Quick Tips for Therapists

Helping Clients Distance Themselves from Negative or Unhelpful Thoughts

By Judith Belmont, MS, LPC

One of the cornerstones of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is to help clients distance themselves from their disturbing thoughts through the process of cognitive defusion.

An example of cognitive defusion is replacing a thought, such as “I am an idiot,” with the thought of “There I go again—having the thought that I am an idiot.”

How does this help our clients? It offers the opportunity to help them gain control over their thoughts by developing an “observing head.” We observe ourselves thinking a certain way rather than just plain thinking that way. We mentally note our toxic thoughts rather than embrace them as true.

In essence, when disturbing thoughts are “fused” to our perceptions, we have no objectivity and we take them as true, rather than see them more objectively as thoughts.

Cognitive defusion is an example of a mindfulness technique, techniques which have become increasingly important in treating persistent negative thinking that leads to depression and anxiety. When we are mindful, we experience things as they are, without distorted perceptions based on skewed ways of thinking.

You can help your clients develop an observing head by having them consider the weather. No matter how turbulent are the hurricanes, blizzards, and rainstorms, blue skies and balmy breezes will emerge again if they are patient and have faith that the storm will pass. Likewise, their disturbing thoughts will also pass; and by not reacting to the storm, they can develop equanimity and patience.

In another practice of cognitive defusion, have your clients imagine putting each of their unwanted thoughts on a cloud. Urge them to not try to alter the pace as the clouds float by. Urge them to just observe those clouds with unwanted thoughts on them with nonjudgmental awareness.

In essence, cognitive defusion techniques teach your clients to look at their thoughts rather than from their thoughts.

Book Titles: Embrace Your Greatness

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Judith Belmont, MS, LPC, has been a psychotherapist, motivational speaker, workplace wellness consultant, and mental health coach. Her message of positivity, healthy communication, stress resilience, and self-empowerment has reached thousands nationwide through her books, consulting, and interactive presentations.

She is author of seven mental health and wellness books that offer therapists and their clients, as well as self-help readers, practical solutions to deal with common problems such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and relationship issues. In her books, she offers practical skill-building resources using experiential activities, visualizations, handouts, and worksheets.

Belmont is founder of Belmont Wellness (www.belmontwellness.com) where she offers a variety of mental health and wellness presentations, as well as personal and professional coaching. Her mission to share important life skills and promote self-empowerment and positivity is followed by a wide audience due to her active social media presence on various sites, such as Facebook and Pinterest.

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Quick Tips for Therapists