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A comparison of thought expression to an acceptance-based technique in the management of personal intrusive thoughts

APA Citation

Marcks, B. A., & Woods, D. W. (2005). A comparison of thought expression to an acceptance-based technique in the management of personal intrusive thoughts: A controlled evaluation. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43, 433-445.

Publication Topic
ACT: Empirical
Publication Type

Research suggests that suppressing unwanted thoughts is not possible, leads to a subsequent increase in frequency of the suppressed thoughts, and results in higher levels of distress. Because thought suppression may have negative effects, an alternative, acceptance-based approach has been proposed. The current paper reports the outcomes of two studies. Study I examined the relationships between two naturally occurring strategies of thought management (thought suppression and acceptance), symptoms of psychopathology, and experiences with personally relevant intrusive thoughts. Results showed that those who naturally suppress personally relevant intrusive thoughts have more, are more distressed by, and have a greater ‘‘urge to do something’’ about the thoughts, while those who are naturally more accepting of their intrusive thoughts are less obsessional, have lower levels of depression, and are less anxious. Study II compared three groups (thought suppression, acceptance, and monitor-only groups) on the frequency and distress associated with experiencing personally relevant intrusive thoughts. Results revealed that those instructed to suppress their personal intrusive thoughts were unable to do so and experienced an increased level of distress after suppression, whereas those instructed to use an acceptance-based strategy experienced a decrease in discomfort level (but not thought frequency) after having used such a strategy. These data offer initial evidence that acceptance may be a useful alternative to the suppression of personally relevant intrusive thoughts.

Two studies. Correlational study shows suppressing personally relevant intrusive thoughts is associated with more thoughts, more distress, greater urge to do something. Those who accept are less obsessional, depressed and anxious. Experimental study shows that instructions to suppress does not work and leads to increased level of distress; instructions of accept (using a couple of short metaphors drawn from the ACT book) decreases discomfort but not thought frequency.