Cognitive defusion versus cognitive restructuring in the treatment of negative self-referential thoughts: An investigation of process and outcome
Within traditional cognitive therapy, cognitive restructuring is often used to challenge the veracity of dysfunctional thoughts. In contrast, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) uses "cognitive defusion" techniques to change the function of negative thoughts rather than modify their content. Previous research has shown that a cognitive defusion technique known as the "milk exercise" (rapidly repeating a self-referential, one-word thought such as "fat") reduces the discomfort and believability associated with negative thoughts. This study sought to replicate and extend these findings by comparing the impact of cognitive defusion with that of cognitive restructuring in a sample of participants distressed by negative thoughts about their body shape. Participants received a detailed rationale and training followed by instructions to practice the assigned technique as homework for 1 week. Results indicated that both cognitive techniques produced substantial improvements that generalized well beyond the specific thoughts targeted for treatment. Clear differences in treatment process and the course of improvement were evident. Findings are discussed in the context of theoretical and practical similarities and differences between these two approaches.