There are many different techniques and exercises that can be used to help learn the process of defusion. Over one hundred have been documented and many more have not.
Harris (2009) and Hayes and Smith (2005) offer a substantial selection of meditative techniques and other experiential exercises that can be used.
‘I’m having the thought that’ is an exercise that illustrates the differences between fusion and defusion that can be experienced when we use different types of language to present thoughts.
- Fusion is illustrated by spending a few moments absorbing one’s mind with brief negative self-statements (e.g. ‘I am a loser’, ‘I am stupid’).
- Defusion is illustrated in two steps: (i) by prefacing the sentences with the statement ‘I’m having the thought that’ e.g. ‘I’m having the thought that I am a loser’, and (ii) then by prefacing this with the statement ‘I notice’ e.g. I notice I’m having the thought that I’m a loser’.
- The prefacing steps of ‘I’m having the thought’, and ‘I notice’ provide a subtle sense of separation or distance from the original thought.
Computer screen exercise – This also involves the use of a simple negative self-statement in the form of ‘I am X’ such as ‘I am useless’ or ‘I am dumb’, and is particularly useful for people who are good at visualizing. It involves imagining, the statement up on a computer screen in plain black type and playing around with features such as colour, font size, orientation, and any other aspect of formatting. This exercise can also be done on a real computer screen or with paper and coloured pencils. Zany techniques like this can be powerful for reducing the power of thoughts with which we are fused.
Singing and silly voices – This uses the same principle as the Computer screen exercise. Dressing the negative self statement up in a silly voice or setting it to a benign tune works to reduce the seriousness and hence the power of the thought. For example the statement can be recited to the tune of a nursery rhyme, the Happy Birthday song, or spoken in the voice of a cartoon character or sports commentator [see Note H4i].
Bad news radio – Imagine your negative mind is a radio station and say in a radio announcer’s voice “This is Bad news radio! We’re here 24/7. Remember, all bad new, all the time! News Flash [Say your name] is a bad person! She thinks she’s not as good as she needs to be” [see Hayes and Smith (2005; p80)].
Leaves on a stream – is a meditative exercise in which we observe our thoughts with openness and curiosity, watching them come and go without reacting to them, without judging, holding on to them, or pushing them away. We imagine ourselves sitting quietly by the side of a stream, and the thoughts that come are visualised as though they are leaves floating gently past us. This exercise can be modified and tried using a wide range of metaphors for thoughts such as cars passing outside your house, clouds drifting past in the sky, fish moving in and out of vision a fish tank etc. Some people find it difficult to visualise very clearly. Start the exercise by saying that people imagine in different ways. Instead of leaves on a stream or other concrete objects this exercise can evoke a black strip or field that is moving slowly past our eyes. Thoughts can be abstract shapes placed on this moving surface [see Note H4ii].
Watch your thinking – is another meditative exercise that is more abstract and diffuse than Leaves on a stream. It involves getting in contact with thoughts through whatever senses work best for the individual person and observing them through the lens of this sense.
Naming the story – This exercise builds on the last part of Practice Element H2 after we have written down, on a piece of card board, several painful and unhelpful thoughts that the client has been struggling with, and illustrated the distinction between fusion and defusion. When we are able to put a name to a group of thoughts that are linked together, this helps us to recognise new thoughts that belong to the story and to create a distance or defuse more readily when they appear (see Harris, 2009; p127-130 Introducing Defusion Part 3) [see Note H4ii].
These notes are based on Harris (2009), Chapters 1, 2 & 7; as well as Hayes and Smith (2005), Chapter 6.
Note H4i Used in the wrong context and outside of a trusting therapeutic relationship there is a chance that zany techniques like Songs and Silly Voices may be experienced as invalidating or demeaning. Ensure that you fully explain the purpose of the exercise before you invite the client to participate.