Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in the Workplace
It is a common human tendency to be easily influenced by the environment and circumstances that surround them. As a result, people suffer from several mental health ailments like anxiety, depression, and chronic stress, to name a few. The world of western psychology is now looking at Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as an effective solution.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Meaning
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is a psychological intervention or behavioral therapy that encourages mindfulness and self-acceptance in individuals, develops psychological flexibility, and initiates behavioral change.
ACT is a method that enables people to understand that even if the circumstances are inevitable, suffering those circumstances is a choice that they can avoid if a positive approach towards the problems is encouraged. Therefore, ACT helps the person understand that sufferings are a part of life, and there may be approaches through which they can come to terms with their state, rather than blaming the circumstances or feeling guilty about it.
With the world coming in the clutch of a global pandemic, we saw a drastic transformation in workplaces worldwide in recent times. We have realized that employees belonging to various age groups suffer from anxiety or poor mental health, as they could not cope with the paradigm shift.
However, with the rise of awareness for mental health among the younger generation and a strong will to stand with each other, employers have also realized that it is high time to focus on their employees’ mental health to create a healthy and inviting workspace. A tactful employer can immediately grasp the profit of ACT by realizing that a healthy work environment will benefit the employees’ mental well-being. Moreover, it would also help build quality human resources, enhancing the work’s quality.
The Six Core Processes of ACT
The six core processes of ACT guide people through therapy and provide a framework for developing psychological flexibility. These six core processes include:
Acceptance is the way of positively accepting the negative emotions that torment us instead of escaping them. It is a way of acknowledging that challenging situations are an inevitable part of life and coming to terms with them. The practice of mindfulness exercise in ACT enhances an individual’s ability to detach from stressful experiences or emotions by enabling them to accept the situation as it is.
2. Cognitive Defusion
It refers to the method of an individual changing how they react to any problem. People practice cognitive defusion to face their negative emotions and not fixate on them too much.
For instance, you are stressed about doing a task that has been given to you because you already have a terrible experience of failing in it and being scolded by your superior. So the next time you are getting a similar task, you recall your experience and are afraid that you will mess it up again.
So in this situation, cognitive defusion enables you to recall your experience but with a positive attitude to gather your courage, sit back, and begin your work. At the same time, seeing the experience in a positive light would encourage you to recall the mistakes you had made in the past and avoid the same, thereby leading to making lesser mistakes like these.
3. Being Present
Being present refers to being and thinking about doing things at the present moment rather than lamenting past mistakes or fearing future consequences.
4. Self as Context
It is the notion that an individual is not just the sum of their experiences, thoughts, or emotions, but there is also a self outside of their present experiences.
Values are the qualities we choose to work towards in a given moment. All of us hold a particular set of values consciously or unconsciously, and ACT uses tools that allow us to work following the values that we hold dear.
6. Committed Action
ACT enables an individual to remain committed to their efforts, which will help in their long term goals and be consistent with their values. Unless a person is aware of how their behavior affects their experiences, they shall not hold a positive approach toward their experience.
Benefits of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
ACT helps in focusing on and enriching the lives of people, regardless of their chronic anxiety symptoms.
ACT helps people see that they are more than their chronic depression and negative experiences. By being mindful of the present moment, one can lead a meaningful and fulfilling life in line with their principle values. This realization itself is powerful, which leads to the reduction of anxiety.
ACT helps in developing psychological flexibility. Here, psychological flexibility means understanding a situation and choosing an action based on one’s core value-driven goals, instead of being driven by your emotions and feelings.
With the help of the six core processes of ACT, which are instrumental as behavior-changing strategies, individuals may tend to become more flexible in the way they think and approach situations and problems in life. Even if they cannot control unwanted thoughts and emotions, they can always positively influence their minds to deal with such undesirable thoughts.
ACT acknowledges negative experiences as a part of life. ACT therapists encourage their patients to believe that they can’t always change what happens to them, and it is also not still healthy to brush off negative experiences. These bad experiences should instead be considered a valid part of human existence. Encourage the person to accept disturbing thoughts and unwanted situations as experiences that can lead to positive changes in their life.
However, it doesn’t mean that one should hold a utopian optimism towards the problem rather than working towards changing it. ACT encourages looking at the problem with a positive view so that the individual is motivated to improve their living condition.
Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in the Workspace
The employer can be sympathetic in his process while dealing with his employees’ mental health to improve the quality of life and work. To achieve such a quality work environment, you can take up the following measures:
Be approachable and patient with the employees and be aware of a cognitive-behavioral approach. Speak to your employees about emerging mental health issues and well-being topics within a strict ethical framework.
Be interactive with your employees and offer them practical strategies to boost their emotional stability and enhance their personality, enabling them to yield a long-term positive result.
Try to encourage positive thinking, healthy communication, and practically show them to manage stress effectively by providing interactive talks and presentations.
As an experienced employer, you may also try to implement specific cognitive-behavioral therapies, mindful activities like meditation, or try to provide a mental wellbeing supportive community to your employees that can do the same.
Make efforts to exercise the core pillars of ACT: acceptance, choice, commitment, and taking actions.
For instance- instead of pressurizing an employee to meet their deadline, one can encourage them to take a slow deep breath and go on with the work at a steady pace. Allow his thoughts to come and go spontaneously like words, pictures, and images without exercising authority and encourage them to connect themselves to work. You can also motivate them emotionally by empathizing with their anxiety and helping them realize that we are all humans and like clouds in the sky, this too will pass.
- You can facilitate health and well-being groups in the workplace for employees suffering from social anxiety, workplace stress, loneliness, panic attacks, and mood swings. Medical centers can also be established to help people cope with long-term substance abuse, emotional trauma, chronic depression, etc.
Accepting things the way they are without attempting to change them is a skill that comes with practice and mindfulness exercises. Western psychologists have realized this and have brought acceptance and commitment therapy for the long-term and practical actions.
ACT doesn’t attempt to directly change or stop unwanted thoughts or feelings as cognitive behavioral therapy does; instead, it encourages people to develop a human relationship with those experiences. This approach helps free people from difficulties and enables them to become more open to actions consistent with their values.
Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in your workplace can thus bring about a much-needed boost to your employees’ mental health, especially when dealing with the fears and anxieties of being in a pandemic.