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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for Chronic Pain

chronic pain

Living with chronic pain can be an overwhelming and isolating experience, impacting various aspects of life. In the pursuit of effective therapeutic approaches, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has emerged as a valuable and transformative tool. This blog post provides an overview of the application of ACT to the experience of chronic pain.

Understanding Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a contemporary therapeutic model that combines mindfulness strategies with behavioral interventions. It encourages individuals to embrace their thoughts and feelings, fostering psychological flexibility and enhancing overall well-being. ACT is rooted in six core processes: cognitive defusion, acceptance, present moment awareness, self-as-context, values clarification, and committed action.

The Relationship among Thoughts, Feelings, and Pain

Negative thoughts and emotions can amplify the subjective experience of pain, creating a cycle of distress. For instance, catastrophic thoughts about the future, such as fearing the pain will never improve, can heighten emotional distress and intensify the experience of pain. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) recognizes this relationship and aims to break the cycle by promoting mindfulness and cognitive defusion, helping individuals defuse from negative thoughts and emotions associated with chronic pain. By addressing the interconnection between thoughts, feelings, and pain perception, individuals can develop a more adaptive and resilient mindset in the face of chronic pain challenges.

Application of ACT in Chronic Pain Management

Cognitive Defusion

ACT introduces the concept of cognitive defusion, which involves detaching from negative thoughts and learning not to be overwhelmed by them. In the context of chronic pain, this can help individuals view their pain-related thoughts objectively, reducing their impact on emotional well-being.


Rather than attempting to eliminate pain, ACT emphasizes acceptance. Acknowledging pain as a part of life and learning to coexist with it can alleviate the emotional burden that often accompanies chronic pain conditions.

Present Moment Awareness

Mindfulness practices play a crucial role in ACT. By cultivating present moment awareness, individuals can develop a non-judgmental and compassionate attitude towards their pain. This enables them to respond to pain in a more intentional and measured way.


This component encourages individuals to separate their sense of self from their pain. By recognizing that pain is just one aspect of their experience, individuals can cultivate a more holistic and adaptive sense of identity.

Values Clarification

Identifying and clarifying personal values is a fundamental aspect of ACT. Understanding what truly matters to individuals helps them direct their energy towards meaningful and fulfilling activities, even in the presence of pain.

Committed Action

The ultimate goal of ACT is to promote committed action – taking steps towards a life that aligns with one's values. This involves setting and working towards realistic goals, despite the challenges posed by chronic pain.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy offers a unique and empowering approach to chronic pain management by fostering psychological flexibility and resilience. By embracing acceptance, mindfulness, and committed action, individuals can navigate the complexities of chronic pain and move towards a more fulfilling and meaningful life. As clinical psychologists, integrating ACT principles into our therapeutic toolkit can provide valuable support to those seeking relief from the burdens of chronic pain.

Author: Dr. Megan Williams, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Megan Williams Psychology, LLC

IG: @meganwilliamspsychology


Looking for a therapist that is trained in acceptance-based strategies for chronic pain in Maryland? Call (410) 617-9699 or visit to schedule a free 15-minute consult with Dr. Megan Williams.



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