Blog Post No.90
Posted on 25th August 2016 (Originally published on Saturday 28th June 2014)
Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne
A counsellor’s blog: Stress counselling; Ellis on love; and to hell with Socrates…
Earlier today, I was discussing with Renata what I could write about this week. She thought it would be good to write about stress. But I have written a lot on the subject of stress, including a published book on the subject. However, Renata wondered if perhaps some of my readers often missed the point about the crucial importance of learning stress management skills, in the sense of this being a life and death issue. I asked her what she meant, and she said she could write out two statements which would alternately make readers’ hair stand on end – regarding the importance of stress management, and the dire consequences of ignoring their own stress warnings – and another piece that would fundamentally reassure them that they could resolve all their stress problems satisfactorily. So I said, “Okay; please show me what you mean”. She then sat down and wrote the two following statements:
Today’s bad news:
According to The Times – Body and Soul supplement, page 4 – today, 28th June 2014, there was an interesting study on stress conducted two years ago by University College, London. It looked at the relationship between men in demanding jobs and heart disease.
This study tracked the health of 200,000 people. The findings were these: The men most at risk of developing stress-related heart disease had two characteristics:
Firstly, they were in demanding jobs.
Secondly, they felt that they had no power in their job role to control the stressors around them.
How can we handle massive pressures at work if the job gives us no power to manage them? What if we’ve got to keep working to pay the mortgage (or rent), to feed the kids, etc.?
Today’s good news:
You can immediately drop your stress level by deciding to take your control back. You can’t (very often) change your job – but you can change yourself! If you get a professional ally – a counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist – they will work with you to give you real, sustained backing as you learn to manage yourself, and learn to control what you can control.
This will have an immediate beneficial effect on your health. Do you remember the Zeebrugger ferry disaster? Research conducted in 1991 found that there was a 50% reduction in stress levels in survivors of that and other disasters, after they had talked to trained helpers, and had just eight weeks of help, one hour per week.
Thanks, Renata. You made your point very well. Stress is a hugely important topic for everybody to address, for the sake of their physical and mental health; and it is indeed possible to address it, at relatively small financial cost.
I (Jim) have been studying stress management as a discipline for at least twenty years, and in that time I have developed about eighteen main strategies for reducing physical and mental stress and strain. I have taught those strategies to hundreds of clients who have improved their physical and emotional health as a result.
My introductory page on stress management.***
My book on stress management.***
Albert Ellis on Love
To summarise my conclusions (presented on 7th anniversary of Dr Ellis’s death, on 24th July 2014): Albert Ellis was damaged as a small boy by the neglect he experienced at the hands of his mother and father. He was not actively loved, nor sensitively cared for. Indeed, he had to become a little mother to his younger brother and sister, when he was about seven years old, and onward from that point.
As a result of his parents neglect of him, he did not understand what it meant to love and be loved. This was clear from his description of his attempt to establish a relationship with his first potential girlfriend, Karyl, as told by himself, in his autobiography, All Out!
See my biographical sketch of Ellis’s life, and how it impacted the development of REBT: A Wounded Psychotherapist.***
Because he did not learn to love and be loved, he developed an avoidant attachment style, and related to significant others at a considerable, cool distance. From this stance, it was important to him to invert Karen Horney’s principle, that we all need to be loved, and to thus arrive at his “Irrational Belief No.1”, which claims that “…virtually all humans demand that they absolutely must be loved by somebody, and often they demand that they must be loved by everybody”. In my post on 24th July, I will demonstrate that, at most, about 20% of the population (of western cultures) may tend to have this sense of an absolute need to be loved. For most other humans, the need for love is much less anxious and ambivalent; much less insecure. Watch this space: Albert Ellis on Love.***
Love is hugely important. Here’s my niece, Jenni, singing a song she composed for her sister (Ruth’s) wedding to Linval. Love is a potent force in the world:
To hell with Socrates
I have done quite a bit of work on the subject of Socratic Questioning, and certainly enough to satisfy myself that Socrates should never be used as a role model by counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc.
In my first study of Socratic Questioning, I concluded, in line with Dr Edward De Bono, that Plato’s-Socrates – (who is the only substantial Socrates known to the modern world) – held the beliefs that:
- Most people do not know how to think straight;
- That they tend to hold contradictory beliefs;
- That, in order to learn some better ideas – or perhaps to learn that they know nothing and are incapable of knowing anything – the first step is to demonstrate to them that they do not know what they are talking about.
How could these three beliefs form the foundation of the questioning strategies of counsellors or psychotherapists? I do not believe they could. I think it would be a dreadful abuse of clients to approach them with those three beliefs in mind. Not because those three ideas are necessarily wholly false, but because challenging people on that basis has the predictable effect of making them feel wrong, or stupid!
Socrates’ dialogues (in Plato’s dialogues) show a lack of sensitivity to the person to whom he is speaking – their vulnerability to feeling bad about themselves. In Buddhism, there is the concept of ‘upaya’ – or ‘skillful means’ – which suggests that, when a Zen master is dealing with a student, they should aim to be skillful. (Not that the approaches of Zen masters form a good model for counsellors: Remember it is not okay to throw your fan at a client; or to whack them over the head with your bamboo pole! :-))
And yet, when I challenged the idea of using Socratic Questioning in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Albert Ellis told me that, while he could see some merit in some of my critique of Socrates, nevertheless, REBT is “…substantially Socratic”.
My own argument, following Nierenberg’s ‘Complete Negotiator’ approach, is to consider that questioning in counselling and therapy has certain instrumental functions, as follows:
1. To cause the client to focus upon a particular point (event, or object);
2. To cause their thinking to start up;
3. To ask them for some information;
4. To pass some information to them (rhetorically); and:
5. To cause their thinking to come to a conclusion.
Nierenberg also argues that you can arrange those five questions in a grid, like this:
|1.||Combined Qs 1 & 3|
Using this grid, we can see that a question can be in two parts; e.g., 1+3 – To cause the client’s attention to focus on a specific event/experience, and to ask them for some information about that event/experience.
The great beauty of this system is that it gets rid of the “Socratic smart-arse” aspect of questioning the client.
The problems with classic Socratic Questioning include:
- That the client may interpret the therapist as ‘picking a fight’ with them;
- That the client may become anxious when asked particular kinds of right/wrong questions (perhaps because of re-stimulation of the humiliating experience of being at school and being subjected to interrogations, the aim of which was to find a reason to punish the client as a child).
- That the client may (as suggested by Asch, Milgram, Zimbardo) simply go along with the therapist’s inferences, as a form of obedience or conformity to authority.
- That the therapist never gets to *know* the client, because s/he (the therapist) is always tilting at the windmills of ‘innate irrational beliefs’ – or ‘negative automatic thoughts’).
And on and on.
That’s all for today.
Dr Jim Byrne
01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)
44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)
Blog Post No.89
Posted on 25th August 2016 (Previously published on Saturday 14th June 2014)
Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne
The Counselling Blog: A counsellor writes about “The importance of love…”
I recently mentioned that I had acquired a copy of Kate Atkinson’s new novel. My intention was to read fiction for some part of each day – say 30 to 60 minutes – as a way to have a mental break from my tendency towards overworking.
I have now finished reading that book, at an average of three to six pages per day. In a review, by ‘Bron’, at Amazon.co.uk, we get the following insight into the fundamental theme of Kate Atkinson’s new book:
“A seemingly small event can change the direction of a life completely: a chance encounter with a stranger who harms you or a conversation that detains you which means you miss bumping into the person, a meeting with the German you fall in love with and marry or being helped up from a fall by an Englishman. Life is full of moments which change the direction a person travels in and we have all wished we could go back and change something, or do it over again in a different way. And Life after Life explores this theme intricately, with sympathy, compassion and superb writing and plotting.”
I was deeply moved by the emotional tone of Kate’s book, but I was never able to express what I was ‘getting’ from the experience. It rattled some skeletons in the non-conscious basement of my mind, and sensitised me to some aspects of human suffering which were not previously in my range of experience – such as being a young woman, in her twenties, who is the victim of wife-beating and emotional abuse. (Reading Kate’s vivid descriptions of wife-beatings, and eventual murder, happened on top of recently learning that one woman in three will be beaten by her partner. What a world!)
I suppose a lot of my feelings were of being able to identify with a woman in a predominantly man’s world. And, in addition, there were lots of descriptions of war and its horrors.
Soon after finishing reading this book, I sat down and wrote the following statement, which must have been, to some extent, inspired by reading Kate Atkinson’s narrative:
In CENT counselling, we are sometimes asked: ‘What is the purpose of life? What’s it all about?’ This is our attempt at an answer: “We are born and we die. We come into the world alone and with nothing in our hands, and very little in our hearts and minds. And we leave this world alone and empty-handed. The purpose of life, then, cannot be to get; to acquire; to want and desire. The purpose of life must be to leave this world knowing we have made a difference (a positive difference!) to the lives of those people we met and knew and left behind. The purpose of life must be to love; to give; to make a contribution to life on earth for our family, community and the people we love”.
Sue Gerhardt’s book – Why Love Matters – is a wonderful analysis of how affection shapes a baby’s brain, and the long-term implications of childhood experiences in relationships with early carers. She “…explores how the earliest relationship shapes the baby’s nervous sytem. She shows how the development of the brain determines future emotional well being, and goes on to look at specific early ‘pathways’ that can affect the way we respond to stress, and can contribute to conditions such as anorexia, addiction, and anti-social behaviour”.
And she presents an easy to understand analysis of the emergence of attachment styles – secure and insecure.
This brings me to the problem of teaching my counselling clients – who often have insecure attachments to their parents – about love: its importance, what it is, and what it feels and looks like. This is how I sometimes express it:
Teaching the client about the nature of love is one of the most difficult challenges a counsellor faces: “There are no short-cuts to understanding what love is. If someone has been deprived of the crudest infantile experience of love then he might be permanently crippled or, at least, have great difficulty in learning later what the word can mean. In learning what it symbolises, I need to re-write my autobiography over and over again. To grow is to re-organise the past now and to move into the future”.
Robert F. Hobson, Forms of Feeling: The heart of psychotherapy, Page 212. (25)
I like to teach my clients M. Scott Peck’s definition of love: That love is a process of ‘extending yourself in the service of another person’. It is not primarily about ‘nice feelings’, although nice feelings normally flow from the process, especially for the love object. But, of course, what goes around also comes around – so ‘cast thy bread upon the waters, for it shall return after many days’. Or, as Albert Ellis would say, “The best way to get love is to sincerely offer it”.
But this statement by Ellis is an anachronism. He is right; but he most likely did not implement that policy in his own life, based upon the research I have been able to do on the subject.
Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) was greatly emotionally deprived as a child – on one occasion spending almost ten months in hospital, around the age of five or six years, during which time he just one or two visits from his mother, and none from his father.
He failed to understand how wounded he was, and went on to make a virtue of his insecure attachment style – trying to teach emotional coldness to his clients as a ‘superior, rational form of functioning’ –relative to having feelings of need to give and get love.
To those who told him they needed love, he objected, and insisted that nobody needs to be loved, and that they were ‘love slobs’ for thinking they did need love. I wrote some more on this subject in time for the seventh anniversary of his death, here: About Dr Albert Ellis.***
If you want to find out more about Ellis’s childhood, and how his emotional deprivations affected the eventual shape of REBT, then please take a look at A Wounded Psychotherapist.***
That’s all for now.
Dr Jim Byrne
01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)
44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)