Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT (pronounced “act”), is an evidence-based psychological therapy that blends Cognitive-Behavioral, humanistic, and mindfulness-based approaches to treatment.
ACT is a collaborative coaching intervention based on a therapeutic model called the hexaflex, which is supported by relational frame theory.
The best way to learn about ACT is to take an experiential skills training course and get supervision. However, there is a great deal you can learn from reading books about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy too.
This article reviews our 14 favorite ACT books and includes links to relevant resources so that you can kick-start your ACT education.
Before you continue, you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
This article reviews the top 14 ACT books and has been broken down into sections so you can head straight to the type of books that interest you most.
As a seasoned ACT practitioner myself, I’ve chosen the following books to include classic texts for individuals, groups, beginners, and more advanced practitioners; self-help books for clients; and ACT workbooks for specific client groups.
The names of a few well-known authors might jump out at you, such as Professor Steven Hayes and Russ Harris.
Russ Harris, an author, trainer, and expert in ACT, has written several books, including The Happiness Trap and ACT Made Simple, that offer practical guidance on how to apply the principles of ACT in your life. Harris is also the founder of The Happiness Trap website, which provides resources and information on ACT.
In turn, the workbooks address specific problems where ACT can be most effectively applied.
But before I jump into the selection of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy books, you might want to brush up on ACT with this extensive selection of related articles:
These are my top seven must-reads for any ACT practitioner, whether you are a beginner or more experienced. The latest edition of each text (as of writing) is discussed, and recent revisions based on the up-to-date research evidence are explained.
1. ACT Made Simple: An Easy-to-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Russ Harris
Russ Harris is a medical doctor turned ACT therapist who is probably best known for his writing on ACT for a popular audience. Harris writes with clarity and humor, making his teachings both entertaining and easy to implement.
Now fully revised and updated, the second edition of ACT Made Simple includes new chapters on self-compassion, flexible perspective taking, and working with trauma. Harris breaks down the six core principles underpinning the ACT hexaflex into simple ideas that make it easy for a new practitioner to grasp and implement.
The book includes exercises, ACT metaphors, scripts, and worksheets you can use with your clients. It provides a session-by-session guide to implementing ACT, which is illustrated with transcripts of therapy sessions. Finally, it provides guidance for creating your own ACT techniques and practical tips for overcoming “therapy roadblocks.”
If you are curious about this book, consider accessing the first two chapters, which are posted on Harris’s website for free.
2. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change – Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, and Kelly G. Wilson
This is a classic written by the founder of ACT, Professor Steven C. Hayes, and two of his colleagues.
The book begins with an explanation of relational frame theory, which is the philosophical foundation of the entire approach. The text is intellectually dense and recommended for those looking for an academic grounding in the philosophy behind ACT, rather than an introductory guide.
The new edition refers to the huge advances that have been made in clinical applications, theory building, and research.
ACT focuses on enhancing psychological flexibility, and this revised edition includes more detailed explanations of mindfulness, the therapeutic relationship, and case formulation. It is especially aimed at clinicians interested in the moment-by-moment process of ACT therapy.
3. The Essential Guide to the ACT Matrix: A Step-by-Step Approach to Using the ACT Matrix Model in Clinical Practice – Kevin L. Polk, Benjamin Schoendorff, Mark Webster, and Fabian O. Olaz
This book takes the core concepts of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and presents them in a simple way to help you explain to your clients how ACT works. It’s a highly accessible book.
The ACT matrix fuses the six core principles of ACT into a simplified approach that focuses on clients’ behaviors as either workable or unworkable.
This innovative approach to ACT can apply to a range of contexts, especially when clients seem resistant or unmotivated to participate. The matrix was originally developed for group settings but is now used to work with individuals too.
The emphasis is on learning to track where certain behaviors take the client: either toward or away from their personal values. Generally, the ACT matrix helps clients align with what’s important to them (“toward” moves) by becoming more aware of avoidance behaviors (“away” moves) that block the development of psychological flexibility.
This book on the ACT matrix is a great guide for practitioners who want to streamline their therapeutic approach.
4. The Big Book of ACT Metaphors: A Practitioner’s Guide to Experiential Exercises and Metaphors in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Jill A. Stoddard and Niloofar Afari
ACT practitioners often use metaphors to explain concepts in a therapy session. Metaphors help to cut through literality, allowing a more visceral and emotional experience of ACT. By drawing on imagery and visualization, concepts stick better.
Many practitioners have created metaphors that have been widely shared for free. However, metaphors can become stale. This resource book has been written by two ACT researchers to provide an A-to-Z library of new ACT metaphors and other experiential exercises to help perfect these powerful tools.
If you want to learn more about ACT metaphors before reading the book, download our free ACT metaphor worksheet.
5. Learning ACT for Group Treatment: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Skills Training Manual for Therapists – Darrah Westrup and M. Joann Wright
Learning ACT for Group Treatment is a comprehensive manual for applying ACT to group work.
The authors explain the six core ACT processes, detail how to organize group sessions, and include a range of activities that facilitate cooperation between group members. Comprehensive worksheets are also provided.
The book explains how the benefits of the ACT approach can be enhanced in a group setting because there are more participants in the exercises. Group work also leads to increased accountability and enables clients to play an active role in their own treatment while observing how ACT works for others.
The book includes tips for applying ACT to several group work scenarios, such as inpatient group therapy, outpatient programs, and community self-help groups. The detailed exercises and outlines of group activities provide everything you need to start using ACT in group settings.
6. Learning ACT: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Skills Training Manual for Therapists – Jason B. Luoma, Steven C. Hayes, and Robyn D. Walser
This book is a skills training manual for ACT therapists that breaks down ACT into a series of competencies. The second edition includes important revisions based on new research in contextual behavioral science. These recent developments are reflected in the new and updated exercises and references included.
The book guides practitioners on how to use the ACT hexaflex and six core processes as a diagnostic tool, for case conceptualization, and for structuring treatments for clients. The revised edition includes updated information on process coaching, an increased focus on functional analysis, and downloadable role-play examples of the ACT processes in action.
The new workbook exercises can help you improve clients’ psychological flexibility and help them lead more fulfilled lives. This is an especially useful book for practitioners seeking a deeper understanding of the broader field of contextual behavioral science.
7. Advanced Acceptance & Commitment Therapy: The Experienced Practitioner’s Guide to Optimizing Delivery – Darrah Westrup
This is the only advanced professional ACT workbook and is designed to help you close the gap between what you’ve learned in ACT training and your client sessions.
The author is a licensed psychologist and uses real-life client scenarios to help you refine your understanding of the ACT core processes. She provides practical tips for moving past common barriers to successful therapy, such as over-identifying with clients or applying theory to practice.
Most importantly, you’ll learn how to adapt ACT for each client by learning how to work with the ACT core processes as therapy unfolds. This book is essential reading for overcoming blockages in the therapeutic process from an ACT-specific perspective.
Mental brakes to avoid mental breaks - Steven Hayes
Self-Help ACT Books for Your Clients
These three books are classic self-help texts I recommend to clients. Psychoeducation is an important component of the therapeutic process, and these books are educational texts written in highly accessible language for those clients interested in learning more about ACT and how it works.
Each book is packed with useful exercises, worksheets, and case study examples. They are also great reads for practitioners.
1. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith
Professor Steven Hayes is the founder of ACT and the primary author of this self-help workbook.
Hayes writes in accessible language, explaining some of the more complex ACT concepts in a way that readers can use to improve their lives. As someone who has struggled with anxiety, Hayes has written this for both ACT practitioners and clients to be used as a clinical workbook and self-help manual.
The book explains the ACT model, including the hexaflex and the six core processes. It is packed with exercises, worksheets, and metaphors that translate the theory into practical action.
The ACT process distinguishes between pain and suffering. Pain is unavoidable, while suffering is created by cognitive and behavioral strategies we develop to try to avoid pain. By developing a willingness to accept and experience all your emotions fully without letting them hijack your life, you’ll learn to let go of your struggle against pain and commit to acting in ways that fulfill your personal values.
This book has been awarded The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Self-Help Seal of Merit — an award given to outstanding self-help books that incorporate scientifically tested strategies for overcoming mental health difficulties.
2. ACTivate Your Life: Using Acceptance and Mindfulness to Build a Life That Is Rich, Fulfilling and Fun – Joe Oliver, Jon Hill, and Eric Morris
ACTivate Your Life aims to help readers become more engaged, open, and accepting of themselves and others.
There is also a strong mindfulness component, which is perfect for readers looking to build or expand their mindfulness practice. The book explains how unpleasant and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are a normal part of being human, and how ACT can help develop the life skills needed to respond effectively when they arise.
Character stories are presented to illustrate how the exercises can be used to accept uncomfortable emotions and build the resilience needed to lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life.
3. The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living – Russ Harris
This book is the quintessential ACT self-help book. Russ Harris writes in a highly accessible, entertaining, and engaging style.
Written for a lay audience, The Happiness Trap explains how the pursuit of happiness can become a trap that can lead to chronic suffering and unhappiness.
The book explains the ACT model to teach concrete skills that can help the reader switch from a striving and struggling goal-based mindset to an accepting, values-driven mindset where happiness becomes the natural byproduct of living a meaningful life.
I’ve selected four excellent workbooks aimed at specific client populations. Each text applies ACT to the specific problem addressed by using tailored exercises, metaphors, and worksheets. Each one is a useful resource for practitioners and clients alike.
1. The ACT Workbook for Depression & Shame: Overcome Thoughts of Defectiveness and Increase Well-Being Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Matthew McKay, Michael Jason Greenberg, and Patrick Fanning
This self-help workbook is for those who struggle with low mood, poor self-worth, feelings of inferiority, and brokenness.
Often, depression develops as a response to childhood experiences of shaming by caregivers that leads to sensitivity to criticism, terror of rejection, and feeling defective or unwanted.
This workbook uses ACT self-help techniques to help overcome the limiting and self-defeating beliefs that keep people trapped in depression. It provides tools to identify and dismiss such core beliefs and instead build a life based on positive choices and personal values that lead to a sense of vitality and fulfillment.
The exercises help free readers from old habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms. With practice, readers can learn to accept themselves and their struggles with kindness and compassion, thus alleviating the symptoms of depression.
2. The ACT Workbook for OCD: Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Exposure Skills to Live Well with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Marisa T. Mazza
The ACT Workbook for OCD combines evidence-based ACT with exposure and response prevention as an effective treatment for those struggling with obsessive-compulsive neurosis.
This book has been written for use by practitioners in clinical sessions and as a self-help resource for those diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The exercises and techniques described in this book are designed to help people with OCD become more mindful of triggering incidents while staying present and connected to their values. Practicing these skills helps people living with OCD become more flexible, accept uncertainty, and commit to behavioral change toward a more fulfilling life.
3. Acceptance and Commitment Skills for Perfectionism and High-Achieving Behaviors – Patricia E. Zurita Ona
This book is a self-help resource for highly driven perfectionists who relentlessly pursue their dreams and goals and hold their high standards, principles, and values close to their hearts.
This workbook teaches readers how to develop Acceptance and Commitment Therapy skills to harness the power of high-achieving behaviors while living the life they want to live.
Readers will learn how to maintain integrity and self-respect when things go off track, keep their fears in perspective, and overcome struggles with anxiety, stress, and harsh self-criticism.
This book will show readers how they can work hard and pursue their dreams without hurting their relationships or damaging their health. Acceptance and Commitment Skills equip high achievers with a more workable relationship with their concerns about not being good enough by embracing self-compassion for their imperfections.
4. ACT with Anxiety: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Workbook to Get You Unstuck From Anxiety and Enrich Your Live – Richard Sears
Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health challenges people face today. Although many try to manage anxiety by attempting to avoid it altogether, this often makes it worse.
Avoidance sparks anxiety, anxiety sparks more avoidance, and the person’s life becomes smaller. The good news is that recent research into ACT has revealed how to gain freedom from this anxiety trap.
Clinicians can use this accessible and entertaining workbook and as a self-help resource. Readers will learn how to transform anxiety and create a richer and more fulfilling life for themselves and/or their clients using innovative ACT techniques.
Dr. Sears explains how to use ACT to work with anxiety rather than struggling against it, using case examples, exercises, and worksheets.
The Values and Problems worksheet invites you to reflect on problematic thoughts and behaviors that drive your struggles and replace them with value-driven goals and actions. Valued living helps us enrich our lives by connecting us to what we truly deem important.
This Self-Reflection on Personal Values exercise helps you examine your values using 10 life domains. You’re invited to write what matters personally to you in each section, think about why they matter, and select the domains you consider the most important.
Lastly, our ACT Defusion Metaphors worksheet guides you to reflect on thinking patterns that may impede taking committed action. This is done by questioning the helpfulness of thoughts and using ACT metaphors to distance yourself mindfully from unhelpful thoughts.
ACT is a powerful psychoeducational intervention that helps clients develop the skills required to cultivate psychological flexibility and overcome the experiential avoidance that leads to chronic suffering. The approach has accumulated a vast scientific evidence base showing its efficacy as an intervention in a range of life problems.
These ACT books have been carefully selected to include older classic texts alongside cutting-edge workbooks that are packed with new techniques, exercises, and metaphors based on the latest scientific research.
Jo Nash, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, and writing coach. Jo obtained her Ph.D. in Psychotherapy Studies from the University of Sheffield, where she was a Lecturer in Mental Health at the Faculty of Medicine for over a decade.
Today, Jo combines her passion for language with mindfulness skills when coaching writers to help them cultivate flow and optimize productivity. She is the creator of the ‘focused flow’ approach to writing coaching.