Bored unhappy thoughtful woman muslim doctor intern sit at office clinic feel sadness desperation

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for fusion and defusion

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) combines mental and behavioural changes to increase one’s psychological flexibility.1 

When we become fixated (or inflexible) in our thoughts, we can lose contact with our values. 

ACT uses the terms fusion and defusion to describe our relationship with our thoughts.1 

Let’s look at these terms more closely. When you’re suffering, it’s easy to become attached or fused to your difficult thoughts:

  • Your mind tells you unhelpful stories that are built around these new thoughts
  • These thoughts arouse negative feelings
  • The feelings persuade you to behave in a way that goes against your values (e.g., deciding to ignore your slow-to-respond friend before finding out what happened to them)

Fusion occurs when you believe your mind’s unhelpful stories so strongly that you fail to notice the reality of the situation (e.g., your friend had to leave her phone in her locker when she started her shift, and simply hadn’t seen your message yet).

ACT identifies defusion as a counterstrategy for fusion. 

Defusion is the act of stepping back from your thoughts and judgments to see the true nature of thought. Defusion techniques attempt to change your relationship with your thoughts rather than try to eliminate them. 

Defusion is nothing more than a construction of your mind. To practice it, you might:

  • Pay attention to your thoughts with curiosity, openness, and flexibility (e.g., “What am I telling myself about my friend not responding?”)
  • Learn to notice the content of your thoughts without avoiding or clinging to them (e.g., “Hmmm… I seem to be telling myself that she always does this, and that she is selfish and thoughtless”)
  • Empower yourself to decide when your thoughts are helpful (e.g., “It is helpful to remember she is one of my best friends and has stayed with me through difficult times”)

Here’s how Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, described defusing from thoughts:

“The Guest House” by Rumi3

This being human is a guesthouse. 
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! 
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, 
who violently sweep your house 
empty of its furniture, 
still, treat each guest honorably. 
He may be clearing you out 
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent 
as a guide from beyond.

Image from Chyah, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons