“What I Be”: A Defusion-Based Art Exhibit
Words are amazing. Our minds attach a great deal of importance to words and verbal labels. Our ability to use language is an amazing tool, and yet, a fundamental assumption in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is that this ability may also be at the root of human suffering. According to ACT, words, and other forms of language, gain much of their power when we stop treating them as merely words, but instead as what they say they are. You’ve probably seen this in your clients (and in yourself too); words and labels, whether they be “broken” or “stupid” or “fat” or “unlovable”, can result in such shame that people will greatly restrict their lives and will turn away from doing what is meaningful and important in order to try to hide those labels from others and themselves. What if it didn’t have to be that way?
The concept of defusion in ACT is aimed at helping individuals see thoughts as thoughts, to see them for what they are and not for what they say they are. For those of you who have been to an ACT experiential workshop, you might be familiar with the defusion exercise where you write down a difficult thought you have about yourself on a name badge and then wear that name badge on your chest for the remainder of the day. In the abnormal psychology class that I teach, I have students do a similar exercise, but they wear other people’s labels. It can be a very powerful experience to encounter what others are hiding.
Steve Rosenfield has taken this concept to a whole new level through a photography exhibit entitled “What I Be”. In this project he has photographed people from all walks of life with their difficult thoughts or words about their histories written in bold black marker across their skin for all the world to see. The exhibit can be seen as a visual display of what we are often working with clients around the concept of defusion. And I’m very excited that this exhibit will be coming here to the Portland, OR / Vancouver, WA area. Yogi Roots in Vancouver, WA will be hosting an event with Steve Rosenfield on Thursday, November 29th from 7:30 pm – 9:00pm. There is also an opportunity to have a photo session with Steve for the “What I Be” project from Fri-Sun November 30th through December 5th. It might be potentially a very powerful experience for our clients (or ourselves) to be involved in this project. And if being a part of the photo shoot isn’t feasible, it might be an interesting homework assignment for clients to have them go to one of the following pages to view some of Rosenfield’s photographs: