Author: Diana Gordon, Psy.D.
As cognitive behavioral therapists, the clinicians at SFBayCBT use a variety of techniques to help people cope with distressing thoughts. What we think impacts how we feel, which in turn impacts how we behave. When we can intervene and use strategies to cope with negative thoughts, we can often change both how we feel and how we behave in challenging situations.
Sometimes, we have negative thoughts that are really hard to modify or change. This might be because these thoughts are not actually distorted or inaccurate (as described in this blog post). Or it might be because they are so distressing that it’s difficult for us to calm down enough to engage with them intellectually. One strategy that we use to work with thoughts like this is Cognitive Defusion. Cognitive Defusion is simply the process of stepping back from your thoughts, and recognizing that they only have as much power as you give them. While thoughts can bring up a lot of really difficult feelings, ultimately we decide how much we believe them. They are not always factual. We can have a thought, but we don’t have to “buy” it. We don’t have to accept it as truth. And we certainly don’t have to act on it. Cognitive Defusion strategies allow you to step back, evaluate, and decide what to do next.
Cognitive Defusion can be challenging because when we are having thoughts that bring up a lot of strong emotions, it is really hard to not get caught up in believing everything our mind is telling us. Below, we will outline some great strategies to start experimenting with Cognitive Defusion. Remember that sometimes you might have to try more than one of these before you start to calm down, step back, and recognize that you have control over what you do with these thoughts.
Diana Gordon, Psy.D., Kari Kagan Psy.D., and Katie Leoni, Psy.D.
Drs. Gordon, Kagan, and Leoni practice psychotherapy primarily via telehealth. Their areas of expertise include anxiety, sleep, stress, depression, maternal mental health, and addiction. They blog about these topics to provide research-based information about common problems and strategies to help manage them.