ACT Treatment Interventions for Depression: Use of Language


True North Therapy and Training

Key Points

  1. Interactions in session with clients are opportunities to create desirable behavior and hold meaningful interpersonal conversations.
  2. Use therapeutic conversations to reflect back and help to clarify the client’s values.
  3. It’s essential to reinforce small moves toward values-based goals, as it’s hard for clients with depression to make any behavioral change.
Earn 1 CE Credits

We move now from treatment and goals formulation to actual interventions. While ACT concepts are evidence-based and positive, it can be hard for clients struggling with depression to shift their perspective enough to make changes.

Use of Language

One of the most important interventions available to us in ACT and in some other traditions is our use of language. Therapy sessions are opportunities to develop desirable behavior, and to have meaningful interpersonal conversations as a form of experiential work.

ACT Processes and Language

Present Moment Awareness

We can encourage the client to be in the present moment in session. Hannah was stuck in the past and scared of the future. Much work in conversations focused on her present experience. The therapist might say, “As you are remembering that horrible thing which happened to you, how are you feeling right now in this moment? Is it better or worse now than it was?” Or, “Can we take a moment to drop anchor and be here now for this work, instead of six months ago? What is important in this moment?” The choice of language alone is saying, “Try to be here now.”

We can consciously use language to shift attention and change perspectives. “Wow! Your mind tells you some really harsh stories about yourself. That whole “I’m broken” story, that’s painful. How long has your mind been telling you that story, or that thought?” We’re using conversation to invite clients to notice that what’s happening in their minds is part of a broader experience, not always or necessarily hard and fast truths about themselves or the world.


Using language, we invite clients in session to catch emotions, notice them, and stay and slow down with them. People think of acceptance as an end state, but it’s a process: one of showing up for what’s happening even if it’s painful, and being with it, to get better at having difficult thoughts and feelings yet still be living your life. Mindfulness practices lend themselves beautifully to slowing down, paying attention, and being present.


We can use language to reflect values back when clients don’t have clarity on or need support with their values. Almost any conversation provides an opportunity to say, “Wow, you really care about being a/an (adjective) person.” Or in Hannah’s case, ”You really care about being a good friend, being reliable, and learning how to be the best writer you can be.” You’re guiding clients to shape more helpful self-stories that are tied to their values.

Committed Action

We can also use language to reinforce small moves in the desired direction. For example, if the therapist asks Hannah, “Did you do that one-minute-a-day meditation we agreed on?”, and she says, “No, not really. I did it a couple of times,” that’s an opportunity. We can say, “Great, you did it a couple of times. How did it go?”, as opposed to, “Oh, you said you’d do it five times but you only did it twice.”

Exploratory questions are helpful: “How was it? What did you like about it? What did you not like? What can we do differently next time so you could do more of it?” Remember that we want to reinforce even tiny moves toward what we want, because clients deep in depression have trouble making any kind of behavior change.

Looking for practical everyday tools? This print-friendly worksheet is just what you need. Click on the following link to download the PDF:

Harnessing Language in ACT: A Worksheet for Therapists

This worksheet examines the strategic use of language in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), an essential component of therapeutic interventions. It guides therapists in directing mindful conversations that promote present moment awareness, shifts in perspective, and acceptance of emotions and thoughts. Furthermore, the worksheet helps clinicians employ language that reflects the values of clients, creating more beneficial self-narratives. It also emphasizes the role of language in reinforcing small but meaningful steps toward therapeutic goals, a critical aspect of motivating behavioral change in clients.


This worksheet is a practical guide to employing language as an intervention tool in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). The steps outlined involve personal reflections on recent therapy sessions and active use of specific language techniques to facilitate therapeutic change. Begin by recalling instances where clients were stuck in past or future worries and consider how language was or could be used to enrich present moment awareness. Further steps prompt you to reflect on instances of negative self-stories, struggles with acceptance, the reflection of client values, and the reinforcement of committed actions, and how language played a part in each. The ultimate aim is to maximize the power of therapeutic dialogues in fostering desirable behaviors, mirroring client values, and reinforcing even small steps toward values-based goals. Use this worksheet as a support for harnessing the potential of language in ACT.

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ACT Treatment Interventions for Depression: Use of Language

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