Setting free the bears: escape from thought suppression

Am Psychol. 2011 Nov;66(8):671-80. doi: 10.1037/a0024985.


A person who is asked to think aloud while trying not to think about a white bear will typically mention the bear once a minute. So how can people suppress unwanted thoughts? This article examines a series of indirect thought suppression techniques and therapies that have been explored for their efficacy as remedies for unwanted thoughts of all kinds and that offer some potential as means for effective suppression. The strategies that have some promise include focused distraction, stress and load avoidance, thought postponement, exposure and paradoxical approaches, acceptance and commitment, meditation, mindfulness, focused breathing, attention training, self-affirmation, hypnosis, and disclosure and writing. Many of these strategies entail thinking about and accepting unwanted thoughts rather than suppressing them--and so, setting free the bears. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Address
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Meditation / methods*
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Thinking*