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Behav Res Ther. 2005 Apr;43(4):433-45.

A comparison of thought suppression to an acceptance-based technique in the management of personal intrusive thoughts: a controlled evaluation.

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Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201, USA.


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.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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