CBT vs ACT for Perfectionism – Which is Better?

by | Mar 11, 2024 | Adulting, Anxiety, Counseling, New therapists, Online Therapy, Perfectionism, Teen therapy

CBT vs ACT for Perfectionism: Which is Better?

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In today’s high-pressure world, perfectionism poses a significant challenge to mental well-being, prompting a search for effective therapeutic interventions. At its core, perfectionism entails the constant pursuit of flawlessness, accompanied by excessively high standards and a persistent fear of failure and criticism. Although this striving for excellence can fuel valid motivation, perfectionism can take a heavy toll on a person’s psychological well-being, leading to anxiety, depression, and interpersonal difficulties.  In the realm of psychotherapy, addressing perfectionism presents a unique challenge. There are two prominent therapeutic approaches that therapists may take: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), rooted in the premise that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected, seeks to identify and modify dysfunctional cognitive patterns contributing to psychological distress. On the other hand, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), informed by principles of mindfulness and acceptance, takes a different stance toward perfectionism. Rather than attempting to eliminate or challenge perfectionistic thoughts directly, ACT encourages individuals to develop acceptance and mindfulness skills to tolerate discomfort and uncertainty. Let’s delve more into the differences and similarities between these two therapeutic approaches and maybe you’ll find which one may help you more!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a widely practiced therapeutic approach, operates on the premise that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected, and seeks to identify and modify dysfunctional cognitive patterns contributing to psychological distress. When applied to perfectionism, CBT targets a range of maladaptive thought processes, including all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, and overgeneralization. Through cognitive restructuring techniques, individuals learn to challenge and reframe these irrational beliefs about perfection, replacing them with more realistic and balanced perspectives. 

Additionally, behavioral experiments play a crucial role in the CBT approach to perfectionism, allowing individuals to test the validity of their perfectionistic assumptions in real-life situations. By systematically confronting feared outcomes of imperfection and experimenting with alternative behaviors, individuals gradually build confidence and resilience in the face of perfectionistic tendencies. 

Exposure therapy, another technique from CBT, involves gradually exposing individuals to situations that trigger their perfectionistic fears, helping them to desensitize and reevaluate their responses. Overall, CBT equips individuals with a toolkit of cognitive and behavioral strategies to challenge perfectionism, alleviate associated distress, and promote adaptive coping skills for long-term well-being.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT):

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) takes a unique approach to addressing perfectionism by emphasizing acceptance, mindfulness, and values-based living. Unlike CBT, which focuses on challenging and modifying thoughts directly, ACT encourages individuals to develop psychological flexibility in the face of perfectionistic tendencies.  ACT is the concept of acceptance, where individuals learn to acknowledge and tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and emotions associated with imperfection without attempting to change or control them. 

Through mindfulness practices, individuals cultivate present-moment awareness, allowing them to observe their perfectionistic thoughts with curiosity and non-judgmental awareness. By developing a stance of acceptance towards their internal experiences, individuals can reduce the struggle against perfectionism and experience greater psychological freedom. Additionally, ACT emphasizes the importance of clarifying personal values and taking committed action aligned with those values, rather than striving for unattainable standards of perfection. By connecting with their deepest values and committing to meaningful actions, individuals can shift their focus away from perfectionistic concerns and towards living a rich, fulfilling life. 

Acceptance and defusion techniques, such as cognitive distancing and metaphorical exercises, help individuals to detach from their perfectionistic thoughts and recognize them as transient mental events rather than absolute truths. Through these practices, ACT empowers individuals to develop a more flexible and compassionate relationship with themselves, fostering resilience and well-being in the presence of perfectionistic tendencies.

So, Which One is Better?

While both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offer valuable strategies for managing perfectionism, they diverge in their underlying theoretical frameworks, treatment approaches, and mechanisms of change. CBT, grounded in the cognitive model, seeks to modify maladaptive thoughts and behaviors directly through cognitive restructuring and behavioral experiments. By challenging irrational beliefs about perfection and systematically confronting feared outcomes, CBT equips individuals with practical skills to challenge perfectionism and alleviate associated distress. 

However, ACT adopts a more experiential and acceptance-based approach, prioritizing the cultivation of psychological flexibility and the promotion of values-driven action. Rather than attempting to eliminate or challenge perfectionistic thoughts directly, ACT encourages individuals to develop acceptance skills to tolerate discomfort and uncertainty while clarifying personal values to guide behavior. Through fostering present-moment awareness and detachment from thoughts, ACT aims to help individuals develop a more flexible and compassionate relationship with their internal experiences, thereby reducing the impact of perfectionism on psychological well-being. Additionally, the treatment strategies employed in CBT and ACT differ in their emphasis on cognitive versus experiential techniques. CBT primarily utilizes cognitive restructuring and behavioral experiments to challenge and modify perfectionistic beliefs and behaviors, whereas ACT focuses on mindfulness and acceptance techniques to reduce the struggle against perfectionism. By practicing acceptance of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, individuals learn to create space for imperfection and shift their focus toward values-driven action. 

While some studies suggest that both CBT and ACT demonstrate significant reductions in perfectionism-related distress, others highlight the importance of individual preferences, therapist expertise, and treatment context in determining treatment outcomes. 

Perfectionism poses significant challenges to psychological well-being, necessitating effective therapeutic interventions. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) represent two prominent approaches to addressing perfectionism, each offering unique strategies and perspectives. While CBT targets maladaptive cognitions and behaviors directly, ACT promotes acceptance and mindfulness to foster psychological flexibility. Understanding the principles and techniques of both approaches can guide clinicians and individuals in selecting the most suitable intervention to alleviate perfectionism-related distress and promote adaptive functioning.

To discuss how therapy could help you during this season of your life, please contact me or schedule your free 15 minute consultation.


Bettino, Kate. “What’s CBT and Is It Right for Me?” Psych Central, Psych Central, 2 June 2021, psychcentral.com/lib/in-depth-cognitive-behavioral-therapy. 

Pedersen, Traci. “Act vs. CBT: What’s the Difference?” Psych Central, Psych Central, 15 Apr. 2022, psychcentral.com/lib/whats-the-difference-between-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy-mindfulness-based-cognitive-therapy#what-is-cbt. 

Podcast, The Psych Central. “Podcast: What Is Act (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)?” Psych Central, Psych Central, 25 Feb. 2021, psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-what-is-act-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy. 

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