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‘I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this’ Emo Philips. Undermining cognitive fusion. Key targets for cognitive defusion.

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Undermining cognitive fusion

Undermining cognitive fusion organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this’


Key targets for cognitive defusion
Key targets for cognitive defusion organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this’

  • Help clients see thoughts as what they are – just thoughts – so that thoughts can be responded to in terms of their workability given the clients values, rather than in terms of their literal meaning

  • Help clients attend to thinking and experiencing as an on-going behavioural process and away from the literal meaning of the contents of the mind


What is defusion
What is defusion organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this’

  • ACT argues that the problem with human suffering, as it relates to thoughts, is not that we have the ‘wrong thoughts’, but rather that we spend too much time ‘in them’ or ‘looking from them’, rather than simply looking at them and observing them

  • Defusion attempts to allow the client see thoughts as an on-going behaviour that can be watched, and not taken too seriously at times when they are unhelpful

  • Clients are encouraged to look at thoughts from the perspective of workability, and not see them as literal truth


  • A common misunderstanding is that our thoughts cause our behaviour

    • For example, if we asked someone why they stood in the corner all night at a party, a plausible answer might be ‘I was too worried I would embarrass myself’. This thought (worry) caused the subsequent action – withdrawal

  • ACT holds that Defusion, being able to stand away from our thoughts, will enable us to take effective action in spite of them

  • Essentially Defusion involves changing our relationship with our thoughts and understanding that thoughts are just words created from our history.

  • In each situation we get to evaluate whether our thoughts are being helpful or unhelpful



  • Most people find that; behaviour

    • The word temporarily loses some of its meaning,

    • And other functions dominate awareness, like the strangeness of it sound

  • In a therapy situation such an exercise would be done with a self relevant word – worthless

    • The exercise aims to reduce literal content

    • The idea is to show that this is just a word


When how and why to do defusion
When, how and why to do defusion behaviour

  • Defusion is most powerful with clients that tend to hold the literal meaning of their thoughts to be true

    • Some who has the thought that they were ‘bad’, would believe fully such a thought, assuming it is ‘true’

  • There are many ways to help people become less fused with their thoughts, these include; paradox, meditative exercises, experiential exercisesand metaphor


  • Once behaviourDefusion is reached clients are encouraged to focus on effective action in spite of the negative thoughts they may be having

    • Simple example – John’s alarm didn’t go off, he was late for work. Because of this he shouted at his wife, he had fused with the thought ‘she didn’t set my alarm and made me late for work’. If in that moment, John had the ability to see his thought from a distance, and keep in contact with his value of being a loving husband, he would have seen that shouting was not effective action in that context


Some defusion exercises
Some defusion exercises behaviour

  • Defusion exercises attempt to reduce the literal quality of the thought, weakening the tendency to treat the thought as what it refers to (truth) rather than what it actually is (a thought)

    • Note: the result of Defusion should be a lowered attachment to private events, not a change in their frequency or form

  • Some examples include;

    • Singing the thought

    • Buying a thought

    • Speaking the thought in a silly voice

    • Watching your thoughts on a TV screen

    • Giving the thoughts a shape, size, colour or speed

    • Thanking your mind for an unhelpful thought

    • Label the process of thinking; I'm having the thought that I'm worthless

    • Mindfully observing the thoughts like leaves on a stream


  • Lets start a short exercise; behaviour

    • Bring to mind a friend, who has had some psychological troubles that have come to you with. Think of three thoughts that this person has about himself or herself, his or her life, or his or her future that are difficult for this friend. Record these on a sheet. If you cant think of anyone create a client in your head. Try to be specific with the thoughts

  • We’ll come back to this later


Creating distance between the thought and thinker feeling and feeler
Creating distance between the thought and thinker, feeling and feeler

  • ACT aims to allow clients to see that thoughts and feelings are something clients have rather than something they are

  • There are a few ways to apply this principle;


Objectify language and feeler

  • We all have a great deal of experience dealing with objects in our environment as separate from ourselves

  • By attributing our thoughts as objects to be viewed the same distance can be achieved

  • Objectifying thoughts can help clients interact with their thought in a more flexible and practical way

    • Your thoughts as a tool metaphor

    • The bullying passengers on a bus metaphor

    • The taking your mind for a walk metaphor (naming your mind)


Looking at thoughts rather than from thoughts and feeler

  • This is the difference between having a thought and buying a thought

  • We can do this by emphasizing the fact that we constantly speak to ourselves or by practicing various metaphors

    • Leaves on a stream

    • Soldiers in a parade

  • Listen to this transcript


Reveal the hidden properties of language and feeler

  • Evaluation versus description

    • The idea of this is to allow the client to step away from their thoughts and see exactly what is happening when they confuse the two

    • The ‘bad cup’ metaphor is helpful here


Undermining larger sets of verbal relations and feeler

  • Story telling and reason giving

  • Lets look at a transcript of how story telling builds and can ultimately be unhelpful

  • Examine the workability of the stories

    • If God came down from Heaven and said, you are 100% right about why you have a disorder, how would that help?


Therapeutic stance
Therapeutic stance and feeler

  • The previous slides detail Defusion metaphors and exercises

  • However it is important that these be integrated into the general flow of the session

  • And not just be listed didactically

  • Importantly, Defusion work in therapy never ends, and is used constantly through each ACT process

  • In any given situation, the primary focus is on whether buying a thought would move the client toward a more vital, values based life


  • Underneath are some specific techniques used for practicing Defusion in the ongoing flow of the session

    • Verbal conventions

    • I'm having the thought that

    • Thanking your mind

    • Replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’

    • Metaphor reminding

      • Coming back to metaphors used previously

      • Listen to this manuscript

    • Teaching the client to recognize fusion



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