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What are Thoughts?

It is useful to look at thoughts and the different ways we experience them. It is important that we have a number of different ways to discuss the concepts of thinking and thoughts, as the word ‘thought’ has different meanings to different people. 

The concept of ‘thoughts’ has a very important place in ACT and defusion. It is crucial that clients understand that in ACT, thoughts are all the subjective and objective ideas, opinions and judgements, voluntary and involuntary, that emerge from the mind.

A useful way to explore this is by using a mind map. Start with the statement ‘Thoughts are…’ and then break that down. By the end of the process, the map might include: 

  • Comments (ongoing stream of thought) 

  • Ideas 

  • Questions  

  • Answers (a comment or question is posed externally and your mind answers)

  • Opinions  

  • Images 

  • Memories (closely related to images)

  • Judgements 

  • Assumptions 

  • Sounds (we can relate sounds to particular meanings)

  • Data or electrical impulses. 

It is helpful to explore thoughts as cognitions with our clients. When our clients are having difficulties we should reinforce that thoughts may be any one or more of these things. We do not want to argue their accuracy, but rather identify whether they are helpful or unhelpful to us. 

Defusion is not about stopping thoughts but seeing them for what they are (ideas, questions, images, etc, that can be used or allowed to pass).


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