Albert Ellis and REBT ten years later

Blog Post No. 156

21st July 2017

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: The tenth anniversary of the death of Albert Ellis…

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Introduction

Ellis-video-imageAlbert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), which is sometimes called Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (RE&CBT), died on 24th July 2007.  So we are very close to the tenth anniversary.

Since that event, Renata and I have posted something on each anniversary about Albert Ellis and REBT.  Initially, those posts were very positive about the man and his theory of therapy.  But as time passed, and we found more and more problems with the man (from his autobiography, All Out!) and from our reflective analyses of his theoretical propositions, our posts became more and more distant, and more and more critical.

Books about Ellis and REBT

Wounded psychotherapistIn 2013, I published a book on the childhood of Albert Ellis, which was an analysis of the ways in which he was mistreated and virtually abandoned at times by his parents, and the effect of these early negative experiences on his psychological development.  Here are the basic details:

A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood and the strengths and limitations of REBT, by Dr Jim Byrne

A critical review of the childhood of Albert Ellis and the impact of his suffering on the shape of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

‘A Wounded psychotherapist’ is a critical enquiry by Dr Jim Byrne.  It is an analysis of both the childhood of Dr Albert Ellis (the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy [REBT]), and how some of those childhood experiences most likely gave rise to certain features of his later philosophy of psychotherapy.  If you have ever wondered what the roots of REBT might have been, then this is the book for you.  it explores the childhood difficulties of Albert Ellis, and links those difficulties forward to the ways in which REBT was eventually shaped.  It also identified the strengths and weaknesses of REBT, and proposes an agenda for reform of this radical system of psychotherapy. Available now from Amazon, in two formats:

Paperback: for as little as £6.66 GBP

Kindle: for as little as £6.89 GBP

Buy it now: A Wounded Psychotherapist: The childhood of Albert Ellis, and the limitations of REBT/CBT

Amazon in the US Amazon in UK (and Ireland)
Amazon in Canada Amazon in Italy
Amazon in Germany Amazon in France
Amazon in Japan Amazon in Australia

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honetpieHowever, in that book, I was still very soft on some of Ellis’s major errors, such as his false definition of ‘awfulizing’, and his mistaken assumption that, just because ‘demandingness’ is often a ‘sufficient condition’ for human disturbance, therefore it is also a ‘necessary condition’, which, the Buddha’s followers would argue, it is not.  Any significant degree of desiring that the present be different from how it is, could, in theory, cause significant levels of negative affect.

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Tenth Anniversary of the Death of Albert Ellis:

On this anniversary, I have today posted some feedback from Dr Meredith Nisbet of my book on the childhood of Albert Ellis.  This is what she wrote:

Book Review – by Dr Meredith Nisbet:

“I learned so much about human nature reading your book (Jim) about (Albert) Ellis. I also learned from your book about Jim Byrne. The similarities are obvious. The differences are where most of the learning comes. You overcame your childhood experiences; he lived with his experiences, but the differences were that he needed help to conquer his experiences, but he never was able to “normalize” as you did. I’d like to hear your comments on what made the difference for you  – something within you or the people who helped you? Was his problem something he missed or didn’t think he needed? I think it was more the latter. What do you think?”

To see my response to her questions, please go here: https://abc-counselling.org/albert-ellis-a-wounded-psychotherapist/

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Since 2013, my thinking about Albert Ellis and REBT has moved on again, into a more detailed critique of the foundational ideas underpinning his basic conclusions about human disturbance.  This work of mine is described in my latest boon on Ellis and REBT:

Cover444REBT Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes

The book that reveals the fundamental falsehoods at the heart of REBT/CBT

At a moment in history when thousands of counsellors and therapists are being coerced and cajoled into using the ‘flavour of the month’ therapy – CBT – in order to keep their jobs and incomes, everything is changed by one action! Dr Jim Byrne has produced a devastating critique of the original form of CBT: known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).

Many of his criticisms of REBT apply equally to all forms of CBT which utilize the ABC model of human disturbance.

Dr Byrne begins by showing that Dr Ellis was wrong to claim that he had evidence that people are upset by their thinking, plus their thinking about their thinking.  In a line by line analysis of the relevant text from Dr Ellis, Dr Byrne destroys the basis of this false claim.

He then explores the value and veracity of some of the core principles of Stoicism , which are built into REBT/CBT, and find that they do not stand up to scrutiny!

There are at least seven key errors in the foundations of REBT, many of which overlap CBT practice.

For anybody to practice these forms of therapy, without taking Dr Byrne’s critique into account, would be a grave error and a serious miscalculation.  These systems of therapy are enjoying a short-lived popularity which will end in tears.  If you are being forced on to this particular bus, now is the time to object – to present a strong counter argument against this madness.

This madness which denies the impact of the social environment upon the body-brain-mind of the client.  This madness which blames the client for their emotional disturbances.  This madness which copies the delusions of a first century Roman slave, instead of the research evidence of modern social psychology, neuroscience, and interpersonal neurobiology!

Get this book today, if you want to retrieve your right to work for the client; to feel with the client; to champion the rights of the client; and to refuse to go along with the idea that helping the client to repress their feelings, in the name of Stoical bravery, is an adequate ‘therapeutic solution’.

Get the book here, now:

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Amazon Netherlands Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Amazon Brazil Amazon Japan

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Albert Ellis was a man of his time, which was a long time ago.  He modelled his philosophy of psychotherapy[y on the idealistic notions of a Roman slave, instead of on modern theories of social psychology, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and so on. He grossly oversimplified the nature of human disturbance; blamed the client for ‘choosing’ to upset themselves; and denied the value of moral language.

We no longer need to reflect upon the contribution of Dr Ellis.  It was very small.  His contribution is evaluated in the book above: Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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Creative writing and the therapeutic journey

Blog Post No. 155

18th July 2017 – Updated on 22nd January 2019

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2018-2019

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Recent books

If you have come to this page looking for recent books by Dr Jim Byrne (with Renata Taylor-Byrne), then here is the list of the latest books: on Lifestyle Counselling; Writing Therapy; and Diet and Exercise linked to emotional functioning; plus building successful couple relationships.

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Book Descriptions:

Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: 

Or how to integrate nutritional insights, physical exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy

Front cover Lifestyle Counselling

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications

Available at Amazon outlets.***

The contents

In this book, you will find a very clear, brief, easy to read introduction to a novel approach to ‘counselling the whole person’. This emotive-cognitive approach does not restrict itself to mental processes.  We go beyond what the client is ‘telling themselves’, or ‘signalling themselves’; or what went wrong in their family of origin. We also include how well they manage their body-brain-mind in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, and emotional self-management (including self-talk, or inner dialogue). And we propose that it is better for counsellors and therapists to operate in a primarily right-brain modality, and to use the left-brain, cognitive processes, secondarily.

The most important, and novel, chapters in this book are as follows:

Chapter 4, which summarizes our research on the impact of diet/nutrition and physical exercise on mental health and emotional well-being.

Chapter 5, which reviews the science of sleep hygiene, plus common sense insights, and presents a range of lifestyle changes to promote healthy sleep, and thus to improve mental and emotional well-being.

Chapter 9, which explains how to incorporate the learning from chapters 4 and 5 into any system of talk therapy or counselling.

There is also a chapter (8) on counselling individuals using our Emotive-Cognitive approach, in which there is a section (8.3(b)) on using the Holistic SOR model to explore many aspects of the lifestyle of the client.

For more information, please click the following link: Lifestyle Counselling book.***

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How to Write A New Life for Yourself:

Narrative therapy and the writing solution

Writing Theapy book cover

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications

Available as a paperback at Amazon outlets.***

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In this book, we set out to show you how you can quickly and easily process your current psychological problems, and improve your emotional intelligence, by writing about your current and historic difficulties.  (Chapter 8 contains a detailed introduction to the subject of how to understand and manage your emotions).

This approach to writing about your emotional difficulties in order to resolve them has a long and noble tradition.  Many nineteenth century poets were seeking to heal broken hearts or resolve personal dissatisfactions by the use of their poetry writing activities; and many novels are clearly forms of catharsis (or release of pent up emotions) by the author.

But not all writing is equally helpful, therapeutically speaking.  If the writing is too negative; or too pessimistic; or simply makes the reader feel raw and vulnerable, then it is not going to have a positive effect.  Later we will show you how to tackle therapeutic writing, (within the two main disciplines of writing therapy – [the scientific and the humanistic]), in order to make it maximally effective.

For more information, please click the following link: Write a New Life for Yourself.***

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How to control your anger, anxiety and depression,

Using nutrition and physical exercise

Front cover design 4

By Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications.

Available at Amazon outlets.***

1. Introduction

What we eat has a very powerful effect on our bodies and minds. And knowing and understanding how our body-mind reacts to the substances we feed ourselves is a crucial part of self-care.

For instance: depression can be caused by psychological reactions to losses and failures.  But it can also be caused by certain kinds of body-brain chemistry problems, some of which can begin in the guts, and be related to bad diet, and lack of physical exercise.  For example:

“If you are depressed while you suffer from regular yeast infections (like Candida Albicans), or athlete’s foot, or have taken antibiotics recently, there is a connection. Our brains are inextricably tied to our gastrointestinal tract and our mental well-being is dependent on healthy intestines. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and a host of other mental illnesses from autism to ADHD can be caused by an imbalance of gut microbes like fungi, and ‘bad’ bacteria”.  (Source: Michael Edwards (2014))[i].

And when we take antibiotics, we kill off all of our friendly bacteria, and often what grows back first is the unfriendly stuff, like Candida Albicans, which can then cause depression, anxiety and other symptoms, as listed above.

Also, we can really benefit from knowing some of the latest ideas about where – (in our diets) – our depression, anxiety and anger can originate from; as provided by specialists who have devoted their lives to years of investigation into the workings of the human body and mind (or body-mind).

[i] Edwards, M. (2014) ‘The candida depression connection – How yeast leads to depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental disorders’. Available online at:                https://www.naturalnews.com/047184_ candida_ depression_gut_microbes.html#

For more information, please click the following link: Diet, exercise and mental health.***

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Top secrets for

Building a Successful Relationship: 

Volume 1 – A blueprint and toolbox for couples and counsellors: C101

By Dr Jim Byrne

With Renata Taylor-Byrne BSc (Hons) Psychol 1543762369 (1905x1383)

The full paperback cover, by Charles Saul

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On this web site, you will find enough information about our new book on couple relationships to inform your decision about buying it.  We have posted the full Preface; plus the full set of (revised) Contents pages; plus a brief extract from each of the main chapters (1-13).

Pre-publication review

“I have recently finished reading Dr Jim Byrne’s immensely useful book (about love and relationship skills).  This book is full of cutting edge thinking and priceless wisdom about couple relationships; which inspires us to believe that we can undoubtedly shape and improve our most important relationships.  The approach is comprehensive (despite being Volume 1 of 3), covering as it does: the nature of love and relationships; common myths about love and relationships (which tend to lead young people astray); some illuminating case studies of couple relationships that have gone wrong; and very helpful chapters on communication skills, conflict styles, and assertive approaches to relationship; plus a very interesting introduction to the theory that our marriage partnership is shaped, for better or worse, in our family of origin. I particularly liked the chapters on how to manage boundaries in relationships; and how to change your relationship habits. I can highly recommend this ‘must read’ book to couples and counsellors alike”.

Dr Nazir Hussain

Positive Psychology and Integrative Counselling Services, Whitby, Ontario, Canada.

September 2018

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Here’s a quick preview of part of the contents of Chapter 1:

This book has been designed to be helpful to two main audiences:

1. Anybody who is curious about how to build and maintain a happy, successful couple relationship, like a marriage or civil partnership (civil agreement), or simple cohabitation; and:

2. Any professional who works with individuals and couples who show up with problems of marital or couple conflict, breakdowns of communication, or unhappiness with the couple bond.

For more information about this book, please go to Top Secrets for Building a Successful Relationship.***

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Recent publications

Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons:

How to process old traumas, and eliminate undigested pain from your past experience

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Holistic Counselling in Practice:

An introduction to the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy

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Daniel O’Beeve’s Amazing Journey: From traumatic origins to transcendent love

The memoir of Daniel O’Beeve: a strong-willed seeker after personal liberation: 1945-1985

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Or take a look at my page about my top eight books, here: Books about E-CENT Counselling and related topics.***

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Introduction to first draft of this blog post

Cover444It is now more than three months since my previous blog post was published.  The delay was down to how busy I’ve been, largely because of writing my latest book, which is now available at Amazon: Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes: The case against Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.***

My main role in life, as a doctor of counselling, is to see individual clients who have ‘problems of daily living’ which they cannot resolve on their own.  I help people with problems of anxiety, depression, anger, couple conflict, attachment problems, and other relationship problems.  Dr Jim’s Counselling Division.***

drjim-counsellor1However, I also write books, blogs and web pages; and articles or papers on counselling-related topics.  And I help individuals, from time to time, who are struggling with their creative or technical writing projects.  Sometimes I help individual writers to stay motivated, or to process their repeated rejection by an unreceptive and uncaring world.

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The frustrations of writing

It is far from easy being a creative writer.  Frustrations abound, from conception of a new and useful writing project; doing the research; writing early drafts; then polishing, editing and publishing; and then trying to sell the end product in a world which is awash with information-overload.

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In my book on REBT, I wrote about that period like this:

“As early as August 2003 (and probably earlier), I was writing about the fact that stress was a multi-causal problem.  That idea contradicts the ABC theory, which asserts that all emotional distress (including the common manifestations of stress: which include anger, anxiety and depression) are caused exclusively by the client’s Beliefs (B’s).  Here is an example of my writing from August 2003:

“I have developed a stress management programme consisting of fifteen strategies which help you to work on your body, your emotions, your thinking, and your stress management skills. This programme allows you to develop a stress-free life.

8-physical-symptoms-of-stress

“You may also be affected by many life-change stressors, e.g. Moving house; death of your spouse or other loved one; divorce; marriage; redundancy; bullying at work; promotion; demotion; change of lifestyle; etc.

“Your stress level also depends upon such factors as your diet, exercise, what you tell yourself about your life pressures, and so on. (What you tell yourself about your pressures is called your “self-talk”).

“And a lot depends upon your sense of control. Can you control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you confident and assertive enough to at least try to control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you wise enough to learn how to stoically accept those things which you clearly cannot control? The more control you have, the less stress you feel, according to the Whitehall Studies, conducted by Michael Marmot, beginning in 1984.” (Original source in footnotes)[1].

However, the frustration was this: Although I had expertise about managing stress; and although I had packaged 15 different strategies for getting your stress under control, very few people bought my book!

And today, I believe, most people do not understand stress: How it destroys their happiness, damages their physical health, and causes all kinds of emotional problems.

Tough stuff! This is the lot of the creative writer.  The world most often seems to not be ready for our insights!

~~~

People love simplicity and side-tracks

While my stress book was not selling to any reasonable degree, the simple books about the ABC model of REBT, produced by Dr Albert Ellis, were selling much better.  Those books presented an exaggerated claim that they could help the reader to quickly and relatively effortlessly get rid of any problem, simply by changing their beliefs about the problems they encountered.

My REBT book demonstrates that there was never any solid evidence that this claim is true.  It also demonstrates that, in the process, the REBT/CBT model blames the client for their own upsets, thus excusing the harshness of current government policy in the US and the UK, where the rich are enriched and the poor are squashed!  That squashing process hurts, and causes emotional distress and physical health problems.

Here is the evidence that it is not the individual’s beliefs, but the social environment that has the most impact on mental health and emotional well-being:

While psychotherapists like Albert Ellis tended to emphasize the role of the counselling client’s beliefs in the causation of anger, anxiety, depression, and so on, Oliver James, and his concept of ‘affluenza’, tends to emphasize living in a materialistic environment. As Dr James writes: “Nearly ten years ago, in my book Britain on the Couch, I pointed out that a twenty-five-year-old American is (depending on which studies you believe) between three and ten times more likely to be suffering depression today than in 1950. … In the case of British people, nearly one-quarter suffered from emotional distress … in the past twelve months, and there is strong evidence that a further one-quarter of us are on the verge thereof.  … (M)uch of this increase in angst occurred after the 1970s and in English-speaking nations”.  People’s beliefs have not changed so much over that time.  This is evidence of the social-economic impact of the post-Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberal economic policies!

Oliver James (2007) Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane.  Page xvi-xvii. (63).

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Conclusion

If you are a creative writer, and you want to write your own autobiography, or autobiographical novel, or you need support with any aspect of your creative writing process, then I can help you.

Coaching, counselling and therapy for writers.***

Or you could take a look at my current books in print.***

Or take a look at my page about my top eight books, here: Books about E-CENT Counselling and related topics.***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

 

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

~~~

Albert Ellis’s childhood shaped REBT

Blog Post No.117

Posted on 13th March 2017 – (Originally posted on 5th February 2015).

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: A counsellor blogs about John Reinhard’s misquoting of Dr Byrne’s book about the childhood of Albert Ellis…

Copyright ©Jim Byrne, 2015/2017

Introduction

It is not easy being me!

(It’s not easy being anybody – but I mostly know about me!)

rebt-whats-wrongI wrote a book on the childhood of Albert Ellis, with the intention of correcting the mistakes that persist in REBT (and presumably in derived forms of CBT), which arose out of the psychological trauma inflicted upon Little Albert Ellis by his neglectful parents.  My hope was that followers of REBT would take this critique seriously, and set about reforming REBT to make it less distorted by Ellis’s unresolved neuroses – mainly avoidance of emotion, and his (largely successful) attempts to suppress all thought of childhood trauma, in himself or anybody else.

In three earlier posts, I have addressed some of the ways in which one of Ellis’s followers – one John Reinhard – has failed to engage with my critique.

Today I went back to see how selectively Reinhard had dealt with my criticism of the inadequacies of REBT therapists when it comes to the question of empathy for the client.

I was appalled at how little attention he’s paid to my actual arguments.  Here is the whole of the relevant section of my book.  Tell me if you consider that I have said “REBT therapists skip all forms of empathy”.  Tell me if I’ve in any way misrepresented the actual position that Ellisian REBTers take on the subject of empathy in psychotherapy:

Foreword

“If it was never possible for us to relive on a conscious level the rejection we experienced in our own childhood and to work it through, then we in turn will pass this rejection on to our children”.  Dr Alice Miller[1]

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisThis book represents an attempt to deconstruct Dr Albert Ellis’s story of his childhood, with a view to rescuing ‘Little Albert’, who has been ignored and discounted by Older Albert, just as he was ignored and discounted by his own parents.  It also seeks to evaluate his theory of therapy (REBT), and to try to identify links between his major childhood experiences and his adult theories of human behaviour.

Why do I want to do this?  What is my goal?

I am doing this because, as it stands, Albert Ellis’s system of therapy – called Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) – and those therapies which have been inspired by him, which includes most of the cognitive behavioural therapies – ignores the childhood pain of counselling and therapy clients; and recommends that they “forget the god-awful past”.  In the process, those rational counsellors and therapists unknowingly promote an unnecessarily callous attitude towards client suffering, and an indifference towards childhood suffering in general.

On the other hand, I suffered emotionally as a child, and only managed to recover from that seriously damaging experience by processing it – making it conscious; feeling the previously denied or repressed feelings; and moving on.[2] I resolutely refused to try to “forget the god-awful past” – partly because it’s actually the non-remembered bits that do the most harm; and we have to remember them first, process them, and file them away, before we can healthily forget them!

Cognitive empathy versus emotional empathy

I am not saying that REBT/CBT therapists show no empathy for their clients whatsoever: they do.  But their empathy seems to be mainly ‘cognitive’ – or cool ‘understanding’ – instead of also including some ‘felt affinity’ with the suffering client.  (Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and Janet Wolfe is the main one I have seen on video, warmly empathizing with a client who she judged to be “in need of tender loving care [TLC])”. That felt sense of affinity with the client – when it occurs – is experienced by the client as both caring for them, and also legitimating their sense of having been wronged or short-changed by life.  An REBT /CBT therapist might be concerned that this kind of emotional affinity could encourage the client to ‘catastrophize’ about their childhood suffering, but this is not a necessary outcome from emotional empathy.

For example, in both the therapy work of Milton Erickson[3] and the coaching work of Stephen Covey[4], the emphasis is on, firstly, understanding and empathizing with the client – and showing a sense of fellow feeling; and then, secondarily, trying to show the client some potentially better ways of thinking-feeling-acting in their problem situation.  Why does the REBT/CBT therapist have to urgently skip that first essential step?  Why not bide their time until the client feels understood, before presenting their proposed solutions and improved ways of thinking, feeling and acting?

And even in the case of offering cognitive empathy, the REBT/ CBT therapist (who follows Ellis’s lead) is likely to only empathize with those aspects of life’s difficulties which are seen as ‘legitimate’.  And that tends to exclude childhood suffering.  (Albert Ellis has been shown – in some video clips of his therapy work – to empathize with people who feel guilt or shame, [presumably because he thinks nobody should ever have to feel guilt or shame – which I will show to be an unhelpful approach when it comes to moral issues].  But he does not empathize with:

(a) individuals who feel they need a loving partner, (presumably because he does not believe anybody needs to be loved);

(b) people who suffered in their childhood, (presumably because he believes they have a duty to ‘forget the god-awful past’ – like he did!)

(c) people who complain of being treated unfairly, (presumably because he foolishly thinks that this is always and only beyond the control of the client – which it [very often] most definitely is not!)

In this book, I am seeking to help children, and the inner child of adult clients, by promoting empathy for victims of childhood suffering. This empathic understanding is a necessary precedent to the process of completing those painful experiences, reframing them, and then letting them go[5].  In addition, I also want to rescue what is good about REBT, while dumping what is un-helpful.

It is my belief that Little Albert Ellis suffered enormously, but that Older Albert Ellis was in denial about that suffering.  As such, Older Albert was never able to become a self-actualized individual, in the fullest sense: especially in relation to his capacity to love and to relate warmly and intimately to others (although he began to make apparent improvements with Debbie Joffe-Ellis, after the age of 88 years!)  And as a therapist, he was unable to fully, emotionally, empathize with the childhood suffering of his clients.

If you think you ‘already know’ Albert Ellis and REBT, then prepare for a shock.  You are about to be introduced to their normally ignored ‘shadow sides’.

And if you think there is only one way to relate to Albert Ellis – to love him or hate him – prepare to be introduced to the ‘middle way’.

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End of extract… From The Childhood of Albert Ellis…***

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

~~~

Footnotes

[1] Miller, A. (1983) For Your own Good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence.  London: Faber and Faber.  Pages 3-4.

[2] See my Story of Origins and my Story of Relationship – two ‘training analyses’ – here: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

[3] See the book, My Voice will Go with You: The teaching tales of Milton H. Erickson.  Edited and with commentary by Sidney Rosen.  1982.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.  Erickson is quoted as saying: “First you model the patient’s world” – which means understanding it – “Then you role-model the patient’s world” – meaning you provide a new and better model for the client to consider adopting.

[4] The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  A book by Stephen Covey (1989), in which his fifth principle is: Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.  An REBT therapist could apply this principle to first allow the client to have their thoughts and feelings; to accept them; validate them; and then to look at whether it might be better for the client if they were moderated or modified in some way.  But jumping to that second stage immediately is probably often felt to be insensitive and discounting by the client.

[5] Byrne, J. (2011a) Completing your experience of difficult events, perceptions and painful emotions.  E-CENT Paper No.13.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: A little knowledge about Stoicism is a dangerous thing…

Blog Post No. 143

By Dr Jim Byrne

Origianlly posted on 18th March 2016 – And re-posted here on 6th April 2016

Amended slightly on 29th July 2019

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: A little knowledge about Stoicism is a dangerous thing…

Part 1: The distinction between moderate and extreme Stoicism…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2016

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Introduction

Pope-quote-knowledgeIt was most likely Alexander Pope who warned the world that “a little learning (or knowledge) is a dangerous thing”, and that it would be better to have no knowledge of a subject than a little, since the little we acquire may greatly mislead us.  This seems to me to be true in many contexts, and in particular, today, I want to focus upon the ways in which brief ‘quotations’ (or aphorisms) are transmitted through our culture which give us an unrepresentative flavour of a subject, but no real grasp of the substance of that subject.

One example of this kind of misleading approach to the use of quotes (or aphorisms) is the tendency in cognitive and rational therapy to cherry pick a few phrases from Stoic philosophy, which seem on the surface to be helpful, but which hide dangerous depths of extreme lack of empathy and lack of self-regard, or self-care; especially those which come from the more extreme cogitations of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.

The most common example of this harmful practice is the promotion of the erroneous thought that “people are not upset by what happens to them”!   Many cognitive and rational therapists promote these kinds of misleading quotations (or aphorisms, or phrases) to all and sundry, without any awareness of the harm that may be caused.

Overall, I think Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus show signs of having both a moderate tendency (of dedication to reality) and an extremist tendency (of trying to tolerate the intolerable – and advocating toleration of the intolerable).

Over the next few weeks, I hope to post a multi-part critique of extreme Stoicism in this blog, beginning with Part 1 today.

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An example from my practice

Meditations-MarcusInstead of trying to present a summation of what I have learned of this problem of extreme Stoicism in one blog post, I want to approach the problem in small, easy steps.  Here is an example from my counselling practice which should help to illustrate the distinction between moderate and extreme Stoicism.

Over more than a dozen years, up to 2007, under the influence of Albert Ellis’s system of rational therapy, (which I have now abandoned), I’ve used bits and pieces of Stoic philosophy with my counselling clients.

In recent years, I’ve had three clients who had great difficulty handling difficult people in public places, such as workplaces, commercial offices, and educational settings.  Those individuals would come to me, week after week, complaining about having (once again!) run into people who insult them, use sarcasm with them, or hook them into nasty psychological games.  Eventually, I developed the habit, with those three particular clients, of always reaching for my copy of Marcus Aurelius’ book of Meditations, turning to Book II, Verse 1, and reading out this (moderate) statement:

  1. A moderate example

“1. Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men (and women). All these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill (or evil).  …”

And, after several such experiences, each of these clients eventually made a commitment to teach themselves this lesson, so that could avoid being upset when they (inevitably!) run into difficult people in the future. Indeed, each of them wrote down this statement from Marcus, and carried it with them, and eventually they each came to terms with the reality that there are Good and Bad ‘Wolves’ out there – and that the Good and Bad Wolf lives inside each of us (which is an old Cherokee insight, which I also taught to them – alongside some assertiveness skills!  See my paper on this subject[1].)

Stoic-concept-harmBut if you have Book II in front of you, then you will notice something significant.  I have not quoted Verse 1 in full; and the reason is that the second part of Verse 1 is an example of extreme Stoicism:

  1. An example of extremist thinking

This is what the second part of Verse 1 says:

“But I, because I have seen that the nature of the good is the right, and of ill the wrong, and that the nature of man himself who does wrong is akin to my own (not of the same blood and seed, but partaking with me in mind, that is in a portion of divinity), I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth.  To work against one another therefore is to oppose Nature, and to be vexed with another or to turn away from him is to tend to antagonism”. (Page 7)[2].

I could not offer this second part of Verse 1 to my three clients as sound advice.  Why not? For the following three reasons:

  1. Because of the foolish claim that “I can (not) be harmed by any of them…” (Of course I can – and so can you!)
  2. Because of the untenable idea that my clients cannot be angry with their tormentors. (Yes they can – and if they are emotionally healthy, then they will often be appropriately angry with their tormentors!)
  3. Because of the strange idea that to work against one another is to oppose Nature. (I will show, shortly that this is a false claim).

Analysis of those three points

Guide-to-Good-LifeLet me now look at each of those three reservations in turn, before coming to my conclusion (for this week).

  1. Firstly: Marcus’s foolish claim that “I can (not) be harmed by any of them…”

In a blog post in 2011, I remember writing this: “Of course, we need to note that this is not the ‘common sense’ understanding of harm.  After all, Marcus knew that several previous Roman emperors had been seriously harmed (killed) by their political enemies.  And Seneca, a great Stoic philosopher, was himself put to death by Nero during the crushing of a conspiracy to assassinate Nero.  So, logically, he must be speaking of ‘harm’ here in the classical Stoical sense of ‘moral decay’ or ‘moral deviation’.”

But my clients would be poorly served by me if I told them: “When you go into public places, you will meet all kinds of difficult people, but none of them can harm you!”

This would not be true.  They can be harmed by others; and they must be clear about that.  They also have a responsibility to know how to protect themselves in the presence of others who might harm them.

So it would be an example of extreme Stoic self-delusion if I taught my clients that nobody could harm them!

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  1. Secondly: Marcus’s untenable idea that my clients cannot be angry with their tormentors.

I cannot teach this to my clients, because I want them to have access to their reasonable angry responses when anybody tries to oppress or exploit or otherwise harm them.  I want them to be able to defend themselves, assertively (not aggressively) – and to do that they need to be able to feel appropriate anger.

Enchiridion-EpictetusThe Stoics made the mistake of thinking that all emotions area result of false beliefs[3]. This is untrue, as a person who believe, accurately, that they are about to be killed by a violent assailant will feel strong, logical, and rational feelings of fear and dread!  Stoics are committed to being unemotional.  From Cynicism, Epictetus had learned that he should strive to be “as unfeeling as a stone” – see Irvine (2009)[4] – and though Stoicism is supposed to be in the middle ground between Cynicism and moderate emotionality, there is evidence that both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius tended to drift towards the Cynic position from time to time – and this probably constitutes the core of their extremism!

This extremist tendency to want to be as unfeeling as a stone is exemplified in the famous statement by Epictetus, in the Enchiridion, to the effect that:

“Men (and women) are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things: for example, death is nothing terrible, for if it were, it would have seemed so to Socrates; for the opinion about death, that it is terrible, is the terrible thing.  When, then, we are impeded or disturbed or grieved, let us never blame others, but ourselves, that is, our opinions.  It is the act of an ill-instructed man (or woman) to blame others for his (or her) own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself”. (Page 14, Section V, the Enchiridion)[5].

But this is a false view of human emotion – which was adopted by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck – to the effect that cognitions cause emotions.  In my new book – A Major Critique of REBT – I have this to say on this subject:

“People are affected by their environments, and especially their social environments (which contradicts the extremist view expressed by Epictetus in his most famous dictum: where he states, in the Enchiridion, that “people are not disturbed by what happens to them, but rather by the attitude they adopt towards what happens to them”). Most often, our emotional reactions are automatic, very fast, and non-conscious (Goleman)[6]. The emotional arousal occurs in a fraction of a second, which is far too fast for any thinking to take place. And very often, the strong emotional reaction is ‘self-preserving’ or self-protective, or survival oriented, and not at all ‘irrational’.”

Furthermore, according to the extensive research project of Jaak Panksepp[7], human cognitive processes – including attention, perception, memory, languaging and thinking – are all regulated by our innate emotions, and not vice versa!  But Daniel Siegel (2015)[8] clarifies that our emotions are both regulating and regulated.  And Daniel Hill (2015)[9], summarizing the work of Allan Schore and Peter Fonagy, suggests that regulation of non-conscious primary affects is more fundamental than the conscious insights of mentalizing (or thinking in language).

I will have more to say on this subject in Part 2 or 3 of this blog post series.

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  1. Thirdly: Marcus’s strange idea that to work against one another is to oppose Nature.

I cannot agree to teach my clients this naïve view of human cooperation and competition.  In E-CENT theory we teach that the line between good and evil runs right down the centre of the human heart; that we each contain a constructive, pro-social tendency (the ‘Good Wolf’ state) and a destructive, anti-social tendency (the ‘Bad Wolf’ state).  We need to cooperate with each other for the common good, but we must not lose sight of morality.  We must not cooperate with people who are promoting evil.  We must, in fact, to the degree that we can, work against those people who are promoting evil – and this is not against ‘our Nature’, because our Nature is shaped by culture, and our nature/culture is split between the Good and the Bad.

Marcus Aurelius was not who we think he was!

And here’s the paradox.  If you sit down and read through Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, you get the sense that you are reading the journal of a saint; a sage; a monk or hermit.  A man who is filled with love for his fellows.  But you are not!  (He is actually said to have reviled mankind! [Irvine, 2009]).

Marcus Aurelius wrote Book II “among the Quadi on the river Gran” in central Europe, where he was crushing a rebellion against the Roman Empire.  Marcus was at war with the peoples who were subjected by the tyranny of the Roman Empire, throughout most of his forty years of adult life, during which time he was the Emperor and military leader of the most aggressively expansive empire seen up to that time in ancient history.

When he retired to his tent to write the opening lines of Book II, he may have had to wash the blood of battle from his hands before handling his journal.  How convenient that he believed that the subjugated peoples, who were oppressed by him and his armies, on behalf of his empire, were not upset by his oppression of them – which (Stoicism believes) was a matter of ‘indifference’ – but by their opinions of the Roman army of occupation!

And how insincere that he should write that “to work against one another therefore is to oppose Nature, and to be vexed with another or to turn away from him is to tend to antagonism”.

How can he – a full time warlord! – use that word, “antagonism” in that way, after a hard day’s bloodshed in putting down rebellion and revolt by an oppressed people?

Conclusion to Part 1

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  I learned that lesson the hard way, when I learned that the philosophy of psychotherapy developed by Dr Albert Ellis was hidebound by his emotional damage in childhood; his (self-acknowledged) amoralism; his mild autism; and his avoidant attachment style.  I learned in the process that you had better know the provenance of any idea you decide to take into your mind, because ideas carry the birthmarks of their creators, and screwed up individuals can only produce screwed up philosophies of life!

For more ideas about the philosophy of counselling and psychotherapy, and some self help books, please visit the ABC Bookstore Online.***

That’s all for this week.

More later.

Best wishes,

Jim

[1] Byrne, J. (2011-2013) CENT Paper No.25: The Innate Good and Bad Aspects of all Human Beings (the Good and Bad Wolf states).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.  Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id312.html

[2] Aurelius, M. (1946/1992) Meditations. Trans. A.S.L. Farquharson.  London: Everyman’s Library.

[3] Sherman, N. (2005) Stoic Warriors: The ancient philosophy behind the military mind.  Oxford: Oxford University Press. Page 9.

[4] Irvine, W. (2009) A Guide to the Good Life: the ancient art of Stoic joy.  Oxford: Oxford University Press. Page 30.

[5] Epictetus (1991) The Enchiridion. New York: Prometheus Books.

[6] Goleman, D. (1996) Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. London: Bloomsbury.

[7] Panksepp, J. (1998) Affective Neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. Oxford University Press.

[8] Siegel, D.J. (2015) The Developing Mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are.  London: The Guilford Press.

[9] Hill, D. (2015) Affect Regulation Theory: A clinical model.  London: W.W. Norton and Company.

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