Ten reasons to get a lifestyle coach

Blog Post No. 45

22nd March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Ten reasons why having a coach makes you stronger and happier

Introduction

RihannaI like lists, and I thought you might like to see this list I have created about the value of having a coach. Some people may well feel that they are not entitled to have a coach. I don’t think Rihanna, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Serena Williams or Andy Murray would agree with them.

It may be difficult to believe that coaches can strengthen you in the face of your current problems, and get you on track in your life, or you may be convinced that having one won’t help you to make you happier or achieve your goals. But here’s a list of what they actually do for people:

When you have a coach

  1. You now have an ally – someone totally focussed on helping you identify the goals you want to achieve, or skills you want to develop, so that you can be much happier about what you are doing with your life. They provide a secure, benevolent mirror, to help you ground yourself in an ever-changing world. This immediately can be reassuring and reduce stress.
  2. They bring their skills and knowledge with them, and those assets are now available for you. You have the benefit of their years of experience and tried and tested learning strategies.
  3. They get you speaking about your vision for your life, or the changes you want, in a way which you can’t do very easily on your own. We find it very hard to “get out of our own minds” and see our lives objectively. A coach can help us do that.
  4. The coach has solved a lot of their own stress problems and can show you how you can make life less stressful for yourself.
  5. They listen to you and respect you in a way that you may not have experienced before. It’s like being a plant and suddenly the sunshine comes out, and you can feel yourself growing and getting stronger. That’s how I felt with two of the American Forum leaders who coached me as part of the Landmark Education courses. They were priceless experiences!
  6. Coaches tell you the truth about your skills and how you are utilizing them. Unlike your friends, they don’t need your approval, and have no reason refrain from being quite factual and scientific in their observations about your behaviours and attitudes. They tell it like it is. But they should always be constructive and supportive when giving feedback.
  7. At times, life can be very tough and we can forget the problems we have faced in the past and successfully overcome. We can become discouraged and lose hope.

But a coach is there to show you that your motivation can be re-energised in a flash, by reminding you of your successes in your life so far. They can also show you how your thinking may become one-sided, unscientific, and failing to acknowledge all the good things there are in life that can help you.

  1. A great coach will discourage you from being an escapist. They will spell out clearly the lifestyle choices that you will need to make to achieve your goals, and to become stronger mentally and physically, so that you have the energy to achieve them.
  2. Coaches research and analyse the latest information being released about how our brain works, new problem-solving strategies, how crucial nutrition and exercises to your mental and physical well-being, and how to protect yourself from social and environmental hazards.
  3. Your ‘Inner Critic’, if it is not controlled, can sap your energy and hijack your attempts to change your life for the better. Your coach can help you to become aware of it, and to develop ways of stopping it undermining your self-confidence and self-concept, and shrinking your life.

Renatas-coaching-div2That’s all for this week.

I hope you find a good coach to help you to become all that you could be.

Take care,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

~~~

Self-confidence through self-acceptance

Blog Post No. 44

17th March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: How to develop more self-confidence by accepting yourself exactly as you are

The Oxford dictionary definition of confidence is:

 “A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement”.

~~~

Introduction

Confident-peopleMany of us would like to feel more self-confident than we are at the present moment, and in this blog I want to outline a simple technique which will increase your level of self-confidence, if you experiment with it.

What this technique will do is to bring about a change in your attitude towards yourself as you live your life, and as you perform all the necessary tasks that you have to do, in order to survive. Why don’t you give it a try and see if it changes your view of yourself?

The technique for greater self-confidence: ‘One conditional self-acceptance’

Ellis-video-imageIn the 1980’s, when I first came across Dr Albert Ellis’s concept of USA, (Unconditional Self-Acceptance), I thought that this was a very therapeutic way of helping people to stop giving themselves such a hard time when they failed or behaved poorly in work or in life. One of the ways in which people give themselves a hard time is this: They create lots of rules for themselves, like “I must achieve this goal!” Or “I must achieve highly in life!”  Or: “I must never fail in any way”.  And so on! In this kind of way, they can really upset themselves (and frequently do!) because they are not as rich/ talented/ skilled/ academically successful/perfect in all the areas that they want to be.

All around us we can see and hear people passing judgement on themselves, and this is an enormous waste of their vital life energy. (Except in one area, which is to do with morality.  It is important that we, and they, judge the quality of our moral actions, and refrain from harming others!)

Callout-5

Here is an example of such negative self-judgements: Many people have problems accepting themselves when they remember mistakes they made in the past, (as if they should be able to perform skills really well, immediately, without any failures or slipping back.  And as if they should be able to be perfect).

Our judgemental attitudes begin in early childhood.  Although we accept ourselves when we fall down when learning to walk, we then, sometime later, begin to fault ourselves when we fail to do something which is new to us.

School experiences are a case in point.  We can all remember examples of not being able to perform as well as others, in classrooms, and this can start the formation of a sense of ourselves as failures; and our abilities as lacking; or our skills as being not as good as other people. And by the time we are teenagers our self-concept can get fixed and set in stone in our minds.  We have learned to rate ourselves on the basis of our failing attempts to learn.

Albert Ellis taught that we should not rate our selves, but rather our behaviours, and to distinguish between ourselves and our behaviours.  In this way, we can preserve our good judgement of our self, and only criticize our behaviour or performance.

Callout-2For example, “I am not my mathematics ability (or my skiing ability; or my socializing ability).  I am an error-prone human, like all other humans.  And I have some areas of high skill and some areas of low skill development.  But my high skills do not make me Great!  And my low skills do not make me a Worm!
Ellis called this ‘unconditional acceptance’ of ourselves (or other people, or the world).

So unconditional self-acceptance of ourselves, in the context of our mistakes and imperfections, seemed to me to be a great idea, when I came across it in the 1980s.

But I hadn’t taken into account human nature. I had assumed that people would mostly behave morally and ethically towards each other. Therefore, it seemed to me to be okay to address a class of 15 or 20 individuals and tell them it was okay to accept themselves exactly the way they were (without realizing that at least one of them might be a serious criminal or amoral abuser of others!)

This was rather naïve of me, given that, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The line between good and evil runs right down the centre of the human heart!

~~~

Somewhere along the way, Dr Jim Byrne, who had agreed with me that Albert Ellis’s USA was a great idea, began to have second thoughts.  After examining and researching the full implications of unconditional self-acceptance, he came up with the concept of “One-conditional self-acceptance’, as he realised the flaw in Albert Ellis’s view that people should accept themselves unconditionally (without spotting that they should not do this in the case of immoral actions on their part). (See Byrne, 2010, in the References, below). Dr-Jim-Self-AcceptanceEllis’s USA approach, at least implicitly, and unfortunately, gives people permission to abuse others and to not feel bad about it afterwards.

So Dr Byrne proposed that we accept ourselves as imperfect humans. But we should not (and that is a moral should!) give ourselves permission to go out and behave badly or immorally towards others.

Jim distinguished between three areas of human activity as follows:

  1. Performance competence;
  2. Personal judgements;
  3. Moral/immoral actions.

His argument was this: It is perfectly reasonable, and indeed desirable, and certainly self-helping, to always accept yourself when you fail to perform competently; or you make poor personal judgements.  You should forgive yourself in these contexts, try again.

But with regard to item 3 above: moral and immoral actions; we owe it to our society to act morally, and to refrain from acting immorally.  And we morally must not accept ourselves as being okay if and when we behave immorally.

This means that you can practise the technique of accepting yourself as you are – an imperfect human, who makes mistakes occasionally just like everyone else. But you must not accept yourself as being okay when you act immorally!

Accepting yourself under one condition

So you can accept yourself as being totally okay on one condition – that you behave morally and ethically towards all other human beings. Treating others as you would wish them to treat you is the basic contract people have in a civilised society. It’s called following the ‘Golden rule’ and enables people to live together in a decent and safe way.

Why is giving yourself “One-conditional self-acceptance” an important factor in self-confidence? Because there are all sorts of skills which we are all learning, and practising, every day of our lives. And we inevitably make mistakes. Realistically there can only be a few skills that we are very, very competent at, in our lifetime.

Callout-4But in our cultures we will face criticism for our imperfections, as if we had to be perfect all the time. What nonsense – but it’s very powerful pressure. Just look at the pressure in the UK culture to look ‘good’! In 2015 (according to the British Association of Aesthetic plastic surgeons) 51,140 people had treatment to improve their appearance.

Most of those people could have kept their dignity, and their cash in their pockets, if they had practiced one-conditional self-acceptance.  (And we also know, from Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics, 1960), that having plastic surgery will not change your self-concept reliably [for a significant proportion of those surgery patients], because it’s our inner self-appraisal that affects how we feel about ourselves, and not our objective appearance.  For example, Marilyn Monroe thought she was ugly!)

However, we can learn to accept our physical appearance, even if it is ‘perfect’, by telling ourselves: “I am not my face.  I am not my nose.  I am not my balding head.  I am not my fat; I am not my skinniness; I am not my social skills.  I am not my socially disliked characteristics!”

We’ve got a moral responsibility to ourselves to reduce our contact with people who try to put us down, and destroy our sense of self-worth. But the most crucial factor in relation to our confidence is our own (one-conditional) self-acceptance of our imperfections.

“One-Conditional self-acceptance” – What does this mean in practice – in real life?

It means that if you make mistakes, you make mistakes. End of story. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad or evil person for having done so. Obviously you will need to apologize and make amends if the mistakes are very serious and (accidentally) harm others physically or emotionally. But as an imperfect human being, you are bound to make mistakes. We all do – all the time!

What happens if we don’t give ourselves permission to screw up in one way or another? Our resilience and physical energy will be badly affected. Albert Bandura stated in 1966:

There is no more devastating punishment than self-contempt.”
Psycho-CyberneticsRefusing to make allowances for our humanity and imperfections will wreck our confidence when we are trying to learn new skills.

Practising “One conditional self-acceptance” (OCSA) means that you have to extend compassion towards yourself. As the Buddha said:

Compassion that extends itself to others and not to yourself, is incomplete “.

~~~

Taking action

Trying out this technique (OCSA) means that you have a much kinder and much more accepting attitude towards yourself when you make mistakes; form poor judgements; or act incompetently.

This helps you to feel much stronger when it comes to handling criticisms from other people (and internal criticism from your ‘Inner Critic’).

Callout-1If you practice this one-conditional acceptance approach to yourself, you will be taking a huge burden off yourself – one that you may not have realised you were carrying.

And guess what? If you have children, they will see you accepting your own humanity and imperfections, and not mentally beating yourself up for being imperfect.  And they will copy what you do, and accept themselves more. Do you remember the quote about what makes a great leader? “Example, example, example!“

How happy do you want your children to be?

This change of attitude towards yourself – of accepting yourself one-conditionally – will take time to become part of your approach to yourself as an imperfect human. (It can be very hard for us to accept ourselves when we make mistakes – especially when we screw up in front of other people).

Teaching is a very public job, and I found during my early teaching career, that making mistakes in front of others as I learned my job, was very challenging and emotionally threatening. But accepting my mistakes and learning from them really helped me to recover and keep my equilibrium, so I had the energy to keep learning and trying to improve my performance.

For these reasons, I strongly recommend practising “One-conditional self-acceptance” in your daily life and especially if you are learning any new skills, or have got problems in any of your relationships.

Callout-3.JPGCan you imagine how much less stressed you will feel, if you give yourself permission to be an imperfect driver? Or mother? Or husband? Or worker/professional? (So long as you are doing your best, and not acting immorally or unethically, or disregarding the possibility of harming others!)

This then gives you the mental space to realise that, if you wanted to, you could slowly learn new behaviours to improve your performance, and your judgements, but without your inner critic nagging away in the background.

This would amount to treating yourself with respect and consideration, just as you would treat your best friend if they were in the same situation, with undeveloped skills which they wanted to improve on.

If you experiment with this self-permission, this self-acceptance, you could find it a real life-changer!

That’s all for now,

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

References:

Byrne, J. (2010) Self-acceptance and other-acceptance in relation to competence and morality. E-CENT Paper No.2(c).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

Maltz, Maxwell (1960). Psycho-Cybernetics. Simon & Schuster.

~~~

 

 

Physical exercise for emotional and physical health

Blog Post No.7

14th October

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: Why bother exercising? What’s the point?

Introduction:

sparkIn this blog I am going to explain why we gain so much from exercising, and how it can be very helpful for you in high pressure situations; and to briefly describe one type of exercise which you may not have come across before.

Humans are designed for a primitive lifestyle. We are designed by nature to go out hunting and keep warm, every day. We’re human animals, whose design has specifically developed to have daily exercise and activity as an essential part of our lifestyle.

Many of us in the UK no longer have to go out hunting for food. We can get the food we need from the supermarket, and warmth from a heating system, instead of searching for fuel for a fire.

But our bodies have specifically evolved (in the past) to go out and get what we need in order to survive. So we have to continue to provide our bodies with the daily physical exertion that is a built-in necessity, in order to function properly.

What happens if we don’t exercise?

If we don’t exercise, then, sadly, our muscles start to deteriorate.

Here is some information on this point: In only 24 hours of inactivity your muscle tone starts to deteriorate. Let a year go by without exercise and 50% of the health (and age control) benefits you may have gained from a lifetime of sport are lost!

Our minds also deteriorate from lack of exercise, because we do not have ‘separate’ minds, but rather we have a body-mind! Depression and anxiety will normally increase if (1) we experience stress, (2) we don’t exercise (to get rid of it), and (3) we do nothing else to reduce the stress hormones in our bodies.

But our bodies have evolved a natural way to deal with the stressors we face as we go out into the world every day. I mentioned in last week’s blog post that we have an immediate alerting mechanism called the ‘fight or flight’ response, designed by nature to protect us when we are faced with threats and dangers.

As soon as the danger is passed, the fight or flight response switches off, and our bodies switch into the ‘rest and digest’ mode. In this mode we go into recovery, unwind and relax; and our digestion returns to normal.

The problem is that many people don’t allow the ‘rest and digest’ process (of the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system) to do its job of slowly restoring the body back to normal.

A lot of people know more about the inside of their local supermarket than they do about their own body-mind and how it functions.

So they get stress, piled upon stress, piled upon stress, in their bodies (and minds). They don’t give their bodies time to recover, and end up feeling tired and strained all the time.

Stress hormones are reduced when you exercise

What exercise does is to help you to use up your stress hormones (of adrenaline and cortisol) which have been released in your body to help you fight the threat that your body-mind thinks it is facing. Our body tenses up in preparation for ‘fight ‘ or ‘flight’, and subsequent exercise helps the muscles use this energy up and also relaxes the muscles and lowers your heart rate and blood pressure as well.

Stress has negative effects upon your digestive system (such as ulceration); damage to your arteries (as platelets are released you’re your bloodstream); but it also pushes up your cholesterol level, and has a knock-on effect on weight-gain.

When you’re feeling stressed, your liver produces extra fuel (glycogen and glucose) for the ‘fight or flight’ response. At the same time, your liver’s cholesterol production increases. But exercise helps to remove this excess cholesterol, which helps with both your arterial system and your waistline (by reducing it).

Exercise makes us more resistant to stress because it protects us from the impact of cortisol (one of the major stress hormones). This means that we don’t get as wound-up by annoying events as we used to when we did not exercise. This is good news for those of us who get impatient sitting in a traffic jam, or waiting for significant others to finish a long and rambling description of their day! (Stress gets into everything and makes it worse!)

There are lots of benefits from exercising

Did you know that if you exercise for ten minutes (going out for a brisk walk; walking up stairs, etc.) that this will reduce your physical tension for up to four hours afterwards?

It’s important to understand how stress over-arouses your central nervous system, causing you to feel strained, irritable, and nervous; and making it difficult for you to think clearly (because of the cortisol filling your body-brain-mind).

These negative effects of stress are what make it difficult for you to engage in job interviews or exams, presentations or special events.  These kinds of events can be much less of an ordeal if your body is well rested and exercised.

If your body is less tense, the negative, self-frightening messages from your mind, about the forthcoming challenge, won’t be able to exert the same power over you.

The vicious circle of a tense (stressed) body responding with even more stress to an anticipated future event – which you see as a scary challenge – will be short-circuited to the degree that you exercise and relax. Relaxed muscles will reduce your stress level!

This is a fast and effective way to greater self-confidence!

Additional benefits

Research done with different populations shows that you have a 50% lower chance of developing bowel cancer if you exercise.

Exercise also reduces inflammation in the body; and much recent research suggests that all major illnesses begin as inflammation.  The mechanism of reduction here is that exercise strengthens the immune system, which then repairs damaged tissue and reduces and eliminates inflammation.

But what sort of exercise is right for you?

Different individuals thrive on different forms of exercise. It can involve a long search to find the sort of exercise that is really right for you. But exercise that you enjoy will help your body release feel-good hormones, called endorphins, which will quickly change your mood if you are feeling anxious or depressed. So try some different forms of exercise to find out what works best for you.

My favourite forms of exercise are as follows:

The first one is called ‘Chi-gong’ (or Qi Kung), and is a type of T’ai chi. It consists of very simple movements, which you do every day. If you go to China you will see people doing the exercises in the parks, in the early morning. (You can see a demonstration here: # Qigong – Chi Kung – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qQKCB1At3k&feature=related)

The great thing about Chi-gong is its simplicity. No special equipment is needed, and you can quickly feel the benefits to your body. And millions of ordinary Chinese people can’t be wrong! J

Tao Porchon-LynchMy second favourite form of exercise is dancing, and the benefits to the body are very obvious – here’s a picture of Tao Porchon-Lynch. She does ballroom dancing (and entering competitions) along with being a yoga teacher:

By the way, she’s 95, and she’s one of my top role models.

Finally, here is a link to a great book which Jim and I reviewed, called ‘Spark’ about how exercise  affects our brains and improves mental performance and stimulates brain growth. www.abc-counselling.com/id373.html

I’ll finish with a quote from Dr John Ratey, who wrote ‘Spark’ with Eric Hagerman:

The better your fitness levels, the better your brain works’.

Ratey and Hargerman (2009, page 7)

They also mention that: ‘Population studies which have included tens of thousands of people of every age show that fitness levels relate directly to positive moods and lower levels of anxiety and stress’.

That’s all for now. Happy exercising!

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

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’.

~~~

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/

Problem solving strategies

Blog Post No. 43

17th February 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Magic models – how to get back your energy quickly after you’ve had a setback!

Coping with setbacks
skilled-helperThere are lots of things that we have available in our popular culture to lift our mood after we’ve had a setback or hit a major problem which is stressing us. We’re often advised to do retail therapy, eat chocolate, get down the local for a drink, book a holiday, buy a DVD, get our hair done, go and watch the latest film, eat exotic take-out food, and so on. The list is endless. Generally, we try to do something which will take our mind off problems and distract ourselves. But does this approach work?

Actually, these popular solutions have a few drawbacks:

  1. They cost money (what if we have none spare, and are struggling to survive?)
  2. They may have a physical cost for us (a hangover, or weight gain, for examples).
  3. They are short-term palliatives, but they do not work in the long run. (They produce short-term pleasure, but they leave us open to longer-term pain!)

Basically, their effect doesn’t last very long – it quickly wears off. Have you noticed how soon we can forget a brilliant party that we went to, or how rapidly we get used to that new outfit we bought?

When I am fed up, or feeling low, I personally like to use techniques that I can use anywhere, work quickly, don’t cost anything financially, are easily understood, and quickly bring me back to that state of happiness and deep appreciation of the marvel of life and of human beings that I usually have!

Here’s­­­ an example of a way of ‘re-framing’ your problems, which can be really helpful at times.

smoky-robinsonThis was said by Smokey Robinson’s mother:

“From the day that you’re born, till you ride in the hearse, there’s nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse!”

Good, isn’t it? Perfect if you’re stuck in traffic and you’re trying to get home for your tea after you’ve been grafting away at work all day, and there’s no way out of the situation. But the situation could always be so much worse than it is.

My approach

In this blog, I want to share with you two great models I use when I have a problem or setback and I’ll explain to you how they work and hopefully you’ll find them of value to you in your own life.

Actually, to be completely honest, they don’t cost anything financially, but there is a price. The price is making a mental effort to open your mind and try them out. Are you up for that? Or have you dismissed them already? We’ll see – here are my two favourite models:

The first model: The ‘Six Windows’ model

honetpieThe first one was created by Dr Jim Byrne, and is called the ‘Six Windows model’. This, like the Smokey Robinson quote above, is a way to re-frame your problem or difficulty so that it shows up as less stressful.

It consists of five perspectives which Jim borrowed from Buddhism and Stoic philosophy, plus one which I contributed!

How to use the ‘Six windows’ model

Six-windows-model3

  1. Firstly, you think about the problem or hassle that is getting you down at the moment. Have you got a clear picture of it in your mind?
  2. Secondly, holding this problem firmly in your mind, you look at it through each of the windows in turn (see the diagram above).

At the top and bottom of each window is a statement that is a viewpoint on life, or a world view – or what some people would think of as a helpful belief. Now experiment with taking on this view of life for a few minutes, as if you decided to agree with the statement for a short time.

Read the statement and then think about your problem, from that viewpoint. Or, to say it another way, try the idea on for size like you would if you were getting a new suit from a shop.

As you look at your problem through the perspective of each of the windows, see if the statements have any effect on how you see your problem. Do it slowly and carefully, finishing up with Window No.6.

By the time you get to window No.6, if you have really taken the ideas on board, there should be a change in the way you see your current problem. And window No. 6 emphasises the ‘pay dirt’ that is in every problem that we have – the reward that we get for having it. Problems strengthen us in different ways!

These viewpoints, or world views, have been created over a long time. You don’t need to know their origins in order for them to work. This process is a bit like the way we use electricity. Most of us don’t know how electricity works, but we still can use and benefit from it.

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The second model:

robert-holden-bookRobert Holden’s STOP technique

The STOP technique is very simple, and the four letters stand for the following words: Strengths; Teaching; Opportunities; and Positive.  The idea is to ask yourself the following questions:

Strengths: What strengths do I have that could be used to help me to cope with this problem?

Teaching: What is this problem teaching me?

Opportunities: What opportunism arise through this problem?

Positive: Putting the negative aspects on one side for the moment, what positive things could come out of having this problem?

How to use the STOP technique

Here are some general guidelines on how to use it. Sit down in a quiet place with a pad and pen.  Then work through this checklist:

  1. Think of a problem or hassle that you have at the moment. Check out how you feel about it.
  1. Now write down a list of the strengths that you have developed in your life as you have coped with all the challenges that you have had to face. There will be a lot. If you have no idea, ask a family member or good friend who has seen you go through various dilemmas or difficulties. Ask them for some suggestions. These strengths will help you cope with the challenge you are now facing. It is good for you to see what resilience skills you have developed.

montapert-quote

  1. Then when you have finished the list, and have read through your strengths, return to your problem and ask yourself, “What is this problem teaching me?” 
  1. The next step is to look again at your problem, and ask yourself, “What opportunities am I getting from having this problem at this time?” There will be new skills or experiences that you can’t gain any other way than having to deal with the problem. “Problems are sent to test and teach us!”  Humans are problem seeking beings! 
  1. Finally, we come to the “Positive” bit – What have you got so far from having your problem? What have been the positive gains from having it? Search hard and there will be positive gains if you keep looking. The worst case scenario might be that having this big problem has taught you that you can endure big problems; that they don’t have to defeat you! But they can also make you a better problem-solver.

Einstein-callout.JPGNow return to how you originally felt about your problem before you took it through the ‘STOP’ model. Do you see the problem in the same way or has there been a shift in your view of it?

Conclusion

In this blog I have described two models, or mental strategies, which you can use as a way of tackling a problem that is getting you down, or you want to resolve in some way.

Both models work by getting you to see your problem from a different viewpoint, and if you try them out, you will get the benefits of being less affected by your problem than you were. You will have some hope and sense of possibility that wasn’t there before, and your mental ‘load’ will be lightened.

Also, you’ve got the models there to use again and again in the future, when life throws up another challenge, as it inevitably will. The more often you use the models, the quicker you will get at recovering from an unexpected problem.

Book-cover-frontThe models are taken from “Stressbusters” by Robert Holden, and “Holistic Counselling in Practice” by Dr Jim Byrne, if you want to know more about the origins of the models.

And if you want to learn a range of such models, you can also consult me for coaching/counselling in the area of problem solving and decision making, using thinking skills: including the Skilled Helper model from Gerard Egan.

Happy thinking!

~~~

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit

Blog Post No. 42

27th December 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit:

How do we become more resilient in the face of bad news?

Introduction

In this blog, I will briefly describe some strategies which have been adopted by several universities to help their staff handle the disruption and uncertainty around Brexit – the impending withdrawal of the UK from the European Union – and the possible (probable?!) end of research funding for projects which are being undertaken by university staff all over the UK.

brexit

Then the effectiveness of these strategies will be considered, and alternative ones described.

Headline: “Dons in distress get Brexit therapy”

This “Dons in distress” statement is the title of an article that was written in the Sunday Times on the 4th December, 2016. The article describes the emotions (of “uncertainty, grief and anger“) that university staff are feeling because of the Brexit vote. Research funding has been disrupted and/or stopped, and in some cases people are totally uncertainty about their future employment prospects.

Nottingham University, the article explains, is now holding resilience workshops to help the staff understand where their huge amounts of stress originate from. This is so they will have an increased sense of control over what is happening to them.

Leeds University staff counselling department and the Psychological Services have created a written guide which clarifies that the feeling of grief, anger, depression and anxiety are stages which are part of the process of handling change.

stages-of-change

They explain to staff that if they don’t call a halt to their constant checking of the news, then they will continue to feel bad. “If you receive a lot of news shocks, your body is likely to experience fear”, they state.

In addition to feeling fear, another result of constant checking of the bad news is that the ability of the academic staff to get a decent night’s sleep would be reduced.

As an alternative to anxious worrying, the guide helpfully recommends exercise, resting and eating well.  (They could have added that “news fasting”, for long periods of time, would also help).

Resilience workshops

Offering workshops and printed guides to staff is a very constructive way to help them get a new sense of control over their lives. However, one of the major drawbacks are this approach the fragility of human memory: Because of the way human memory works, only about 20% of the information from the workshops will be remembered on the following day. And then as the days pass less and less detail will be recallable.  A special effort to record and retain the information would be needed: such as frequent reviews of the same helpful material, to get it into long-term memory.

The same applies to books and booklets: unless they are analysed, and notes taken and transformed into action steps, then their value is limited, and not fully realised.

The difference between declarative and procedural knowledge

Knowing all about how to handle change and the stresses that go with it, is a good start. And this type of knowledge is called ‘declarative knowledge’. Here’s an example:  many heavy smokers are very informed and knowledgeable about the risks of smoking. Does this knowledge help them to give up smoking? Not in the slightest!

To start new habits, or change old habits, we need ‘procedural knowledge’. We need to know how to do something, which is a very different matter. (If you look at my blog on habit creation this will show you a summary of the process).

How, then, do we cope in the face of life’s uncertainties; to manage our resilience levels; and to develop procedural knowledge of the process?

 Building our resilience.

ancestors

One thing that is easy to forget is that we are all human animals. We’ve evolved from our pre-human ancestors, which evolved into our African hominid and human ancestors. We humans originally lived in the trees and then descended from them onto the plains of Africa. Our ancestors lived and raised children in small groups, and were biologically shaped to adapt to an environment in which each day’s food had to be searched for.

Otherwise, as vulnerable humans, we would not have survived as a race. The innate ‘fight or flight’ response – an internal, non-conscious, physiological (appraise and respond) mechanism – kept our ancestors alive and able to flee from dangers, or to try to fight animals that threatened them.

We’ve got exactly the same mechanism within us as our ancestors had, and we have a need to handle threats and dangers through physical activity. Our ancestors dealt with their own problems as they arose. But now the resilience and energy of people is being sapped by a background of continuous bad news, as people try to work, and raise their families in a turbulent world.

T-V-screen.JPG

Handling bad news

Each day the most distressing news is carefully presented to us, and endlessly repeated, and our bodies register the negative information, and react to it physically. Unless we take action on a daily basis to burn off the stress hormones created by this endless newsfeed, we will get saturated with those hormones.

The Leeds University guide warns against news addiction, and recommends that staff manage their exposure to news. Apparently, according to the article, dons are having news programmes on continually and checking the news in the middle of the night.

stress-loop

Taking action to build resilience immediately

As a former lecturer at a FE college for approximately 35 years, I would like to share with you the three top techniques I used to survive in an educational environment which had a lot of waves of changes and uncertainty. Managing to emerge relatively unscathed, I’d like to recommend these three invaluable strategies for you to try out for yourself; and to experience the benefits of them yourself (assuming you don’t practise them already).

The first and foremost technique, in my opinion, to deal with massive change and uncertainty in the workplace, is daily exercise, which will burn off stress hormones from the previous day’s hassles. And not only does it quickly reduce feelings of anxiety or depression (or implosive anger) – our bodies make sure we find it a pleasurable activity, and release feel-good hormones.

Firstly I would recommend that you give up watching the evening news, and/or breakfast news on television each day, and instead do a bout of dancing, jogging, yoga, Chi-gong or any other kind of physical activity that you really enjoy. This is a great way to burn off the stress created by the previous day’s hassles, and it also releases endorphins, which are happiness chemicals, which lift your mood.

According to Robert Parry (2001) – in his book on Chi-gong – when we do exercise which involves deep breathing, like Chi-gong or yoga, then this type of breathing actually stimulates the parasympathetic part of our nervous systems, which is the part that helps the body rest, and restore; and renew itself through the digestive process. (This is called the ‘rest and digest’ part of our nervous system).

We activate this process by breathing from our bellies, not our chests. (That is to say, we breathe into the bottom of the lungs, which pushes the diaphragm downwards, and the belly outwards).

belly-breathing-frog

This means that if we deliberately breathe deeply (from our diaphragm, expanding our bellies) as we do our exercises, we are able to influence our physical state: our body then switches from a stressed state to the parasympathetic relaxed state.

Parry states that: “Tests measuring the electromagnetic resonance of the brain confirm that our brains shift into what is termed the ‘Alpha’ state of relaxation and deep rest during Chi-gong breathing exercises, a state in which not only the digestion but the body’s immune function too can operate at its optimal level. This is why Chi-gong helps us feel more in touch with our emotions and thoughts.” (Page 125).

For these reasons, I strongly recommend that workers need to exercise most days of the week in order to handle stress at work.

The second technique: using assertiveness strategies

In addition to physical exercise, I also recommend assertive communication strategies.

Robert Sapolsky wrote a fascinating book called ‘Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers’, which I strongly recommend. And the reason they don’t get ulcers, fundamentally, is that they can run away very swiftly from predators who want to eat them for lunch.

If we come across predators (or threats) at work, for example in the form of challenges to our sense of dignity and competence (like being insulted, harassed verbally, or shouted at by a member of staff [or told our funding has been removed!]), we can’t really run away. We have to stay in this stressful situation, and handle these sorts of problems, because we need the income to support our families and keep a roof over our heads.

Because we cannot abandon our jobs when the going gets tough, and because not everybody we work with will be charming and gracious, and good negotiators, life at work can become very difficult.  People can make our lives miserable if we don’t learn how to handle them skilfully.

So my second recommendation is this: Start learning assertiveness techniques to strengthen yourself in the workplace. Learning specific assertiveness techniques, and using them to communicate with colleagues, will mean that you will develop a strong sense of control over your life. This reduces your stress levels.

barbara-berkhan-book-cover

But how are you to learn to be more assertive?  Some good ideas can be found in books – as in Barbara Berckhan’s book on Judo with Words.  Or you can watch videos on assertive communication on YouTube.  Or you can go on an Assertiveness Training course, if you can find one.

A more available option is to go to a good coach-counsellor for help.  Role-plays with a supportive coach or counsellor (like yours truly) can really help to strengthen you. These techniques can be used immediately to create a better working environment for people, or help them come to terms with a situation in which their options are limited.

With role-play you can get descriptions of the techniques to use; coaching on how to do this; and immediate, constructive feedback on how you are communicating.  And it is a very powerful way to help you learn to protect your energy (and your dignity!) For example it gives you practice in expressing yourself confidently, handling requests and complaints, etc., and gives you very useful phrases to use to do your job effectively with reduced wear and tear on your nervous system. You quickly learn to ask for what you want; to say ‘No’ to what you do not want; and how to communicate your needs, wants and feelings to others.

The third recommendation: ‘Daily pages’ or a diary.

The-Artists-Way.jpg

The third recommendation is to write daily reflections on how your day went at work, or at home; and how you experienced events. The daily accounts are called “Daily pages”; or “Morning pages”, by Julia Cameron. She uses this technique to unblock creative people who have lost touch with their authentic selves and creative energies. She recommends writing three sides of A4 paper every morning. (This can be stream of consciousness, or deliberate, reflective logs of specific challenges at work, or at home) If this seems a lot, then aim to write at least one side of A4. This daily discipline works for the following crucial reason: our brains are designed to deal with incoming information – we are problem-solving creatures.  Ruminating in our minds, without committing our ideas to paper, simply causes us to go round and round the same old track, without learning or changing anything very much.

If we’re faced with challenges which we can’t handle, or need to ‘get (something) off our chests’ then we can write down what happens and our reaction to the events. This is externalising the information, and putting it out there on the page. Once the information is down on paper and out of our heads, we can see it. And because we can see it, our brain can then go into problem-solving mode and slowly a solution will appear from your brain-mind, magically.

philippa-perry-quoteLetting worries and fears about the future go round and round in our minds without expressing them in some way, is really bad for us and can affect our immune systems. Writing about what’s bugging us has an immediate therapeutic effect, and there is lots of evidence of its value.

It’s also private, with no financial cost, and it builds resilience in people because it puts them in touch with themselves and helps them learn about their own bodies-minds and responses to outside stressors.

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writing-therapy-bookIf you wanted more details about the value of writing, then a really good book written by Dr Jim Byrne, details the benefits and research findings which show what a very effective technique it is. You can find it here: The Writing Solution.***

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Conclusion

If you want to become more resilient in the face of constant change and challenges, then start to practice these three techniques on a daily basis:

# Physical exercise (preferably something like Chi-gong or yoga);

# Assertive communication skills;

# Daily writing in a journal or diary.

Immediately, and increasingly, these strategies will make you stronger physically and mentally, which is what you need to survive in the face of an incessantly changing society.

Daily exercise, assertive communication and daily written reflections are the foundation stones of self-care. With these three mind-body practices, you hold the key to protecting yourself and your energies in this crazy culture, so that you can survive and do your best for your family and loved ones, and get more enjoyment and relaxation out of the time that you have.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy the benefits!

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

References:

Sapolsky, R. (2004) Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers.  New York: St Martins Griffin.

Berckhan, B. (2001) Judo with Words: An intelligent way to counter verbal attacks. London: Free Association Press.

Cameron, J. (1992) The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity.  London: Souvenir Press.

Byrne, J. (2016) Narrative Therapy and the Writing Solution: An emotive-cognitive approach to feeling better and solving problems (Narrative Therapy Series Book 1) Kindle Edition. Available: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Narrative-Therapy-Writing-Solution-emotive-cognitive-ebook/dp/B01LNE73L0 

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Family conflict and violence at Christmas time

Blog Post No.150

By Dr Jim Byrne

Posted on 27th December 2016 (Originally posted on 6th December 2015)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Principles of couples counselling: The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and cohabiting partners

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2015-2016

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Introduction

domestic-violence-at-christmasEvery Christmas, the incidence of domestic violence increases significantly, because of the stresses and strains of the Christmas and Winter Holiday madness, whipped up by marketing gurus, to promote sales of unnecessary ‘stuff’. But also because of the lack of commitment to equality in relationships (which most often involves male domination, except when it involves female domination!)

But the underlying weaknesses, which allows domestic violence to emerge, is cultural conditioning, or the lack thereof.  A fully functioning democratic and humanistic culture would outlaw any form of the use of violence to settle our differences, at home, at work or in international relations.

In this blog post, I set out to review two principles that are important to happy and healthy couple relationships.

Those two principles come from the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[1].

However, because of pressure of time and space, I had to settle for reviewing just one principle this time. (I’ll review the second one next week!)

duluth-model-and-fairnessThe principle that I am reviewing is one of eight from the Equality ‘wheel’, and this is it: The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and co-habiting partners.

I review this principle in the context of the fact that Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague from the world of Rational therapy (REBT) refuses to discuss fairness issues with his couples therapy clients because (he says) he cannot identify any objective criteria for judging what is fair and what is unfair. 

However, in the process of reviewing the principle of negotiation and fairness, below, I will outline some very obvious criteria for assessing the presence or absence of fairness in couple disputes.

Elaboration

Just over a year ago, I introduced the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, and I said I would return to that subject, and explore the two wheels which they use to teach the distinction between unhelpful and unjustifiable ‘Power and control’ approaches to couple relationships, on the one hand, and civilized and indispensable ‘Equality’ approaches, on the other hand.

equal-status-within-couplesEach wheel contains eight principles, and the Duluth project advocates the use of the eight ‘equality principles’, and rejects the use of any of the eight principles of ‘power and control’.  In brief, this means that the appropriate way for a couple to relate to each other is from a basis of equal status, and an immoral and illegal way to relate is through the abuse of power to control the other person.

It seemed to make most sense for me to tackle this distinction by reviewing pairs of principles, one from each wheel.  However, in practice I have found that, because of space constraints, I cannot review two principles in one blog post – so I will review one ‘equality’ principle this week, and one ‘power and control’ principle next week.

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Equality 1: The principle of negotiation and fairness

This week I want to begin by reviewing the ‘equality principle’ of ‘negotiation and fairness’.

michael-edelsteinMy way of going about this, to begin with, is to refer back to the debate I had, in 2010, with Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague of mine in the world of Rational therapy (REBT).  Michael is a clinical psychologist who lives in San Francisco, practices REBT, was born in Brooklyn, NY, completed his academic psychology training in New York City, attended the REBT Institute from its physical inception in 1965, associated with Albert Ellis beginning in 1963, authored three books on REBT, trains therapists in REBT, and so can be assumed to know his REBT very well.  (Michael is also known as ‘The 3 Minute Therapist’, whose website can be found at: http://www.threeminutetherapy.com/).

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On the importance of fairness, justice and morality

At the time when I was preparing to post my paper on ‘Fairness, Justice and Morality’[2] (back in 2010), Michael wrote to me to say that:

“Everyone has their own subjective view about what is fair. My preferences and hedonic calculi differ from that of others. Since there’s no cosmic or absolute criterion for evaluating fairness, I have not come up with a useful way to view it. Consequently, I advise my clients to jettison the entire concept”.

I was pretty sure Michael was overlooking something here about fairness.  So I argued the point with him, but I could not persuade him to take the concept of fairness seriously.

Today I would argue my case differently.  This is what I would say:

the-golden-ruleThere is a huge objective criterion of fairness which has been around since ancient Chinese civilization: the Golden Rule.  The Golden rule can be expressed like this: You morally must not treat another person less well than you would like them to treat you, if your roles were reversed.

And you must treat your marriage partner at least as well as you would like them to treat you in identical circumstances!

Contrary to Michael’s viewpoint, this principle is very easy to apply in situations of conflict with couples in therapy.  Each member of a couple either is, or is not, willing to treat their partner at least as well as they expect to be treated.

This couldn’t be clearer, and (in my opinion) the most likely potential explanations for Michael Edelstein’s inability to see this point, back in 2010, were: (1) that he was influenced by the amoral philosophy of Albert Ellis[3]; and/or (2) the nonsensical philosophy of Logical Positivism; and/or (3) the useless system of Act Utilitarianism (which is much less usable than Rule Utilitarianism); and/or (4) the ubiquitous philosophies of neo-liberalism and post-modern moral relativity! (Because of lack of space, I will have to defer further clarification of the distinction between Act and Rule Utilitarianism until next week).

The debate in 2010

Back to what I wrote to Michael in 2010:

drjim-counsellor9“I’m pretty sure most people would agree on this principle of fairness, no matter how subjective the concept of fairness might seem to be in some other cases.  In other words, although we humans sometimes have problems defining what we mean by fairness, from case to case, we (reasonable people) nevertheless find the concept of fairness indispensable, and we more often than not do find ways to define it which are ‘socially agreed’ (by some group or community, some society or country, some continent, or some strata of some culture, etc.).  In negotiations between individuals, we often find that the idea of what is fair is ‘inter-subjective’ (meaning, shared between several individuals; or common to a whole group of people), and not just ‘merely subjective’ (meaning – when used pejoratively – locked in the mind of one isolated, unrepresentative individual).

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At one point, Dr Edelstein got back to me to clarify that his problem with the principle of fairness was a practical one:  How can it be used in couples therapy with squabbling couples?  Surely this is not possible since there do not seem to be any objective criteria by which to define fairness.

Today, I want to test Michael’s perspective against one of the two wheels of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[4].

Objective criteria in couple conflict

non-violent-partnershipThe equality wheel: The equality wheel is segmented into eight subdivisions, each containing one principle.  All eight principles are subsumed under two headings: either ‘Equality’ or ‘Power and control’.

In the remainder of this blog post, I will take a look at just one of the equality/non-violence principles: Negotiation and fairness.

Under this principle (which emphasizes the importance of negotiating outcomes, and doing so fairly), there are three ‘guidelines’, or ‘key points’, as follows:

# Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# Accepting change; and:

# Being willing to compromise.

My response to Michael would be that, in my relationship with my partner, I can demonstrate fairness by (1) negotiating satisfying resolutions to conflicts; (2) accepting that changes are inevitable, and showing that I am willing to change when (reasonably) necessary; and (3) being willing to compromise when we have conflicting goals or desires.

To apply the ‘principle of generosity’ to Michael Edelstein’s argument, let us focus on his alternative to using the concept of fairness.

“As far as I can tell in working with squabbling couples, both justifying their own position with what’s ‘fair’, I have not arrived at any objective criteria to settle the fairness argument. I tell them, ‘Discussing what is fair is a dead end and often toxic to relationships. Discuss what works for both of you, instead’.”

What could this mean to a couple: (‘What works for both of you’)?

Here are my attempted answers:

  1. If they have a ‘mutual problem’, as defined by Helen Hall Clinard[5], then nothing works for both of them; because what Partner 1 wants is the very opposite of what Partner 2 wants and vice versa; or, at the very least, the two goals are mutually exclusive! (So Michael could study Chapter 4 of Helen’s book, and introduce his couple clients to the process of ‘turning conflict into cooperation’. That would provide him with some practical approaches to building fairness in practice, based on objective criteria.

But there is an immediate, and, I suspect, an insurmountable problem here for Michael, because of his rigid conformity to Albert Ellis’s belief system.  Let me explain:

In the opening paragraph of Chapter 4, Helen Clinard writes this: “Sometimes it is not easy for a person who is causing you a problem to change in the way that you want.  People who work or live together often have conflicting needs”. (Page 109).

But according to (Extreme) REBT theory, people do not have any needs at all (in the interpersonal area)![6]  Apart from air, water and basic food, everything else is treated as a ‘want’ or a ‘desire’ in Extreme REBT.[7] In other words, for Albert Ellis and his extreme stoical followers, ‘need’ is a synonym for the dreaded words – ‘should’ and/or ‘must’ – which “have to be” totally outlawed (and replaced with mere preferences)!

  1. If any of Michael’s couples lack clarity about how to compromise, Michael could teach them how to do that. For example, he could teach them the example used in Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Ury[8] – about sharing an orange – not by arbitrarily cutting it down the middle, but by finding out ‘the reason’ each partner wants the orange, and (perhaps) discovering that one mainly wants the peel (to put in a cake mix) and the other mainly wants the fruit (to squeeze as juice). But, to go down this route, Michael would have to believe that people have rights and needs, and that does not seem to be part of his belief system.
  2. If Michael studied Fisher and Ury, he could then teach his couple clients their basis system, which is:

(a) Separate the people from the problem. (Michael is officially good at this, since REBT theory teaches clients to distinguish between their partner, on the one hand, and their partner’s behaviours on the other).

(b) Talk in terms of interests rather than positions. (This is harder for Michael, because he has been trained to fit the whole phenomenal world into just two boxes – [1] Reality [which Must exist exactly as it is], and [2] Your Preferences [which do not have to exist at all!] Can he make the challenging shift towards considering that clients have real-life interests, {arising out of felt needs} which harden into positions?])

(c) Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do. (This approach fits better into the Egan Model[9] than it would into Michael’s simple ABC model).

(d) Insist that the results be based on some objective standard. (Like the Golden Rule; or mutual influence.  But, would Michael be willing to use the Golden Rule?)

~~~

  1. Michael could also teach his couple clients the three ‘key points’ I extracted from the Equality wheel of the Duluth project, as follows:

# 1 Seek mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# 2 Accept change; and:

# 3 Be willing to compromise.

He could cover #1 above with either the Golden Rule, or Helen Clinard’s Mutual Problem Solving process.  Point #3 is covered by Fisher and Ury’s negotiation process; and, again, by the Golden Rule. And point #2 is an expression of the Buddhist principle that “change is the law of life” (and the [moderate] Stoic principle of ‘accepting the things you cannot change’).  Point 2 is also subject to the principle (from Professor John Gottman) that we should “let our partner influence us” – and my refinement, which is this: “Let your partner influence you, up to, but not beyond, the degree to which they are willing to allow you to influence them”!

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Moving on…

justice-and-fairnessIf a couple comes to see me, and Partner 1 says that Partner 2 is acting unfairly, I will explore that complaint in terms of how it fits within my understanding of how the Golden Rule – (of treating other people the way we would ideally like to be treated in our turn) – would apply to their situation. I would encourage the partners to compromise, and to seek mutually satisfying resolution to their conflict.

I will try to teach Partner 2 the costs (in the medium to longer term) of acting unfairly; of not compromising; and of not seeking mutually acceptable outcomes (on average). (The cost to the oppressive partner is the ultimate loss of the relationship. The second cost is gaining a reputation for oppressive behaviour and immoral and often illegal action against their partner).

I will teach each partner the absolute necessity to allow their partner to influence them (up to, but not exceeding approximately 50% of the time, on average), and to expect to be able to influence their partner (up to, but not exceeding, about 50% of the time, on average).

If the partners insist on bickering about the precise percentages that each of them gives, or takes, I will conclude one of two things:

  1. Either, one (or both) of them is stuck in exploitation mode; and they are not trusted by their partner; or:
  2. This is a ‘presenting problem’, and the ‘real problem’ is hidden; perhaps a deep, emerging incompatibility, or a serious lack of satisfaction with the love or sex or romance in the relationship. (When a couple is deeply satisfied with the level of love and passion and romance and comfort in their relationship, they both seem to be able to ‘cut their partner some slack’ in their partner’s areas of deficiency!)

My experience

jim-renata-counsellors-hebden-bridgeBut eight or nine times out of ten, when I work with unfairness issues in couples’ therapy, I can help the couple to resolve their problems, by teaching them to operate from The Golden Rule. And by allowing their partner to influence them, on a completely egalitarian basis – give and take.  (“If I do this for you [today], what will you do for me [tomorrow]?”)

I teach them that playing ‘Top-Dog/Under-Dog’ will lead to the dissolution of their marriage or relationship, normally after a protracted period of completely avoidable misery! Or, sometimes, all of a sudden, and without any possibility of fixing it after the fact! (“You had your chance, mate!”)

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That’s all for this week.

Part 2 will look at a power and control issue!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

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[1] Source: http://www.theduluthmodel.org/about/

[2] Byrne, J. (2010b) Fairness, Justice and Morality Issues in REBT and E-CENT. E-CENT Paper No.2(b).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Studies. Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id203.html

[3] Byrne, J. (2013) A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood, and the strengths and limitations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Hebden Bridge: CreateSpace/I-CENT Publications.  For more information on this book, please go to http://www.abc-counselling.com/id432.html.

[4] See pages 244-245 of Manhood: An action plan for changing men’s lives, by Steve Biddulph: the 1994/98 edition.

[5] Clinard, H.H. (1985) Winning Ways to Succeed With people.  Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing.

[6] Miller, T. (1993) Self-Discipline and Emotional Control: How to stay calm and productive under pressure.  A CareerTrack audio program.

[7] Miller, T. (1983) So, You Secretly Suspect You’re Worthless, Well You’re Not A Shit and I Can Prove It.  New York: Lakeside Printing.

[8] Fisher and Ury (1990) Getting to Yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. London, Hutchinson Business.

[9] The Egan Model, developed by Gerard Egan, asks three core questions: (1) Where are you now?  (2) Where do you want to get to? And (3) What actions could you take to build a bridge from (1) to (2)?  For more information on this model, go here: http://www.gp-training.net/training/communication_skills/mentoring/egan.htm

The ABC model asks only (or mainly) this: “What are you telling yourself to make yourself so upset at point C (Consequence) about point A (the noxious stimulus, or Activating Event)?” For more on the ABC model, please go to http://www.abc-counselling.com/id126.html (In other words, for a classic REBT therapist, the client is NOT upset (by definition) by their partner’s unfairness (or any other feature of their partner’s way of being), but rather by their (the client’s) own beliefs about their partner’s behaviour! This is an expression of the extremist stoicism of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. (Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius also developed more moderate positions, such as the principle that its best to accept the things you cannot change, and only try to change the things you can).

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