What is Cognitive Defusion?

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Cognitive defusion, also known as deliteralization, is a technique used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help people cope with uncomfortable or unhelpful thoughts and feelings. It is a useful technique for people with depression and anxiety, as uncomfortable and unhelpful thoughts and feelings are often a part of their experience. Cognitive defusion involves creating space between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings so that they have less of a hold over us. 

How Does Cognitive Defusion Work?

To understand how cognitive defusion works, hold both of your hands about two inches in front of your face. All you can see are your hands, right? Now create some space between your face and your hands by extending your arms. You’ve widened your view. You can still see your hands, and now you can also see everything else in the room. 

In the same way, cognitive defusion trains you to start noticing your thoughts and identifying the negative ones. When we’re stuck in a negative thought cycle, it’s difficult to clearly see the bigger picture and identify our thoughts or how they are affecting us. Once you’ve allowed your mind to pull away from and identify the negative thoughts, you can begin to reframe them in a positive way.

So now you understand the concept of cognitive defusion in theory, but what does it look like in practice? Here’s an example:

Someone with depression may have the thought “I’m such a loser”, while someone with anxiety may often think “I’m always so anxious”. Repeatedly thinking these thoughts solidifies them as truths and fuels feelings of depression and anxiety. What would these statements sound like if we applied cognitive defusion to them? And how would the resulting feelings change? 

Counselors who teach cognitive defusion techniques to their clients would encourage them to reframe their thoughts to “I guess I’m only telling myself that I’m a loser” and “I’m only experiencing anxiety at this moment.” Rephrasing the thoughts this way helps people identify that they have a choice in what they think and that their feelings are a temporary experience. 

The Benefits of Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion helps us to realize how our thoughts are affecting us. Mental health issues often make us feel as if we don’t have a choice in what we think or feel. They can even make us believe we will think and feel negatively for our entire lives. 

We are so used to accepting our thoughts and feelings as true without taking the time to consider they may not be. When dealing with anxiety and depression, we need to remember that our thoughts have a negative bias and that we can’t accept them as one hundred percent true one hundred percent of the time. 

We need to create space and try to see our thoughts for what they are and how they make us feel. It’s a challenging process, but that awareness can help us diminish the impact our thoughts have on our mental health.

Seeking Help For Your Mental Health

Cognitive defusion can be a difficult skill to learn and even more difficult to master. It can be helpful to work with a therapist who is knowledgeable of this skill and can help you practice it. 

The team at High Focus Centers follows a holistic approach in treating mental health disorders. To begin working with a therapist who can help you create a customized treatment plan, including cognitive defusion techniques, contact our team of mental health experts today.