification, 41(1), 141-162. Doi: 10.1177/0145445516659645

2Wang, S., Zhou, Y., Yu, S., Ran, L., Liu, X., & Chen, Y. (2017). Acceptance and commitment therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy as treatments for academic procrastination: A randomized controlled group session. Research on Social Work Practice, 27(1), 48-58. doi: 10.1177/1049731515577890


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