By Mary Beth Medvide, Ph.D.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach to therapy that has proven effective for individuals across age groups, from adults to children. As the name suggests, ACT emphasizes accepting difficult situations rather than attempting to avoid or control them. Commitment within an ACT framework involves committing to change unhelpful behaviors. It is also about striving towards goals, even in the face of adversity. This therapeutic approach used with Therapy for Teens in Arlington, MA has demonstrated success in addressing a range of concerns. These concerns include anxiety, depression, and OCD. All while helping individuals cope with medical challenges such as chronic pain or disabilities. Several studies have indicated that teens respond positively to ACT, showing reductions in symptoms and challenges, as well as improvements in self-esteem and overall functioning (Halliburton & Cooper, 2015).

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in comparison to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A teen boy stands around smiling with his teen friends in a group. Curious about what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Teens in Arlington, MA is? A teen therapist in MA can help answer those questions while helping your teen.

Although Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is known as an effective approach for helping teens cope with anxiety, depression, and stressful life situations, ACT can also be beneficial. These two approaches share some similarities. Both emphasize changing unhelpful behaviors through developing coping skills and adopting new perspectives. Additionally, both are active approaches where goal-setting is essential, and therapists and teens discuss what’s happening in the present. However, there are also important differences between the two.

CBT focuses on identifying unhelpful thoughts and modifying them. ACT, on the other hand, focuses on acknowledging and accepting unhelpful thoughts as part of daily experiences. For instance, from a CBT perspective, a therapist and teen may challenge thoughts about a math class being too difficult. While also working on strategies to shift negative thinking to a more realistic perspective. From an ACT perspective, a therapist and teen may acknowledge the challenges of math class while exploring the underlying reasons for the difficulties and setting goals for academic performance.

What is Acceptance in ACT?

Acceptance refers to acknowledging and embracing thoughts, emotions, and experiences without judgment or resistance. Since acceptance is about being open in the moment to whatever is experienced, ACT views all thoughts and feelings as part of life. ACT often defines this openness as a form of flexibility. ACT therapists describe this as being connected to health and well-being. 

The creators of ACT (source: have identified other significant components of acceptance that change the client’s relationship with their thoughts and feelings. For instance, teens may acquire skills related to ‘diffusion’, which is crucial for helping them recognize their thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed or fixated on them. Similarly, teens may shift their perspective on thoughts and feelings, seeing them as experiences they have rather than defining aspects of their identity. This concept is referred to as ‘self-in-context.’ For instance, instead of saying, “I am anxious,” teens are encouraged to reframe anxiety as one of many feelings they experience in their lives. The aim is to help teens perceive themselves as individuals who undergo various daily experiences. Experiences that shape their identity rather than solely associating their sense of self with negative thoughts and feelings.

What is Commitment in ACT?

In ACT, there isn’t a predetermined list of what should be important, but values are recognized as what guides someone to identify what is important. Through conversations with therapists, teens identify what’s important to them in different areas of their lives, such as school and friendships. This is tied to commitment to goals since ACT emphasizes how goals should be consistent with values. When a teen has a good sense of their goals and values, it’s easier to act, recognize progress, and respond to setbacks. For instance, if a teen identifies that their family is an important value, a goal may be to strengthen their relationships with their parents and siblings. This could be done by spending more meaningful time with them.

A teen boy sits in therapy with a female therapist. Wondering how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Teens in Arlington, MA can help your teen? Speak with a teen therapist to see how it works.

Strategies Used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

With ACT, teens also learn to be present in the moment (which is related to mindfulness). This is done without trying to control thoughts or feelings, minimize their current experiences, or anticipate future discomfort. While planning and goal-setting are important in ACT, therapists also work with teens to be in the moment as it is rather than trying to brainstorm ways to rid themselves of discomfort. Since discomfort is viewed as part of life, through acceptance and mindfulness, teens learn to recognize what’s happening in the moment without distancing themselves from it. Distancing from thoughts and emotions is seen as a form of avoidance. ACT therapists often discuss how avoidance is often tied to judgment about what is permissible.

Parents’ Roles in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Parents can communicate with the ACT therapist about the processes and strategies utilized in the sessions. Doing this can help parents understand how to best support their teen. This may involve discussions about values, goals, and framing responses in ways that promote flexibility and acceptance in various situations. Since Acceptance and Commitment Therapy may involve activities outside of sessions, parents and teens may need to collaborate. This is done to reinforce what has been learned during sessions.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an Effective Option in Therapy for Teens in Arlington, MA

A man smiles while in the park with his husband and his son on his shoulders. Interested in learning how acceptance and commitment therapy for teens in Arlington, MA can help your teen navigate their emotions? Reach out to a teen therapist to learn more.

With the support of a teen therapist, teens can learn how to be more present in the moment. All while becoming more flexible in how they respond to their thoughts and feelings. This can empower children and teens to pursue their goals better. Therapy for Teens in Arlington, MA, and ACT can also help teens develop skills to manage stress, improve communication, and build healthier relationships. If you believe your child could benefit from ACT, reach out to the Bain Health and Wellness Center (BainHWC). Let us help your teen thrive and live a more fulfilling life by following the steps below: 

  1. Reach out today to begin your free 20-minute consultation.
  2. Speak with a skilled teen therapist.
  3. Notice positive changes in your teen through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Other Therapy Services Offered at The Bain Health and Wellness Center in Arlington, MA

Here at The Bain Health and Wellness Center, we offer in-person and virtual therapy that includes ACT, CBT, and more. These services are for children and teens experiencing trauma, depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism, OCD, and more. All mental health therapists at BainHWC are trained in evidence-based treatment and have several years of experience working with children, teens, and young adults. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help you and your teen!


Halliburton, A.E. & Cooper, L. D. (2015). Applications and adaptations of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for adolescents. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 4 (1), 1-11.