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Defusion Case Study

This case study looks at how to generalise defusion to other areas. 

Josie is a young, high-achieving woman who felt overwhelmed and stressed at work. Josie is a perfectionist and was volunteering for a lot of duties outside her own job description or responsibilities. The more she took on the worse things became, but she was unable to stop volunteering. 

We discussed what would happen at a work meeting in which Josie’s manager would ask his team – including Josie – for volunteers to undertake some new tasks.

The first stage was to look at the thoughts Josie would experience when her manager asked for this support. We identified three separate thoughts: 

  • I am expected to volunteer (which Josie said would occur to her repeatedly)

  • My manager will judge me if I don’t offer my help (as a perfectionist, this really affected Josie)

  • No one else will volunteer.

Josie would initially respond to the manager’s request in the same way as everyone else – with silence. However, she was unable to maintain this silence for long. She felt too uncomfortable. Her mind would produce those three thoughts. Her discomfort would increase as the silence lengthened. Inevitably, Josie would raise her hand. 

As soon as Josie raised her hand, all the earlier thoughts vanished. But they were replaced by thoughts about how much work she had and how she would fit it all in. 

As we talked about these thoughts it became apparent that her willingness to take on more work had served Josie well in her career. She had a reputation for working hard and long. But at this point, she didn’t need the extra work or the stress it placed on other aspects of her life.

We talked about how Josie was trying to eliminate her thoughts. We discussed how Josie could try acknowledging them, and assessing them as either being helpful or unhelpful – that is, considering the workability of her thoughts. We discussed how the thoughts she held tightly (fused with) ‘pushed her around’. We explored another approach (defusion) that would enable Josie to notice the thoughts, hold them lightly, label them, and place them on the shelf. 

In ACT we are interested in what is beneficial to clients, not the truth of such thoughts. These thoughts were not beneficial even though they appeared regularly. Josie was asked if, rather than trying so hard to eliminate the thoughts she would be willing to keep them a little bit longer. This was practised in session by looking at the process of thought, observing how the mind produces a stream of thoughts that arise in our awareness and also pass.

Josie learned to hold the thoughts a little longer. She was able to observe her thoughts streaming in and passing during team meetings, without getting caught up in her thoughts and having to volunteer for more work. When a call for a volunteer was made, Josie could hold defuse from her thoughts until someone else raised a hand. 

Josie was relieved when she realised that she didn’t have to let her thoughts push her around. She could see that those thoughts were not beneficial, and that she could look for other ideas and thoughts of benefit or value. 

That is defusion in action. 

When discussing thoughts, we need to remind our clients that thoughts are not all-encompassing truths – that thoughts are thoughts. We don’t have to fight them.


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