Underneath procrastination and self-sabotage lies dread of our own feelings. To feel afraid of, and therefore to try to avoid, triggering our own uncomfortable states of mind is the legacy of trauma.

What if we weren’t afraid to experience our own negative emotions and uncomfortable states? What if we knew that no matter what feelings and thoughts came up, we could move forward anyway? We could have access to a whole different experience of life!

This is the beauty of a module we offer at Villa Kali Ma called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT helps us to face all of our feelings, good, bad, and ugly, and to nevertheless move forward towards the goals and in service of our real values.


What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT therapy) is a mindfulness-based therapy method based on the power of acceptance. ACT harnesses acceptance intentionally to free us from cycles of resistance and avoidance.

Many of us are at the mercy of our negative feelings. Being reactive to our own emotions makes us less effective in our lives. How many times have we found ourselves behaving in ways that are counterproductive to our values and goals? ACT helps us close this loop and take more positive actions.

How does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy work?

Like all mindfulness-based techniques, ACT relies heavily on focusing attention on the now moment, from which point of power we are best able to observe ourselves. When thoughts and feelings are taken as objects of our powers of witness, we are able to directly experience a higher neutrality that is not identified with any of these states. The difference between having a thought and identifying with a thought is the key. I am having the thought that I am ugly, is crucially different from I am ugly.

Why is it important to dis-identify from emotions and thoughts? Although emotions bring the color and richness to our lives, and thoughts are part of how we create our realities, neither thoughts nor emotions are permanent, nor should they be the authority of our lives.

Thoughts and emotions tend to vary quite a bit from moment to moment, depending on all manner of factors. Our environments, bodily rhythms,  people we hang out with, media we watch, and even the food we eat, heavily influence what we think and feel!

The variability of our thoughts and feelings isn’t a problem unless we are yoked to action or inaction based on feelings alone, rather than being able to access other reasons to persist or refrain from a momentary urge.

We all see and choose among our better instincts and urges, all day every day, and we do a pretty good job. ACT helps us do so even when experiencing the more difficult side of life so that even when we’re suffering or anxious, we are still able to move forward towards our commitments.

In addition to coaching mindfulness techniques, ACT offers specific helpful tricks and hacks for working with one’s own thoughts and feelings by allowing them to be just what they are: temporary states.

Nonjudgment as a Key Factor of ACT

ACT promotes non-judgment, because only in neutrality can our thoughts and feelings be accepted. If we judge our own thoughts and feelings, we are not in witness mode anymore, but rather experiencing a negative reaction, or a defense (judgment), which in itself can undermine our goals and values.

Overall ACT is for moving forward with our emotions and states of being, without repressing or marginalizing any portion of ourselves.

The beneficial upshot of ACT is progress towards our goals, through simply letting everything in our inner world be as it is, moment by moment. Although we do not make it a goal, letting thoughts and feelings be exactly as they are without expending energy trying to change them, actually leads to these calming and smoothening over time.

What is the structure of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

ACT sessions are structured into stages.

I. Connect with your ACT Therapist

In the beginning, your ACT therapist will help you take a look at everything that you want to work on, to get a good overview of problem areas and to help you make choices about the direction of your therapy.
During this stage, you will share what you’re hoping to get out of therapy, as well as what you have learned about yourself already regarding what works and what hasn’t worked for you on your path so far. This is also the time for forming a connection of basic trust and mutual understanding with your therapist. No one should rush through this stage, as trust is important as a foundation for the work.

II. Deepen Awareness of your Trouble Zones

In the second stage of ACT, you will gently deepen your awareness of the problem zones in your psyche and behavior. With compassion, your ACT therapist will help you identify which thought and feeling states seem to be especially problematic for you, avoidance of which may be getting you into trouble.
Difficult emotional states like grief and regret, as well as those irrational-feeling phobias related to past overwhelming experiences, will be kindly identified in this stage. It is important to let the therapist support you in this stage, as it can be intimidating to face troubles alone. This is why you’re getting help – and it’s okay to receive that help.

III. Clarify your Core Values

ACT respects the uniqueness and agency of each person undergoing treatment. ACT treatment is centered around your core values and the desired direction that you have for your own life.
Many of us have lost touch with or aren’t completely sure what our core values are, so a key piece of ACT work is to spend time refreshing our connection to what matters to us most of all. Through listening and reflecting, your ACT therapist will help you realize what your values are and give words to your core life motivations.

IV. Choose Actions and Goals

ACT emphasizes taking action steps in service of your values. When the way we relate to the world matches our inner values, we feel congruent and dignified even when passing through temporary states of discomfort.
Your ACT therapist will help you set specific goals connected to your personal values, and then identify positive actions that lead to the achievement of that goal. These actions will be right-sized to feel doable and repeatable over time.

V. Commit to Your Positive Change Plan

Once you have recovered your values, set goals to match, and mapped out a course of sustainable actions, all that remains is to commit to your change plan.
Your ACT therapist will take time in this stage to help you make a deep decision to commit and follow through on your desired changes, by helping you resolve inner conflicts and release fears about the change process.

What can Acceptance and Commitment Therapy help with?

There is no restriction on the application of ACT, as it is always helpful to increase one’s powers of self-observation and to make choices based on core values and personal goals. ACT enhances the effectiveness of other modalities and does not interfere with any approach or goal.

ACT is known to be especially helpful with specific conditions that are sometimes hard to treat in other ways, notably addiction and co-occurring disorders (addiction in combination with mental health struggles). ACT helps with mental health struggles like anxiety, depression, phobias, and stress.

ACT is also helpful with trauma, wherein fear and extensive avoidance of re-experiencing overwhelming negative states is a defining aspect of the problem.

What are the benefits of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?

women-practicing-yoga-on-the-beachThe benefits of ACT center around restoring our ability to move forward in our lives even though we sometimes experience negative states.

This is a “middle place” approach, in which we neither get roped into trying to make the suffering go away nor do we avoid the suffering through addiction or other forms of repression.

Rather, we learn to consciously stay with the more challenging sides of the human experience without letting that suffering deter us from the values we want to serve and the goals we have committed to achieve.

From a clinical perspective, ACT has been identified to help especially with substance abuse, chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and what’s called “treatment non-adherence” – difficulty following one’s treatment plan.

ACT offers helpful mindset shifts as well as coping skills that can be applied to deal with difficult moments.

ACT techniques include:

I. Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to the practice of centering attention in the now moment, and gradually training oneself to focus less on thoughts about the past or future.
Mindfulness is known to bring about states of peace and calm and has many positive impacts on physical and mental health. ACT regards mindfulness as a key competency to develop because the best way to experience a difficult state without repression or giving in is through now-moment orientation and focus on breath and physical sensations.

II. Higher Perspective

ACT teaches the skill of getting perspective on one’s temporary state, and therefore making better choices. By scaling out and mentally framing to place a negative emotion in the context of larger goals and values, we can more easily see whether it serves us to give into an urge or not.

III. Living Values

ACT emphasizes the importance of living personally meaningful values and goals derived from those goals. When strongly connected to a higher, deeper purpose, we have energy, clarity, and motivation to follow through on changes.

IV. Commitment

The ability to commit to showing up for ourselves and our loved ones is enhanced with ACT, as the combination of a deeper, stronger “why” (values), combined with the tools for staying centered in now-moment sensations is powerful.
When we know why we are doing what we are doing, and we have a regular practice of some kind of mindfulness through which we grow the muscles of higher noticing, we grow into people who can commit and follow through, possibly for the first time in our lives.

V. Acceptance

Acceptance has hidden power – when we decide to accept each moment as it is, we are freed from grappling and fighting with current reality. Through the doorway of accepting the now moment as it is, we are more able to set intentions that help our future moments be better. Acceptance also leads to feelings of deep, unshakable peace.

VI. Cognitive Defusion

ACT teaches a specific technique called Cognitive Defusion, in which we deliberately defuse a particular thought of its charge. Cognitive Defusion makes specific thoughts and feelings inactive and strips them of their power to upset us or send us into a course of action we don’t actually want to take, or wouldn’t take if we were feeling more settled.

Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy effective?

ACT is widely considered effective among practitioners who use the method to support people to make changes. Clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that ACT is a strong resource for people recovering from substance abuse and mental illness problems.

Like all therapy techniques, ACT is most effective when embraced for one’s own goals and purposes, as it is the motivation and desire of the person undergoing change that ultimately drives the magic of any technique.

That said, ACT excels at helping people clarify why they want to change, mapping out a path of change, and coaching necessary skills for tolerating difficult feeling states that come up in the short term when we make positive changes.

Villa Kali Ma Offers Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Women

Villa Kali Ma is a positive, holistic treatment center for women with addiction and mental health struggles. Villa Kali Ma helps women recover lives of joy, purpose, and meaning, by helping them remember themselves and who they’re here to be. When women remember who they want to be, and believe in themselves again, they can make changes in lifestyle and behavior to more accurately match their true core essence.

Villa Kali Ma embraces the best of Western approaches to recovery and weaves them together with Eastern healing practices like yoga, ayurveda, and meditation.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is offered at Villa Kali Ma and is integrated into all of our holistic, mindfulness-based offerings because the mindsets and methods of ACT are helpful no matter what your change goals are.

I don't believe it to be an exaggeration to say that Villa Kali Ma saved my life.
I couldn't have asked for a better environment to heal and redirect onto a path towards true living.


This place completely changed my life. I needed a drastic change from the typical recovery environment in order to stay sober long-term. I can honestly say that I love who I am today and I am forever grateful for Villa Kali Ma!


I am so grateful I found Villa Kali Ma, it has truly changed my life. Kay is awesome and the entire team who works there is absolutely amazing. If you need treatment, I highly recommend making this the start to your recovery.


Villa Kali Ma is an in-network provider with Anthem BCBS, Multiplan, First Health, and an
authorized out-of-network provider with TRICARE accepting most PPO plans or out-of-network benefits.
Call (760) 350-3131 for information on cost and payment options.