In acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), it is understood that over-identification with literal language can lead to psychological inflexibility, which is often the core of human suffering. To address some of the tricks that language can play on people, therapists may use experiential techniques, including mindfulness, defusion, and self-as-context exercises. But formal experiential exercises aren’t the only way to help clients undermine the negative effects of language.
Language is a tricky, powerful thing. It can play tricks on us and bring about suffering, but it can also be used to our benefit in therapeutic settings. The experiential techniques most commonly used in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are defusion exercises, which often consist of re-contacting the non-arbitrary characteristics of verbal stimuli. For example, repeating a word very quickly for thirty to forty seconds decreases the meaning carried by an originally non-arbitrary sequences of sounds.
When people enter therapy, they’re stuck, which is another way of saying inflexible. People can get stuck in all sorts of ways. They get stuck because they can’t imagine other options than moving away from unwanted inner stuff. They get stuck because what’s important to them is obscured by their struggle against unwanted inner stuff. They get stuck because they focus exclusively on unwanted inner stuff. They get stuck because they have trouble contacting their five-senses experience and can’t notice how their actions affect other people and their own life.