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Thought Defusion Techniques

Thoughts can easily consume our attention, particularly when they’re distressing. When this happens, we can fixate on a thought such that we’re unable to focus on anything else. This is called being fused with thoughts.

Thought defusion techniques provide a way out of this trap. Derived from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), these defusion techniques work by shifting attention away from the content of thoughts to the process of thinking. The result is less mental turmoil and a more balanced perspective.

Our Thought Defusion Techniques worksheet introduces this powerful ACT intervention, offers tips on when to use it, and presents eight user-friendly examples. For example, the Zoom Out technique asks clients to imagine floating high above the earth, where everything below looks tiny and insignificant. Seen from this distance, problems and worries appear less threatening. Clients can choose from the eight techniques based on what they find appealing and effective.

Use this worksheet to familiarize clients with thought defusion techniques. These skills are helpful for a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and general overwhelm. By learning to attach less significance to their thoughts, clients gain more time and energy to enjoy life and work toward their goals.

For related ACT tools, see our Confronting Avoidance and Becoming Psychologically Flexible worksheets.

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1. Assaz, D. A., Roche, B., Kanter, J. W., & Oshiro, C. K. B. (2018). Cognitive defusion in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: What are the basic processes of change? The Psychological Record, 68(4), 405–418.

2. Assaz, D. A., Tyndall, I., Oshiro, C. K. B., & Roche, B. (2022). A process-based analysis of cognitive defusion in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Behavior Therapy.

3. Evans, J. (2019, May 3). Ten defusion techniques for unhooking your mind. Philosophy for Life.

4. Forman, E. M., Herbert, J. D., Juarascio, A. S., Yeomans, P. D., Zebell, J. A., Goetter, E. M., & Moitra, E. (2012). The Drexel defusion scale: A new measure of experiential distancing. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 1(1–2), 55–65.

5. Harris, R. (2008). The happiness trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Trumpeter Books.

6. Harris, R. (2018). ACT questions and answers: A practitioner’s guide to 150 common sticking points in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Context Press.

7. Hayes, S. C., & Smith, S. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life: The new Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

8. Lewis, M. (2018, July 30). 4 practical exercises to help manage uncomfortable thoughts and anxious thinking. Manage Your Mind: Change Your Life.

9. McKay, M., Greenberg, M. J., & Fanning, P. (2020). The ACT workbook for depression and shame: Overcome thoughts of defectiveness and increase well-being using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (1st ed.). New Harbinger Publications.

10. Washington Center for Cognitive Therapy. (n.d.). Cognitive defusion: An empirically supported strategy to change your relationship with problematic thoughts.

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