Present Moment Awareness and Defusion Techniques for OCD


Utah State University
Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health

Key Points

  1. Labeling internal experiences (thoughts, feelings) vs. external experiences (environment) can aid present moment awareness and defusion.
  2. The junk mail metaphor can be used as a defusion technique – learning to recognize OCD/intrusive thoughts as “mental spam” without engaging with them.
  3. Over time, one can get better at recognizing sticky thoughts or mental hooks that pull into compulsive patterns.
Earn 1.5 CE Credits

Present Moment Awareness and Defusion Exercise

In acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for OCD, an essential exercise involves differentiating between thinking about an object and physically experiencing it. For example, Stacy might be asked to imagine holding a pen, considering its weight, texture, and temperature.

Then, she’s invited to pick up the pen and notice these same attributes. This exercise highlights the distinct difference between merely thinking about an object and the actual physical experience of holding it. This helps recognize the gap between mental experiences and reality, fostering present-moment awareness and defusion.

Labeling Internal vs. External Experiences

Another aspect of this technique involves labeling what’s happening internally versus externally. This approach aids in differentiating between mental experiences and real-time external events. This method enhances present-moment awareness and defusion, making a clear distinction between mental and physical experiences.

Metaphor of Junk Mail for Defusion

A metaphor used for defusion in ACT is likening intrusive thoughts to junk mail or spam. Over time, just as one learns to identify spam emails without opening them, clients can learn to recognize ‘mental spam’—intrusive OCD thoughts—and choose not to engage with them. This metaphor helps clients understand that there’s a significant difference between having an initial thought and actively engaging or responding to it.

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Present Moment Awareness and Defusion Techniques for OCD