Defusion: A Core Process in the ACT Hexagon Model

By DJ Moran, PhD

This presentation is an excerpt from the online course “Demystifying ACT: A Practical Guide for Therapists“.

Highlights

  • One, defusion is defined as the process of creating non-literal contexts in which language can be seen as simply an active ongoing process that has a conditioning history and is present in the current moment.
  • Two, the ACT model attempts to undermine unhelpful language processes not aiming to change what people think but how they relate to what they are thinking.
  • And three, there are two components to language that we address with defusion and those two components are automaticity and power of language.

Transcript

The ACT hexagon model shows six essential components to the therapeutic approach and this video will highlight defusion. The reason we’ll talk about defusion next is not because it is the second most important part of the model or the second thing you do with clients but just because I flexibly chose to talk about it next. Strategically, I chose to talk about it right after acceptance because defusion is somewhat similar.

Since we’re just talking about this in an introductory fashion, I’ll say that acceptance videos were teaching the idea that people can simply notice that they’re having emotions, sensations, urges and flashbacks, experiences related to feelings. And in these defusion videos, we’ll talk about how people can simply notice that they’re having cognitions, private language or thoughts. People can simply be aware of their private thinking and not necessarily respond to the thinking.

One of the things we’re doing in the ACT model is undermining unhelpful language processes. We’re not aiming to change what people think but how they relate to what they’re thinking. Let’s consider this idea of undermining unhelpful language processes with a creative metaphor.

Let’s say that somewhere in the phenomenological field of the mind there is the fortress of negativity and this fortress is tyrannical. The other members existing on the phenomenological field are tyrannized by the fortress of negativity because it shoots out catapults of cognitive distortions and fiery arrows of irrational beliefs and it makes living in this phenomenological field really aversive. What to do?

Perhaps the members of the phenomenological field can call on the army of CBT to ride on the fortress of negativity and this army is led by General Tim Beck and General Albert Ellis. And the army of CBT decides to fight back. You’re going to shoot fiery arrows of irrational beliefs at us. We’re going to fire back more rational beliefs. You’re going to give us cognitive distortions. We’re going to give you clearer thinking. If you’re going to shoot out negative thoughts, we’re going to fire back with positive thoughts.
And the whole process is very incendiary, fighting fire with fire. I’m not saying CBT doesn’t work but it is an incendiary process and it can be a taxing process for clients.

What’s neat is this army of CBT has a platoon that breaks off from that army and goes around the fortress of negativity. But they put their weapons down and they take out their shovels. And what they start to do is dig out the foundation. They start to weaken it from a different perspective. They take these shovels and they dig a mine underneath the fortress in order to address the problem in a different way. What ACT therapists are doing is undermining unhelpful language processes, weakening it from below and maybe making that fortress crumble.

You see, in ACT, we’re not trying to change what you think but how you relate to what you’re thinking. The ACT therapist isn’t attempting to change the form of your thoughts but rather the function of your thinking. ACT is trying to undermine unhelpful language processes. This is not all that ACT is going to do. You don’t just undermine unhelpful language but in future videos, we’ll discuss how we leverage language in a helpful manner using values.

But let’s continue talking about defusion. Defusion is defined as the process of creating non-literal contexts in which language can be seen as simply an active ongoing process that has a conditioning history and is present in the current moment.

These non-literal contexts will help reduce how impactful thoughts are on overt behavior and emotional responses. Defusing from cognitions is not an easy process especially at first. We can understand how thinking has a significant impact on our actions

Because thoughts have two characteristics. One, they happen with a degree of automaticity and two, they are powerful over our actions. They are like the one-two punch of cognition. We’ll take a look at those two components of thinking in the following videos.

There are 3 key points to this video.
One, defusion is defined as the process of creating non-literal contexts in which language can be seen as simply an active ongoing process that has a conditioning history and is present in the current moment.

Two, the ACT model attempts to undermine unhelpful language processes not aiming to change what people think but how they relate to what they are thinking.
And three, there are two components to language that we address with defusion and those two components are automaticity and power of language.

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