14 Must-Read Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Books

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy BooksAcceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT (pronounced “act”), is an evidence-based therapy that blends Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), humanistic, and mindfulness-based approaches to treatment.

There is a lot of good stuff contained in the treatment that can help your clients.

There is no better way to learn about ACT than to take a course and get supervision. This being said, there is so much you can learn about ACT from reading books too.

In this post, we break down our 14 favorite ACT and ACT-related books, and some relevant material on our website, so that you can kickstart your ACT education.

Before you continue, you might like to download our three Mindfulness Exercises for free. These science-based, comprehensive exercises will help you cultivate a sense of inner peace throughout your daily life and give you the tools to enhance the mindfulness of your clients, students, or employees.

Top 11 Books on ACT

There is so much good writing about ACT that it was difficult to narrow down this list. The books below are split into three categories:

  • Self-help books, which apply to all readers
  • Textbooks, which are academic in style and more relevant to students and practitioners
  • “Not ACT, but close,” which are books selected for their ACT-adjacent mindset and tone but that are not directly related to the treatment itself

 

Self-Help Books

1. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life – Steven Hayes

Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life

The founder of ACT, Dr. Steven Hayes, wrote this book.

Hayes writes with accessible language, translating some of the more esoteric ACT concepts into a format that readers can use to improve their lives.

As someone who has personally struggled with anxiety, Hayes easily gets into the mindset of the reader. The exercises in this book are easy to do and can be very helpful for you or your clients.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

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

This is another book aimed at helping people enhance their life skills.

The book uses ACT 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.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Guide to Self-Empowerment With CBT, DBT, and ACT – Tom Shepherd

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This book uses an integrative approach, combining concepts from ACT, CBT, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to help readers live a more valuable and meaningful life.

Teaching oneself CBT could be an interesting complement to formal treatment; the book helps readers learn the tools that therapists use in these approaches to enhance their sense of self-empowerment.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

Textbooks

1. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Second Edition: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change – Steven Hayes, Kirk Strosahl, and Kelly Wilson

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Second Edition

This is a classic ACT textbook, written by the founder of ACT and two colleagues.

This was the textbook that my professor assigned in the first ACT course I took in graduate school. It starts with an explanation of relational frame theory, which is the theory that underlies the entire treatment.

The text is a bit wordy and dense, so I would recommend this book for people looking for an academic experience, rather than a casual introduction to the treatment.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

2. ACT Made Simple, Second Edition: An Easy-to-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Russ Harris

ACT made simple

This book is written by Russ Harris, who is probably the best-known writer on ACT for a popular audience.

Harris writes with humor, his style is very approachable, and his teachings are easy to implement.

In this book, which is structured as a textbook but reads much easier than most, Harris breaks down the concepts in a way that makes it easy for the practitioner to hit the ground running.

If you are curious about this book, consider accessing the first two chapters, which are provided by the publisher, New Harbinger, and posted on Harris’s website.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

3. The ACT Practitioner’s Guide to the Science of Compassion: Tools for Fostering Psychological Flexibility – Dennis Tirch, Benjamin Schoendorff, and Laura Silberstein

ACT Practitioner

This book is an excellent resource for those working with their clients on self-compassion.

Self-compassion is an important part of ACT treatment since it can be a difficult and counterintuitive approach for many clients.

This book equips therapists with the skills to help clients be kinder to themselves, while also working to increase their psychological flexibility and expand their behavioral repertoire.

Find the book Amazon.

 

4. The Big Book of ACT Metaphors: A Practitioner’s Guide to Experiential Exercises & Metaphors in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy – Jill Stoddard and Niloofar Afari

The Big Book

ACT practitioners often use metaphors to explain concepts in a therapy session.

Metaphors can cut through the literality of our minds, allowing for a more visceral and emotional experience. They also tend to stick with us more than plain language.

Many ACT practitioners have created metaphors that have been passed from clinician to clinician.

These are collected in this book, which is an excellent resource for therapists looking to expand their ACT repertoires and perfect their delivery of these powerful tools.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

Not ACT, but Close

1. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times – Pema Chodron

When things fall apart

Pema Chodron’s classic book is best explained by its subtitle: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.

As a Buddhist monk from Canada, Chodron has been one of the most prolific modern writers on Buddhism for the Western world.

Since ACT draws from Buddhism, the teachings in this book are relevant for practitioners and laypeople alike, and will help you improve your mindfulness practice and coping skills for everyday life.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

2. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

Siddhartha

This classic novel tells the parable of Siddhartha, a person who spends much of his life wandering, trying to find his true calling in life.

Another story with Buddhist roots, at one point Siddhartha meets the Buddha himself. Only when Siddhartha stops his striving and searching does he truly find what he is looking for.

This lesson translates closely to ACT, which encourages clients to stop struggling against themselves and accept the qualities and experiences that come to them naturally.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

3. Ishmael: A Novel – Daniel Quinn

Ishmael

This novel has an environmental message and explains human behavior from an evolutionary standpoint.

Told from the standpoint of an ancient gorilla, this book is both hilarious and disturbing. The reader ends up gaining a perspective on life that incorporates more empathy and compassion, as well as a new context for human suffering.

Although the text has little to do with ACT, the fundamental underpinnings fit together quite well.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

4. Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah – Richard Bach

Illusions

One final novel to inform your ACT worldview, this book tells the story of a wandering messiah as he helps his traveling partner to rekindle his faith in himself.

A novel that blurs the lines between secular and religious beliefs, Bach’s writing carries a message of self-empowerment, wonder at the universe, and belief.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

 

3 Recommended Books for Your Clients

1. The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living – Russ Harris

The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living

This book is the quintessential self-help book for ACT. Written for a lay audience, The Happiness Trap shows the reader how the pursuit of happiness is a trap that can lead to chronic unhappiness.

The book teaches concrete skills that help the reader switch from a striving mindset to one in which happiness becomes the byproduct of living a meaningful life, rather than the futile object of mindless activity.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

2. How to Be Nice to Yourself: The Everyday Guide to Self-Compassion – Laura Silberstein-Tirch

How to be nice

As stated above, self-compassion is an essential part of the ACT therapy process.

This book is a practical handbook that clients can use to ameliorate self-criticism and increase self-love.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

 

 

3. How To Live: Boxed Set of Mindfulness Essentials Series – Thich Nhat Hanh

How to Live

I personally recommend this series to clients who want to learn more about mindfulness.

Written by Thich Nhat Hanh, another monk and prolific writer on Buddhism for a Western audience, these books break down mindfulness into a series of components that can help you live a more mindful life.

Included in the series are How to Sit, Fight, Eat, Love, and Relax. The books help readers develop basic mindfulness skills and integrate them into these domains of everyday life.

They are short and easy to read, making them a very minor commitment for busy clients with the potential to have a big impact.

Find the book on Amazon.

For a full list of ACT self-help books, you can check the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science’s website.

 

PositivePsychology.com’s Resources

You can find courses, tools, and blog posts that can help you get started with ACT right here on our website.

Since ACT and positive psychology share a similar theoretical underpinning, there are many crossovers between the books listed above and the content available on this site.

See below for some of our best ACT-related resources.

 

PositivePsychology.com courses

Mindfulness X

Mindfulness X© is a fully customizable training template for learning about mindfulness. You can practice using this product on your own, or you can integrate it into your work with clients.

The Mindfulness X masterclass includes eight sessions that you can run with clients, as well as eight lessons that you can use to train yourself as a mindful clinician.

Since mindfulness is a big part of ACT work, this product can be a great complement to your training as an ACT clinician.

Meaning and Valued Living

This coaching masterclass centers on the humanistic concepts of meaning and value, which are two of the central building blocks of ACT work.

The course contains eight lessons that will help you understand the concepts and then apply them in your clinical work.

This course is very ACT consistent and is a way to help you focus on two topics that can sometimes be difficult to define.

 

PositivePsychology.com Toolkit

The PositivePsychology.com Toolkit contains many tools that are either directly related or consistent with ACT. Here are some of the most relevant tools for this kind of work.

Moving From Cognitive Fusion to Defusion

Cognitive defusion is one of the six aspects of the hexaflex, the main diagnostic treatment tool in ACT. This tool is an adaptation of an activity developed by ACT founder Steven Hayes.

In the exercise, the client gains psychological distance from difficult thoughts by learning to recognize and label the process of thinking. This allows the client to continue living a valued life despite having thoughts that they don’t like.

Leaves on a Stream

This is another defusion exercise. Leaves on a stream is a type of meditation in which the client pictures placing their thoughts on a series of leaves floating peacefully down a stream.

This visualization helps the client recognize the transient nature of thoughts, seeing that they come and go without having to do anything at all.

The Chessboard Metaphor

The chessboard metaphor is another defusion tool to help your clients stop struggling against themselves.

The client is helped to see that they are not the pieces in the chess game, but rather the board on which the game is played.

Using Intrinsic Values to Promote Goal Commitment

One of the most difficult tasks in therapy is to help the client commit to accomplishing their goals. In this tool, you use the client’s values to increase commitment to the change process.

The Sailboat

This comprehensive metaphor helps get across a certain way of thinking about life that is very consistent with ACT work.

Consider using different aspects of this metaphor, such as the compass, to help improve your ACT-based approaches.

Core Values in Romantic Relationships

In relationships, it’s easy to lose sight of our own values. This tool can help your clients use what drives them to improve or change their relationships with others.

Prioritizing Personal Values

Another value-based tool, this is a quick and easy-to-deliver intervention for helping clients act on their own values. This may be useful for clients who have a difficult time listening to what they want.

Valued Living During Challenging Times

We all experience stressful times at some point in our lives. This values exercise focuses on helping clients under duress live by their values, despite the stress.

Choice Point

This tool, which was adapted from an exercise developed by Russ Harris, gives clients a useful metaphor for making everyday choices based on their values.

My Gravestone

Although it’s difficult to think about our own death, it can also help us prioritize and change direction if we are off course. This exercise helps the client imagine what might be written on their gravestone and helps them think about the changes they need to make if they dislike the message.

17 Mindfulness & Meditation Exercises

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enjoy the benefits of mindfulness, this collection contains 17 validated mindfulness tools for practitioners. Use them to help others reduce stress and create positive shifts in their mental, physical, and emotional health.

 

Blog posts on ACT

How Does Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Work?

This blog post clearly explains ACT as a treatment and gives novel ideas of how you can apply these concepts in your own work.

ACT: The Theory Behind Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

This piece describes the foundation of ACT, starting at the theoretical level and moving toward its application in everyday life.

21 ACT Worksheets and Ways to Apply Acceptance & Commitment Therapy

This practical post provides you with ACT worksheets and suggestions for using ACT in your clinical work.

 

A Take-Home Message

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a fascinating and effective treatment for many types of life challenges and mental illnesses.

The best way to learn how to use ACT is to attend a course and obtain supervision. These books provide excellent material to jumpstart your learning process.

Because ACT is so relatable, laypeople can also enjoy reading about it. Readers who enjoy the intersection of mindfulness, Eastern thought, and Western psychology will be especially interested.

If you are new to the field, consider reading the novels listed above and then move into more academic material.

We also have a lot of good ACT resources on this site, so look around and enjoy.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Mindfulness Exercises for free.

  • Bach, R. (1989). Illusions: The adventures of a reluctant messiah. Dell.
  • Chodron, P. (2016). When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times. Shambhala.
  • Hanh, T. N. (2016). How to live: Boxed set of the mindfulness essentials series. Parallax Press.
  • Harris, R. (2008). The happiness trap: How to stop struggling and start living: A guide to ACT. Trumpeter.
  • Harris, R. (2019). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger.
  • Hayes, S. C. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life: The new acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger.
  • Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2016). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change (2nd ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Hesse, H., & Rosner, H. (Trans.). (1982). Siddhartha: A novel. Bantam.
  • Oliver, J., Hill, J., & Morris, E. (2016). ACTivate your life: Using acceptance and mindfulness to build a life that is rich, fulfilling and fun. Constable & Robinson.
  • Quinn, D. (1995). Ishmael: A novel. Bantam.
  • Shepherd, T. (2018). Cognitive behavioral therapy: How to build brain strength and reshape your life with behavioral therapy: A guide to self-empowerment with CBT, DBT, and ACT. Author.
  • Silberstein-Tirch, L. (2019). How to be nice to yourself: The everyday guide to self-compassion: Effective strategies to increase self-love and acceptance. Althea Press.
  • Stoddard, J. A., & Afari, N. (2014). The big book of ACT metaphors: A practitioner’s guide to experiential exercises & metaphors in acceptance & commitment therapy. New Harbinger.
  • Tirch, D., Schoendorff, B., & Silberstein, L. R. (2014). The ACT practitioner’s guide to the science of compassion: Tools for fostering psychological flexibility. New Harbinger.

 

About the Author

Joshua Schultz, Psy.D. is a therapist and writer based in Philadelphia. He holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Widener University, where his dissertation focused on compassion in leadership. He believes in systemic justice and is interested in reforming organizations and institutions through the introduction of love and empathy. Joshua approaches his clinical engagements from an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy perspective. His work is aimed at helping others act with compassion while living a life they find meaningful.

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