Reading Time: 5 minutes

Cognitive Defusion: How This Technique Can Transform Your Life





Cognitive Defusion is a technique I use in the Therapy room to help people identify and distance themselves from unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. It involves creating a separation between the individual and their thoughts, allowing them to observe their thoughts without becoming caught up in them. The technique is used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Who Developed Cognitive Defusion?

The concept of cognitive defusion was first introduced by Steven C. Hayes, a clinical psychologist, and researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno. Hayes is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the third wave of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which emphasizes mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies for treating mental health problems.

Hayes’s work on cognitive defusion began in the 1980s when he started developing ACT as a new form of psychotherapy. The central premise of ACT is that psychological suffering arises from the attempt to control or avoid unwanted thoughts and feelings. According to Hayes, people often get stuck in patterns of thinking and behavior that are designed to protect them from unpleasant experiences, but end up causing more harm than good in the long run.

A key aim of Cognitive Defusion

In essence, cognitive defusion aims to help individuals recognise that thoughts are just thoughts and not necessarily accurate representations of reality. This technique is based on the idea that we often get stuck in our thoughts, believing them to be true and allowing them to dictate our behaviors and emotions. By defusing these thoughts, we can break free from their hold and gain greater control over our lives.

Methods and Techniques of Cognitive Defusion

One of the most common methods of cognitive defusion is called “literalization,” which involves taking a thought or belief and stating it in a very literal, matter-of-fact way. For example, if someone is struggling with the thought, “I’m not good enough,” they might rephrase it as, “I am a human being with strengths and weaknesses, and I am doing the best I can.” By literalizing the thought, individuals can see it for what it is – a statement, rather than an absolute truth.

Another technique is called “labeling,” which involves giving a thought or belief a name or label. For example, if someone is struggling with the thought, “I’m a failure,” they might label it as “The Failure Thought.” By giving the thought a name, individuals can begin to see it as a separate entity from themselves, which can make it easier to defuse.

Another technique is called “exaggeration,” which involves taking a thought or belief to an extreme. For example, if someone is struggling with the thought, “I’ll never be able to do this,” they might exaggerate it to, “I’ll never be able to do anything ever again.” By taking the thought to an extreme, individuals can see how unrealistic and unhelpful it is, which can help them let go of it.

What we can do in therapy?

Cognitive defusion is often used in conjunction with other CBT techniques, such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques. In Therapy, we can practice mindfulness to enable us to become more aware of our thoughts and to learn to observe them without judgment. Therapy will also cover relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), that can help individuals reduce stress and anxiety. These learned skills can make it easier to defuse unhelpful thoughts. (Contact for details).

ACT Companion Defusion Exercises (examples)

  • Letting Go
  • Not Good Enough
  • Worry Time
  • Thought Defusion
  • Observing Your Thoughts
  • Labeling Thoughts and Feelings

Source: actcompanion: Dr Russ Harris

Benefits of Cognitive Defusion from Therapy

It can reduce stress and anxiety

When you’re stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions, it can be hard to break free and find relief. Cognitive defusion can help you create distance between yourself and your thoughts, allowing you to see them more objectively and reduce their power over you. This can lead to a reduction in stress and anxiety, as well as an increase in feelings of calm and relaxation.

It can improve your relationships

When you’re caught up in your own thoughts and emotions, it can be difficult to truly connect with others. By practicing cognitive defusion, you can learn to let go of your own preconceptions and judgments and be more present and attentive in your interactions with others. This can help you build stronger and more meaningful relationships with the people in your life.

It can help you make better decisions

When you’re able to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them, you can make more rational and objective decisions. By detaching from your emotions and impulses, you can avoid making impulsive or reactive choices, and instead make choices that are aligned with your goals and values.

It can increase your self-awareness

Cognitive defusion involves paying close attention to your thoughts and emotions, which can help you become more self-aware. When you’re able to observe your own thought patterns and emotional responses, you can identify areas where you may be getting stuck or holding yourself back. This can help you make positive changes in your life and achieve your goals.

It’s a skill you can use in any situation

Cognitive defusion is a portable and versatile technique that you can use in any situation, whether you’re at home, at work, or out in the world. Whether you’re dealing with a stressful situation or just feeling overwhelmed by your own thoughts and emotions, you can use cognitive defusion to create distance and perspective and respond more effectively.

In conclusion and closing thoughts

Cognitive defusion is a powerful technique that can help individuals break free from unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. Since its inception, cognitive defusion has become a widely used technique in ACT and other mindfulness-based therapies. It has been shown to be effective in treating a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Cognitive defusion is also commonly used in sports psychology to help athletes overcome performance anxiety and negative thinking patterns. By creating a separation between the individual and their thoughts, individuals can gain greater control over their emotions and behaviors. If you are struggling with negative thoughts or beliefs, consider booking a call with the practice. (Contact for details)


Blackheath & Chislehurst Therapy Practice:

Online or Face-to-Face

Late Evening / Night Appointments Available

MULTI-MODAL THERAPY: Cognitive, Behavioural, Hypnotherapy, Mindfulness, etc.

THERAPIST: Former City Analyst, City of London, Singapore, Zurich, and Frankfurt. 

If you are seeking Therapy please reach out for an initial free consultation call. Bohangar Hypnotherapy Practice. Hope you enjoy this blog post, would love to hear your comments  


Blackheath & Chislehurst Practice: 

Stress Busting Online Therapy

Face-to-Face Therapy Room

Late Evening / Night Appointments Available

-Bohangar Practice –

Unlock your minds potential: 

Embark on a profoundly enriching therapeutic journey alongside a caring former City Investment Banking Analyst, blending an altogether unique world perspective with a genuine warmth that fosters clarity, personal growth, and emotional well-being in an intimate one-on-one setting.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x

Hypnotherapy Therapy Practice

Empower Your Mind: Book Your Free Consultation with our Founder, Therapist, and Former Investment Bank Analyst turned Therapist.

Transform Your Life with Multi-Modal Therapy: Discover the power of combining Cognitive Behavioural Therapies, drawn from the world’s best known Psychotherapy (CBT) with the profound deep effects of Hypnosis. 

Therapy at the Bohangar works on the premise of building a solid stable core, building resilience, defining boundaries, and identifying and addressing underlying issues.

Providing 1 to 1 Therapy: Online & Hybrid Face-Face (S.E London Blackheath & Chislehurst)

(Online: clients as far afield as Singapore)  

Therapy typically runs up to 6-8 sessions – Bespoke to the client and agreed after the full assessment has been completed.