Acceptance and Comitment Coaching (ACC) has developed from ACT – an approach, grounded in theoretical principles where individuals are encouraged to work towards their feelings and thoughts rather than try to avoid them or feel guilty about them.
It’s a coaching approach and a form of behavioural therapy that uses tools such as mindfulness, self-acceptance and values as a way to live a richer and more authentic life. ACC also has the broader aim in supporting psychological flexibility; that is to increase someone’s ability to respond to their feelings, decisions, and external stimuli in a way that is congruent with their choices and values.
One core philosophy of ACT-approaches is the notion that suffering and difficult feelings are inevitable. We have an innate, natural desire to minimise or control these however this process of shutting down or avoiding difficult situations does not always serve us. Dr Russell Harris (2011), one of the pioneers of ACT, argues this, saying how through ACT processes we support our clients create rich and meaningful lives where we also help them develop mindfulness skills that help us come into contact with the direct moment.
Most ACC or ACT practitioners discusses six core processes that you can navigate with your clients to help them develop psychological flexibility. Although there is a lot of depth and exploration within each process, the follow provides a summary of what they are and why they’re important. We cover them more fully in our ICF Diploma in Integrative Coaching as we believe they are essential skills for coaches to master.
Acceptance – supporting a coachee to actively accept and make a choice in relation to the experiences that they go through, including unpleasant ones. Through this process we support our clients come into contact with difficult experiences, noticing without trying to change them.
Cognitive Defusion – helping an individual change the way that they interact with their thoughts without embarking in at times futile attempts to change the thought itself. There is an emphasis of examining and then developing an awareness and distance between the individual and their thoughts, (e.g. noticing that ‘I am not my thoughts’ or saying ‘I am thinking that I am finding it hard in this job’)
Being Present – focuses on being cognisant and in tune with the present moment without the judgement of experience or future expectations. This way we support our clients experience the world more directly and flexibly and make decisions in ways that are consisten to their values. Language work can also happen here were we encourage clients to describe feelings or events and avoid mind-reading, prediction or judgement about them.
Self as Context – perhaps this is the trickier one out of the 6 processes to fully grasp. It’s based on relational frame theory and posits that we would support clients develop a point where they can notice their experience, their self and their flow of thoughts without attachment. It acknowledges that there are different types of selves, including the self where all of our feelings and thoughts occur, and our observing self that is noticing these feelings. It’s the idea that we are not only what happens to us. Instead we are the ones experiencing what is happening to us.
Values – are chosen qualities that we work towards. They do not present an end point but rather, like a compass, they guide us when we are setting actions and goals. In ACC we support clients understand and live their lives more in sync with their values.
Committed Action – encourages a client to notice what actions they are already taking and what changes they need to make in their behaviour. Unlike values this process is about commitment and setting concrete goals. These actions would be consistent with our values and help us in creating long-term goals that instigate change.
A coach can support a client with one or more of these processes. Often, the work that we do on one process is interlinked with another one. Therefore, there is typically no starting point in ACT. This is different to pure cognitive behavioural work where perhaps we use the A-E model. Our work with clients is more holistic rather than linear, which is why it resonates so much with coaches.
Our Diploma in Integrative Coaching has specific workshops to support our coach-trainees understand the value that ACT-based approaches can bring to clients. We cover the 6 Core Processes and a range of tools that can be used in Acceptance and Commitment Coaching on our ICF Accredited Programme.