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Leaves on a Stream

Leaves on a stream is a technique used in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to cope with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This technique uses a concept called cognitive defusion, which works by creating distance from thoughts and feelings as a way to reduce the power they have over us.

Cognitive defusion teaches us to take a step back and observe our thoughts and feelings from afar. By doing this, we can see how they are affecting us. We learn to recognize: “I am having this thought, but it isn’t necessarily true.”

During leaves on a stream, you will practice cognitive defusion by clearing your mind and visualizing a stream. Whenever a thought enters your mind, you will briefly observe it, place it upon a leaf, and watch as it floats down the stream.

The Leaves on a Stream worksheet explains how to use this technique with simple instructions and tips. The text briefly introduces the rationale behind the skill, then provides practical instructions for getting started.

Check out the Leaves on a Stream audio exercise for a guided version of this technique.

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1. Harris, R. (2019). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger Publications.

2. Hayes, S. C., Levin, M. E., Plumb-Vilardaga, J., Villatte, J. L., & Pistorello, J. (2013). Acceptance and commitment therapy and contextual behavioral science: Examining the progress of a distinctive model of behavioral and cognitive therapy. Behavior therapy, 44(2), 180-198.

3. Schreiner, I., & Malcolm, J. P. (2008). The benefits of mindfulness meditation: Changes in emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Behaviour Change, 25(3), 156-168.

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