Defusion involves distancing, disconnecting or seeing thoughts and feelings for what they are (streams of words, passing sensations), not what they say they are (dangers or facts).

STOP, STEP BACK, OBSERVE (the thoughts and feelings, what's happening to/for the other person).

Notice what's happening - your thoughts, physical sensations, emotions, images, memories. Notice the way you're interpreting what they mean, and how that's
affecting you.

Notice the unhelpful thoughts. It can help to say them differently, in a non-threatening way: slowly, in a squeaky or comic voice or write them down.

Identify the emotion you're feeling, and label the unhelpful thoughts

  • an evaluation or judgement
  • a prediction
  • a feeling or sensation
  • a memory
  • an opinion
  • an unhelpful thinking habit: mind-reading (assuming we know what others are thinking), negative filter (only noticing the bad stuff), emotional reasoning (I feel bad so it must be bad), catastrophising (imagining the worst), the internal critic etc.

Learn more and practice mindfulness so that you can be aware of when you are in the present moment rather than being 'in your head' - perhaps thinking about the past or worrying about the future.

Notice what you don't normally notice - sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, textures etc.


The Visitor




Use metaphors try to see things differently. Metaphors can help us understand thoughts in a different way. For example:

Passengers on the Bus

You can be in the driving seat, whilst all passengers (thoughts) are noisily chattering, being critical or shouting out directions. You can allow them to shout, but you can keep your attention focused on the road ahead.

Playground Bully

The playground is fenced in and the children have to learn to live with the bully. This bully uses threats, mocking and abusive words to upset his victims. We can't stop our thoughts, but perhaps we can react to them in a different way, as these victims show us.

Victim 1 - believes the bully (the thoughts), becomes distressed, and reacts automatically. The bully sees this as great entertainment and will carry on targeting this victim. This is how we normally respond to our thoughts.

Victim 2 - challenges the bully, and bully eventually gives up on this victim.

Victim 3 - acknowledges then ignores the bully, changing focus of attention, and the bully soon gives up.

The River Click on picture for leaves in stream animation

Items floating down the river - perhaps leaves or bits of mucky debris (thoughts, feelings, images) - instead of struggling to stay afloat, we can stand on the bank watching our thoughts, images and sensations go by

The Beach Ball

We can try to stop our thoughts, like trying to hold a beach ball under water, but it keeps popping up in front of our face (intrusive distressing thoughts). We can allow the ball (our thoughts) to float around us, not intruding, just letting it be.

Thought train

We can think about sitting on the train, watching the scenery (thoughts, feelings, sensations) go by as we look out of the windows, or we can be standing on the station platform watching the thought train pass by - we don't have to jump on it.  We can stand and watch as it goes by.

The Tunnel

When we get anxious driving through a tunnel, the best option is to keep going to the other end, rather than stop or look for an exit in the tunnel. This feeling will pass - there is an end to this tunnel.


The Mountain

Whatever the weather, or whatever happens on the surface of the mountain, and even within it - the mountain stands firm, mostly unaffected. Strong, grounded, permanent. We can be like that mountain, observing thoughts, feelings and sensations, and yet know inner stillness.

The Helicopter View

The Poisoned Parrot

The Mind Bully

Flexible Thinking

More useful Therapy Metaphors


Adapted from Ciarrochi & Bailey 2008

Defusion - this page as  .PDF


Self Help Books

Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free From Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy For Dummies

The Happiness Trap

Act Made Simple: An Easy-to-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (New Harbinger Made Simple)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change

A CBT Practitioner's Guide to ACT: How to Bridge the Gap Between Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACTivate Your Life: Using acceptance and mindfulness to build a life that is rich, fulfilling and fun

The Reality Slap