ACT and Empowerment


Terri St. Cloud, Bone Sigh Arts

Guest post by Angie Hardage, LMLP

One of the many reasons I am passionate about sharing my training in acceptance and commitment therapy/training (ACT) is its emphasis on empowerment and intrinsic locus of control. Staying connected to our inner locus of control is useful across a variety of contexts – personal, professional, and socio-cultural. Locus of control refers to areas in your life that you can directly influence and change.

Many times we (unconsciously) tend to overly identify and focus on things that are upsetting to us, but that we ultimately have no control over. ACT recognizes when we engage in a strategy that emphasizes powerlessness, we are likely to feel stuck, demoralized, and disillusioned. According to Russ Harris, “The more we focus on things we want to change that are NOT in our control, the more powerless and upset we feel. This can manifest as helplessness, hopelessness, anger, anxiety, guilt, sadness, rage, despair, etc. So it’s important we learn to focus on what is in our control; and to channel our energy and time into that stuff. This is at the core of self-empowerment.”

Easier said than done, no doubt, but so important in learning to take our power back and practice effectiveness in our personal, professional, and political lives. What gets in the way of staying connected with our intrinsic locus of control?

  • The blame and complain game – when life throws us obstacles, and when things are not going our way, our nervous system is wired with a negativity bias, to focus on threats and fuse with these external issues as “the problem” to be solved/changed/eliminated.”
    • What helps? With mindfulness, you become aware of your thoughts, urges, feelings, and sensations. With this awareness, you can ask yourself “What do I want to stand for in the face of this situation?” and “Is it in my power to do that?”
  • Excessive emphasis on goals – Fusing with the “When-Then Fallacy” (e.g., “My life will be great when I get that job, relationship, body, new car/house/vacation, etc.,”
    • What helps? Holding ourselves accountable to staying focused on what we CAN control in our immediate environment that MAY (but may not) result in those results, and accepting that while we would LIKE to achieve a certain goal, it is useful to remember that what is in our sphere of influence is our behavior in the present moment.
  • Excessive emphasis on others – Fusing with a desire to change other people and/or other people’s behavior.
    • What helps? Remembering that changing other people is outside of our control; however, we MAY be able to influence others with our words and behaviors. How might we be best able to effectively influence others in healthy and constructive ways? And YEP, SIMPLE AND NOT EASY!!

One resource that can be helpful in clarifying the issues of empowerment and locus of control is the ACT Choice Point model, available here. Below are a couple of quotes from some amazing women who are using ACT to take their power back:

“Don’t buy into needing worth, that’s business, not life. You are not a commodity, you are immeasurable and beyond compare. Don’t economize that which cannot be counted. Your chaotic, immeasurable nature isn’t meant to be ‘good for business,’ you are simply and complexly YOU.” ~ Laura Silberstein, PsyD

“When we make choices based on what we know to be true for ourselves, rather than being led by others telling us what is right or wrong, important or cool, we have the power to face almost any circumstance in a constructive way.” ~ Susan David, PhD


Russ Harris – Locus of Control Issues (2017)

Bailey, Ciarrochi, & Harris (2013) The Choice Point 2.0 Model available at

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