Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) vs. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Psychological therapies have evolved over the years, with each model designed to address specific mental health concerns. Two prominent psychotherapeutic approaches are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Both are evidence-based treatments, but they have distinct philosophies, methods, and goals. This article delves into the core elements of each approach, highlighting their similarities and differences (cbt vs act).

1. Historical Background:

CBT: Developed during the mid-20th century, CBT is rooted in the combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies. Aaron T. Beck is often credited as a foundational figure for this approach, focusing on the idea that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected.

ACT: Emerging in the late 20th century, ACT is a part of the third wave of cognitive-behavioral therapies. Steven C. Hayes played a significant role in its development, emphasizing mindfulness, acceptance, and values-driven action.

2. Philosophical Underpinnings:

CBT: CBT is based on the idea that distorted or dysfunctional thinking patterns lead to maladaptive behaviors and emotions. The goal is to identify and challenge these negative thought patterns and replace them with healthier ones.

ACT: ACT postulates that human suffering primarily arises from cognitive entanglement and experiential avoidance. Instead of trying to modify thoughts, ACT focuses on changing one’s relationship to those thoughts, promoting acceptance and mindfulness.

3. Key Concepts and Techniques:


  • Cognitive restructuring: Identifying and challenging maladaptive thoughts and beliefs.
  • Behavioral experiments: Testing out beliefs to see if they hold true.
  • Graded exposure: Confronting fears in a controlled and incremental manner.


  • Cognitive defusion: Learning to see thoughts as mere events in the mind rather than literal truths.
  • Acceptance: Embracing emotions and sensations without judgment.
  • Value clarification: Recognizing what truly matters to the individual.
  • Committed action: Taking steps in line with identified values.

4. Goals of Therapy:

CBT: To decrease symptoms and improve functioning by modifying dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors.

ACT: To increase psychological flexibility—the ability to be open, adaptable, and effective in the presence of difficult thoughts and emotions. This is done by aligning actions with core values.

5. Duration and Structure:

CBT: Typically structured and time-limited, CBT can range from 6-20 sessions, depending on the issue.

ACT: While it can also be time-limited, ACT’s duration may vary depending on the individual’s needs and progress. It can be adapted for both short-term and long-term therapy.

6. Research and Efficacy:

Both CBT and ACT have a solid base of research supporting their efficacy in treating a range of psychological disorders. While CBT has been around longer and, thus, has more extensive research, ACT has shown promising results in treating disorders like depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.


7. Criticisms:

CBT: Some criticize CBT for being too technique-driven and not addressing deeper emotional or contextual issues.

ACT: Critics argue that ACT’s emphasis on acceptance might lead individuals to become passive about their problems.

8. Applications:

Both CBT and ACT can be used individually, with couples, groups, or families. They have been adapted for diverse settings, including outpatient clinics, hospitals, schools, and online platforms.


CBT and ACT offer valuable insights and tools for helping individuals cope with mental health challenges. While they spring from different philosophies, they both aim to equip individuals with skills to improve their well-being. Choosing between them often depends on the specific needs and preferences of the individual seeking therapy.

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