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Residential Treatment Center for Boys Ages 14-18

 > Anxiety  > How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy help teens struggling with anxiety?
acceptance and commitment therapy

How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy help teens struggling with anxiety?

ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is a psychological wellness model that can help teens lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life. This form of therapy helps teens change their thought processes while building healthier behaviors and outlooks. 

Defusing Negative Thinking

When working with teens through the lens of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), I help students learn to become an observer of their thoughts. A lot of teens treat their thoughts as though they are absolute fact. For example, a student may believe that the thought “I’m a bad person and unloveable” is a universal truth and everyone knows it. Through ACT, we help students defuse that thought and understand that they will work through this experience. They don’t have to treat all thoughts as absolute facts.

 By defusing their thoughts, we are able to take away some of the negative power that negative thinking can have. Rather than trying to have a student rethink something or explore the evidence as to why it’s not true, we might help them tag on an “and then” statement to the end of that negative thought. For example, “I’ve made mistakes and I feel unloveable and I’m trying to make improvements to be the best version of myself.”

Using Metaphors When Teaching ACT 

We often use metaphors when trying to teach students how to defuse thoughts. For instance, say a student is struggling to form new relationships. They’ve had a couple of weeks where they don’t seem to gain any traction in connecting with their peers. Because of this, they internalize the thought that “no one likes me”. We might offer the following metaphor to a student: Their thought of “no one likes me” is someone riding down a street on a skateboard. We ask them to visualize that the thought is coming into their view and then it skates away to the right and fades from view. A new thought will come into the left afterward. This metaphor helps remind students that their thoughts are not as sticky as they sometimes think they are. Thoughts come and go, just like people on skateboards. 

Helping Students Accept Feelings

A central part of ACT is focused on helping students accept their feelings rather than trying to avoid uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations. We help teach students that most or all suffering comes from experiential avoidance, the concept that humans try to avoid any personal experience that feels uncomfortable.  In the past, students may have avoided uncomfortable feelings by engaging in activities like substance use, opposition, self-harm, or school refusal. 

Through ACT, we help students learn to fully experience feelings as they come on. Over time, students find that they give their feelings less power over their lives when they stop fighting against it. 

Commitment to Values

Students who feel hopeless or lost can benefit from the component of ACT that helps them identify and commit to values. As individuals, we can become aware of what our values are. When students build an awareness of their values and make a commitment to actionably live out those values, it can help them feel more fulfilled. 

Learn more about clinical programming at Equinox RTC by visiting https://equinoxrtc.com/therapy/ or by calling (828) 414-2968.

Casey has been working with teens and young adults since 2009. He specializes in mindfulness-based approaches to therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, motivational interviewing, and family systems work.