Limitations, errors, REBT, Page 3

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REBT’s limitations and errors; Page 3

Continued from REBT limitations, Page 2.***

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Prologue

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy almost became the most revolutionary system of therapy, decades before its time, if only Albert Ellis could have stuck to his analysis in pages 38-44 of his first book, Reason and Emotion (1962), where he is conscious of the fact that the body is part of the total ‘apparatus of apprehension and appraisal, emotion and action’.  But he was more attracted to developing a simplistic model, based on the most extreme teachings of a first century Roman slave, who was the son of a slave, and whose expectations of life were very low indeed.  Out of this obsession with Enduring Suffering (which related back to Ellis’s own childhood neglect and virtual abandonment by his parents) came his simplistic ABC model – which he substituted for the then popular Stimulus-Organism-Response model, in which the body was central to perceiving and responding to environmental signals (including threats, and signs of safety). In lie of this richer model, Ellis substituted his simple little A (Stimulus) > B (Beliefs) > C (Response).  He dumped the human body from any role of the emotional distress of a client, who had to have a body to arrive in Ellis’s office; and had to have a personal history in order to know who he was!

…Contained below…


The Amoralism of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT):

The mishandling of self-acceptance and unfairness issues by Albert Ellis

By Dr Jim Byrne

This book is an extensive, detailed critique of two of the central ideas of REBT: (1) The concept of ‘unconditional self-acceptance’; and (2) The idea of life as being fundamentally unfair, and that it should be accepted as such, and never complained about.  In the process we also deal with Albert Ellis’s idea that people should never be blamed for anything; that praise and blame are bad; that guilt and shame are to be eliminated, and never taken to be indicators that we’ve done something wrong. Along the way we have a debate with Dr Michael Edelstein about the role of fairness in couple relationships.

Part 2 explores the concepts of justice and fairness, including defining objective terms for judging fairness in practice.

Part 3 looks at what is wrong with the ideas of ‘unconditional positive regard’ and ‘unconditional self-acceptance’; and the importance of teaching morality: in particular the importance of praise and blame, and the moral emotions of guilt and shame.

~~~

~~~

Jim Byrne is a doctor of counselling with more than twenty years’ experience in private practice.  He was originally trained as an REBT therapist, and went on to study more than a dozen systems of counselling and therapy.  He doctoral studies concerned ethical research in counselling and therapy.

~~~

Introduction

“It was a hopeless thing, he thought, this obsession of his to present the people of the Earth as good and reasonable. For in many ways they were neither good nor reasonable; perhaps because they had not as yet entirely grown up. They were smart and quick and at times compassionate and even understanding, but they failed lamentably in many other ways.”         

Clifford D. Simak, Way Station.

~~~

Unlike the speaker in Clifford Simak’s novel, quoted above, Albert Ellis and Carl Rogers were perfectly happy to present their individual clients as ‘good and reasonable’, even when they’d done terrible things; and grossly immoral things.

Even Anthony Burgess – whose film, A Clockwork Orange, had to be withdrawn from public viewing because of the large spate of copycat crimes committed by young men who saw the film – was clear that we live in a world of good and evil:

“The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities.”

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

~~~

…End of extract.  For more, please click the following link: The Amoralism of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.***

~~~

Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer:

A critique of the simplistic ABC model of REBT

By Dr Jim Byrne

~~~

Front cover, Ellis and the Golfer3

This is a book of reflections upon a case study, presented by Dr Ellis in his 1962 book about the theory of Rational Therapy.

The ‘unhappy golfer’ is in Dr Albert Ellis’s office, in New York City, somewhere around the end of the 1950’s.  He tells Dr Ellis that he feels terribly unhappy about being rejected by his golfing peers, and Dr Ellis tells him: This is something you are doing to yourself!

Ellis uses the unhappy golfer to introduce his readers to his simple ABC model of Rational (REB) Therapy, which claims – in those places that matter most – that a person cannot be upset emotionally in any way other than by their own beliefs!

This book sets out to refute this simplistic idea.

For more.***

~~~

Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer.***

~~~

A summary of the E-CENT critique of REBT

The beginning

In Chapter 1 (of Byrne, 2017), I explored the beginnings of psychotherapy, in the form of Freud’s psychoanalysis; outlined the cognitive turn; and then looked at the origins of Albert Ellis’s Rational Therapy, which became REBT. In particular, I showed that Ellis had misunderstood the problem of learned helplessness – in dogs and humans.  He thought dogs could easily ‘forget their god-awful past experiences’ because they did not use language. And that humans got stuck with their ‘god-awful past experiences’ because of their tendency to think about them, and to think about their thinking about them.

I argued that most people will do anything to avoid the hard labour of thinking.  And that most of our so-called thinking is actually ‘perfinking’ – perceiving/ feeling/ thinking – below the level of conscious awareness, and permanently beyond direct conscious inspection.

Furthermore, learned helplessness applies to all forms of living beings which are subjected to inescapable mistreatment for any significant period of time.  And it’s not just helplessness that we learn, quite durably.  We also learn socially shaped ways to be anxious, to be depressed, to be angry; to copy our parents’ patterns of thinking, feeling and doing – (and/or to rebel, to some degree and in certain respects,  against their patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving).  We are socialized learning beings, who are wired up by our experiences to be a particular way in our relationships with other people, ourselves and the world.  And no amount of telling people to ‘forget that stuff’ will serve any purpose, because that learning is myelinated[i] (or hard wired) into axonal connections between thousands and perhaps even millions of neurons.

So Ellis was quite wrong in the premises he used to arrive at the conclusion that humans ‘talk to themselves’ about their positive and negative experiences, and that it is this conscious self-talk – or our thinking about our thinking – that causes us to become not only disturbed emotionally, but resistant to letting that disturbance go. (And we cannot even shift his theory to the level of ‘unconscious self-talk’ since our non-conscious may be structured like a language [as claimed by Lacan][ii], but it is actually an electro-chemical signalling system!)

The fact that humans can talk to themselves about their experiences does not mean that it is always and only, or even primarily, or necessarily, their self-talk that causes their feelings and. More often than not, it could be argued that our feelings cause our thoughts and self-talk: emotions (but see the concept of ‘perfinking’ in the next section!). Feelings and emotions are innate, in the form of innate affects or basic emotions.  (Panksepp, 1998; Darwin, 1872/1965; Ostrofsky, 2003). And these basic emotions are moderated and socialized by relational encounters with mother and others, so that a social-compromise arises on the basis of experience. And these socialized emotions are sometimes called our ‘higher cognitive emotions’, which could be misleading if by cognitive you understand ‘thinking’, or ‘languaging’ about things. ‘Higher cognitive emotions’ have roots which are innate visceral emotions or affects, which are moderated and transformed by social-emotional-linguist experience.

~~~

A Major Critique of REBT:

Revealing the many errors in the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy

Front cover3 of reissued REBT book

Also, we have added a reference to the research which shows that emotional pain and physical pain are both mediated and processed through significantly overlapping neural networks, which contradicts Dr Ellis’s claim that nobody could hurt you, except by hitting you with a baseball bat or a brick.

This is a comprehensive, scientific and philosophical  critique of the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, as developed by Dr Albert Ellis. Almost nothing is left of REBT when the dust settles, apart from the system called Rational Emotive Imagery, which Dr Ellis borrowed from Maxi Maultsby.

Available in paperback and Kindle eBook formats.

~~~

Learn more.***

Price: £23.58 GBP (Paperback) and £6.99 (Kindle)

~~~

We are ‘perfinking beings’ rather than ‘thinking beings’

Let us take a look at an example, in the form of a thought experiment about my own childhood: It is not just language (or even mainly language) that enters into my socialized experience of my mother’s responses to my emotional communications (which go on for years between us, as in all mother-baby dyads).  When I do something, at the age of eighteen months, or two years of age, for examples, and my mother disapproves, I do not just internalize her verbalizations about that disapproval.  I internalize her facial expression, her breathing, her voice tone, and what I can read of her emotional state from my (nonconscious) mirror neurons[iii].  And my response to her is not primarily ‘reasoning’.  It is mainly driven by my feelings, even if I mix a feeling of dread with a kind of embryonic, subliminal ‘thought’ to the effect that ‘I’d better conform here for my own safety!’  The truth is that I have a perfinking response to her disapproval – a perceiving/feeling/thinking response.

Almost all of my socialized emotional functioning is non-conscious, and permanently so.  It is just a (representational) web of myelinated neurons in the upper reaches of my orbitofrontal cortex (OFC).

People are upset by real events, and their learned responses to them

In Chapter 2 (of Byrne, 2017), I showed very clearly that Albert Ellis failed to supply any evidence for his claim that people are always and only upset by their ‘beliefs’ about what happens to them.  In the case study of the golfer who is not liked by his golfing peers, Ellis fails to find any significant evidence of ‘irrational beliefs’.  The client is coaxed into finding something he might have said to himself, and he seems to ‘find’ the word ‘awful – just once.  But the word awful just means ‘very bad’ or ‘very unpleasant’ and his experience of not being liked by his peers would seem to almost any reasonable observer to have been very bad or unpleasant – in other words, awful.  Apart from that, the golfing client says he was engaging in a lot of self-pity.  Well, self-pity is an emotion; and in this case, it is the emotion the client feels because his peers rejected him.  But Albert Ellis sincerely believes that all emotions are caused by thoughts, which we have shown above to be false.  Emotions are innate, and then socialized into a durable state (neurologically), and then deployed in a stimulus-organism-response-no-choice manner as and when the environment presents particular stimuli to the person/organism.

(The maddening thing about Ellis is this.  At one point in his theorizing he will recognize that thinking and feeling overlap, and are in some senses essentially the same thing – so that one of them could not possibly cause the other – and next moment, in dealing with a client, he will demand to know what the client ‘told himself’ to make himself upset; and he will insist that it is always and only the client’s belief (B) which upsets him.  Despite these self-contradictions, anybody who is familiar with the work of Albert Ellis will know that, in his public demonstrations, and his book-based case studies, he normally sees emotions as being caused by thoughts.  But in this book we have argued that this is not the case.  The Activating Event triggers a pattern matching process which outputs the historically conditioned Response that a particular client normally outputs in such situations.  There is no need to posit a Belief (B) to account for the Response – especially since we have argued that it is the whole body-brain-mind of the client that responds to the Activating Event, and sleep deprivation and childhood trauma could have more to do with a particular outputted Response that any Belief the client believes himself to hold!)

After the fact, an individual can (very often) work on their emotional response to events and experiences, and change them: but not during those events.  An individual may also learn to anticipate that particular events are likely to happen, and to plan to respond to them in a moderately Stoical or extremely Stoical manner.  But if they have not done that in advance, then they will respond (emotionally) to an incoming stimulus on the basis of their past experiences of responding to similar stimuli.

If I go out to play golf with some work colleagues, and they show that they dislike me, then my emotional response is automatic, non-conscious, and controlled by a socialized network of neurons in the upper reaches of my OFC.  If I have studied some form of moderate Stoicism, like some elements of REBT/CBT/E-CENT, then I will be able to handle their apparent rejection or disapproval quite well – though I may be ‘reasonably upset’ about it.  If I have not trained myself to ‘take the knocks of life’ then I am very likely to be ‘overly upset’!

Where Albert Ellis seems to have gone wrong was this:

  1. He seems to have inferred that, because a person can sometimes talk themselves into a less upset state by rational argument’, therefore they must have got into that upset by ‘irrational argument’. But that does not follow at all. That kind of reasoning is like saying: “Because I can ‘cure’ a headache by taking two aspirin (or paracetamol) therefore the headache must have been caused by the lack of two headache tablets!” This is very sloppy logic!
  2. He is also guilty of the ‘fallacy of a single cause’ (or ‘causal oversimplification’), because he did not consider that the client’s beliefs might be implicated in their upsets, but not necessarily the only causal factor.

(For example, a person might have a faulty set of emotive-cognitive attitudes towards work pressure [translatable into this inference: “I should not have to work so hard”, and so on], but not be seriously upset by this faulty emotive-cognitive orientation, except on those days when s/he has been drinking heavily the night before, and failing to get enough sleep!). And:

  1. He seems to confuse his inferences regarding what he thinks people believe with an assessment of what they actually believe. There is no reliable evidence that people hold the ‘irrational beliefs’that Albert Ellis ascribes to them (Erwin, 1997. page 112) – though, given the theories of the Buddha and the Stoics, it seems likely that some form of extreme desiring – or what Ellis calls ‘demanding’ – is often implicated in people’s upset emotions.

(But please remember that the Buddha also tended to overlook the actual impact of the environment on the individual, which modern social psychology corrects!) And:

  1. His (Ellis’s) refusal to take account of how much a person’s difficult experiences (or ‘noxious A’s) contribute to their upsets is a form of extreme Stoicism, in the mould of Epictetus.
  2. Ellis relates to his golfing clientas if that client was a totally conscious, individual and rational animal. On the other hand, Jonathan Haidt (2001)[iv] argues that we are not primarily individual and rational animals, but rather social and emotional animals with a ‘rational tail’.  And as we can obviously understand, a ‘rational tail’ cannot wag an ‘emotional dog’.

The emotional nature of the brain is also emphasized by LeDoux (1996)[v].  And in E-CENT theory, we have argued that humans are primarily non-conscious, automatic creatures of habit: (Byrne, 2009c).

~~~

If you want to know the essence of our critique of REBT, but you don’t want to have to read 500+ pages, then this 150 page summary should appeal to you:

Discounting Our Bodies:

A brief, critical review of REBT’s flaws

Front cover, Discounting our bodies
Cover design by Will Sutton

This book is a brief, summary critique of the main errors contained in the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) theory. And especially the invalidity of the ABC model, which asserts that nothing other than beliefs intervenes between a negative experience and an emotional-behavioural reaction. (The body is ignored, een though we know that diet, exercise and sleep patterns all affect our emotional state and our emotional resilience!)

Paperback only (at the moment). Price £9.50 GBP

Learn more.***

~~~

Discounting our Bodies.***

~~~

The alternatives to the simple ABC model

In E-CENT counselling, we use two major models in lieu of the ABC model.  Briefly:

  1. We use the Holistic S-O-R model (as outlined in Chapter 3 (of Byrne, 2017) to review the various ways in which the client may be overly-stressed by their environmental pressures, and the ways in which their coping resources may be undermined. This model takes self-talk seriously, but it is only one of a multitude of factors that enter into human emotional disturbance. Here it is again:
  2. Or we might use the Event-Framing-Response (EFR) model (which we created): When we think the problem is primarily perceptual, or interpretational – after we have already eliminated problems of diet, exercise, relaxation, sleep, family history, and accumulated stressors of various kinds – we then use the EFR model.

This model has been explored in various places throughout this book.

It is similar to the ABC model and the simple SOR model, in that the middle letter refers to the subject of the experience being considered (or the person having the experience).  That is to say,

(i) A person has an experience (E = Event);

(ii) Interprets it (or F = Frames that experience); and

(iii) Then outputs an emotional/behavioural response (or R = Response).

In the EFR model, the problem is assumed to reside in ‘distorted framing’ of the stimulus; and those distorted framings can be corrected (using the Six Windows model, shown in Appendix B, below. [See also Appendix A of Byrne {2016a} on Frame theory]).  But we have to begin with the difficulty that all our framings are non-conscious (permanently).  We can infer (which means guess!) what they might be.  But we can never inspect them directly, and therefore we should not blame the client for having them, nor tell the client what we ‘know’ them to be!

These two models (1 and 2 above) seem to us to be more accurate and comprehensive and effective than the simple ABC model.

~~~

>>>

End of Page 3…

~~~

Continued on REBT’s limitations and errors; Page 4.***

The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself

Finding the Golden Mean that leads to strength and viable flexibility, in order to be happy, healthy and realistically successful

A, Front cover-2By Dr Jim Byrne.

With contributed chapters by Renata Taylor-Byrne

~~~

The Institute for E-CENT Publications: 2020

~~~

Are human beings like bamboo?  Are we designed to withstand unlimited pressure, stress and strain? Is our destiny to be sacrificed on the altar of ‘flexible working arrangements’?

We live in a world in which there are dark forces that wish us to forget that we are fleshy bodies, with physical and mental needs; and physical and mental limitations; and to be willing to function like mere cogs in the wheels of somebody else’s financial or technological empire.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) has played into this narrative, and given it philosophical support, by promoting a form of Extreme Stoicism in the name of therapy and wisdom, which it patently is not. (General Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [CBT] also supports this agenda, but to a lesser degree, or in a less obvious way! And some forms of Extreme Buddhism also advocate ‘detachment’ from material concerns, such as the need for a balanced life!)

In this book, I review the research that we have done on the limits of human endurance, and the determinants of that endurance – as well as identifying a viable philosophy of life – which will help you to optimize your strength and flexibility, while at the same time taking care of your health and happiness.

If you want to take good care of yourself in the modern mad-market, you could benefit from studying this book. It will provide you with both a compass and a suit of armour which will support you with the challenges and battles you will inevitably face.

Click for more information.***

Paperback copy: £14.99 GBP***

Kindle eBook: £5.99 GBP.***

~~~

How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness: Especially during Festive Celebrations:

Coping with and resolving frustrations, disappointments and interpersonal clashes at family celebrations like Christmas, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Eid, and Thanksgiving

Front cover 1Dr Jim Byrne (With Renata Taylor-Byrne)

Conflict can happen in families at any time of year.  It jut so happens that the first Monday after the Christmas & New Year annual holidays is called ‘Divorce Day’, because that is when the highest number of divorce petitions is issued. And it seems most likely that the other major family holiday times are the runners up in the divorce stakes.  However, what is hidden under these divorce statistics is the mountain of personal and social misery that precedes such drastic ‘solutions’ to repeated conflict, disappointments and interpersonal clashes.

But there is a better way to deal with these problems. Rather than letting the misery build up over time, you can take control of both your own mind, and the way you communicate within your family and society.  You can insulate your social relationships from constant or repeated misery and unhappiness; and learn to have a wonderful life with your family and friends.

The solutions have been assembled by Dr Jim Byrne in this book about how to re-think/re-feel/re-frame your encounters with your significant others; how to communicate so they will listen; how to listen so they can communicate with you; and how to manage your lifestyle for optimum peace, happiness and success in all your relationships.

PAPERBACK AND eBOOK ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION…

Don’t let your relationships deteriorate. Get the solution today. Click this link for more.***

~~~

The Complex ABC Model, the Body, and Perfinking

In Chapter 3 (of Byrne, 2017), we looked at the history of exploring the dynamics of the ABC model, and showed that everything was changed by the fact that I added back to body to my complex ABC model.

After this event, of adding back the body, we now have to face the fact that when we deal with a client in counselling and therapy, we are dealing with a complex body-brain-mind-environment-whole, and not with a ‘talented screwball’ and his/her ‘irrational beliefs’.

We also have to face up to the fact that thinking and feeling are not ‘in many ways essentially the same thing’ (as claimed by Ellis, 1962).  Feelings are innate (in the form of affects), and they become socialized (in childhood, and later) by a process of internalized ‘perfinking’ – or perceiving-feeling-thinking, which is modelled for us by our significant others (especially mother, or our main carer).

Perfinking includes thinking, feeling, perceiving.  But thinking and feeling exist as distinctions to the degree that they help to distinguish one phenomenon from another.

Our model began like the simple, classic SOR model, but then we asked ourselves what factors are most likely to affect the capacity for a human organism to be able to handle difficult incoming stimuli, or activating events.  We came up with an extensive list, which includes:

  • Diet (meaning balanced, healthy, or otherwise).
  • Exercise (meaning regular physical exercise designed to reduce stress, versus a sedentary lifestyle)
  • Self-talk, scripts, frames and schemas (Including conscious and/or non-conscious stories and narratives/ thinking-feeling states/ self-signalling/ attitudinizing / framing, etc.  Plus other culturally shaped beliefs and attitudes, expectations, prophesies, etc.  Plus non-narrativized experiences stored in the form of somatic or visual schemas and frames, etc.)
  • Relaxation (or release from muscle tension and anxiety, versus tension and anxiety)
  • Family history (including attachment styles [secure or insecure]; personality adaptations; and childhood trauma)
  • Emotional needs (including deficits and/or satisfactions)
  • Character and temperament (as in Myers-Briggs or Keirsey-Bates)
  • Environmental stressors (including home environment, work situation, economic circumstances, and so on).
  • Sleep patterns; and the balance between work, rest and play.

~~~

By keeping our focus on the fact that the client is a complex, socialized body-brain-mind; steeped in storied-representations (plus non-storied representations) of concrete experiences in a concrete world; and living in a complex relationship to an external social environment – which is often hostile and unsupportive, resulting in stress-induced over-arousal of the entire body-brain-mind – we never fall into the trap of foolishly asking the client: “What do you think you are telling yourself in order to cause your own problem?”

And we do not foolishly tell the client that the thoughts which (in reality) follow on from their emotional experiences are causing those emotional experiences!

~~~

We focus on

(a) The client’s story, plus

(b) The client’s physical state and lifestyle: both with roughly equal, but variable, emphasis.

Sometimes the story needs most attention, and sometimes the state of the body-brain-mind, in terms of diet, exercise, etc., is more important.

~~~

The complex ABC model led us to the Holistic SOR model, and we replaced the simple ABC model with our EFR model.

The simple ABC model developed by Dr Albert Ellis compares unfavourably with even the original simple SOR model, because the simple ABC model’s focus on beliefs alone is too simplistic relative to the complexity of human body-brain-mind-environment interactionism.  It compares even more unfavourably with the Holistic SOR model developed within E-CENT counselling and therapy theory and practice.

~~~

The Amoralism of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT):

The mishandling of self-acceptance and unfairness issues by Albert Ellis

Front cover of paperback1
Cover design by Will Sutton

This book is an extensive, detailed critique of two of the central ideas of REBT:

(1) The concept of ‘unconditional self-acceptance’; and

(2) The idea that life is fundamentally unfair, and that it should be accepted as such, and never complained about.

In the process we also deal with Albert Ellis’s idea that people should never be blamed for anything; that praise and blame are bad; that guilt and shame are to be eliminated, and never taken to be indicators that we’ve done something wrong. Along the way we have a debate with Dr Michael Edelstein about the role of fairness in couple relationships.

Learn more.***

The Amoralizm of REBT.***

~~~

The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself

Finding the Golden Mean that leads to strength and viable flexibility, in order to be happy, healthy and realistically successful

A, Front cover-2By Dr Jim Byrne.

With contributed chapters by Renata Taylor-Byrne

~~~

The Institute for E-CENT Publications: 2020

~~~

Are human beings like bamboo?  Are we designed to withstand unlimited pressure, stress and strain? Is our destiny to be sacrificed on the altar of ‘flexible working arrangements’?

We live in a world in which there are dark forces that wish us to forget that we are fleshy bodies, with physical and mental needs; and physical and mental limitations; and to be willing to function like mere cogs in the wheels of somebody else’s financial or technological empire.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) has played into this narrative, and given it philosophical support, by promoting a form of Extreme Stoicism in the name of therapy and wisdom, which it patently is not. (General Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [CBT] also supports this agenda, but to a lesser degree, or in a less obvious way! And some forms of Extreme Buddhism also advocate ‘detachment’ from material concerns, such as the need for a balanced life!)

In this book, I review the research that we have done on the limits of human endurance, and the determinants of that endurance – as well as identifying a viable philosophy of life – which will help you to optimize your strength and flexibility, while at the same time taking care of your health and happiness.

If you want to take good care of yourself in the modern mad-market, you could benefit from studying this book. It will provide you with both a compass and a suit of armour which will support you with the challenges and battles you will inevitably face.

Click for more information.***

Paperback copy: £14.99 GBP***

Kindle eBook: £5.99 GBP.***

~~~

…end of page 4.

Continued on REBT’s limitations and errors; Page 5.***

~~~

REBT’s limitations and errors; Page 5.***

~~~

How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness: Especially during Festive Celebrations:

Coping with and resolving frustrations, disappointments and interpersonal clashes at family celebrations like Christmas, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Eid, and Thanksgiving

Front cover 1Dr Jim Byrne (With Renata Taylor-Byrne)

Conflict can happen in families at any time of year.  It jut so happens that the first Monday after the Christmas & New Year annual holidays is called ‘Divorce Day’, because that is when the highest number of divorce petitions is issued. And it seems most likely that the other major family holiday times are the runners up in the divorce stakes.  However, what is hidden under these divorce statistics is the mountain of personal and social misery that precedes such drastic ‘solutions’ to repeated conflict, disappointments and interpersonal clashes.

But there is a better way to deal with these problems. Rather than letting the misery build up over time, you can take control of both your own mind, and the way you communicate within your family and society.  You can insulate your social relationships from constant or repeated misery and unhappiness; and learn to have a wonderful life with your family and friends.

The solutions have been assembled by Dr Jim Byrne in this book about how to re-think/re-feel/re-frame your encounters with your significant others; how to communicate so they will listen; how to listen so they can communicate with you; and how to manage your lifestyle for optimum peace, happiness and success in all your relationships.

PAPERBACK AND eBOOK ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION…

Don’t let your relationships deteriorate. Get the solution today. Click this link for more.***

~~~

Moderate and extreme Stoicism

In Chapter 4 (of Byrne, 2017), we looked at the potential distinction between moderate and extreme Stoicism.

I was something of an extreme Stoic – a quasi-autistic denier of my feelings – long before I met Albert Ellis’s philosophy.  But he definitely encouraged me to move further in that direction.  To become almost indifferent to what life threw at me. (Which is fine in theory, and on a ‘good day’, but it does not work in practice when things go badly wrong). This was clearly illustrated when Ellis was ousted from his own institute in New York City.  In practice, he could not stick to the extreme Stoic script, and endure his ‘unpreferred indifferent’ situation.  He decided he was not indifferent to these developments; that his enemies were bad and wrong (the word ‘bastards’ was used by his inner circle!); and that it was unfair, and he was going to sue their nether regions for compensation!  (Remember, this was a man who would have scoffed at any client who presented such a case to him.  He would tell them they had ‘unfairness issues’ – which he would never address.  “Why must life be fair, when it’s obviously unfair?” he would demand to know.  And those adversaries that the client brought up would cause Ellis to say, “They are not bad people.  Their behaviours might be bad, but they are fallible, error-prone humans who do all kinds of good and bad things!”  (A similar failure to ‘walk their talk’ was demonstrated by some of Ellis’s adversaries, who had removed him from office, or helped to remove him.  They had decades of experience of promoting REBT, but they could not resist the temptation to damn the supporters of Ellis.  Not the behaviour of the supporters, but the supporters themselves!)

These developments woke me up to the fact that we had all been trying to be impossibly machine-like in our philosophy of life. We had tried to ape the Stoics, who themselves could not always walk their talk! (Socrates was said to have gone to his death willingly, by opening his own veins, when instructed to do so by a court in Athens.  However, there were no journalists present at the time.  And, anyway, that particular Socrates [Plato’s-Socrates] was just a character in a story by a man with a mission!)

The Roman Stoics, like Epictetus, loved the image of the totally indifferent Socrates, willingly giving up his life rather than fleeing the judgement of the court.  But there are very few people, in my experience, who would not have preferred to nip out the back door when nobody was watching, rather than commit suicide on the instructions of others!

As I became aware of the problem (in myself and others) of extreme Stoical attitudes, I began to try to distinguish them from more moderate elements of Stoicism.  I thought I had found some archetypal examples of the two tendencies some years ago when I considered them like this:

  1. An example of an extreme Stoic position: “People are not upset by what happens to them, but rather by their attitude towards what happens to them.”
  2. An example of a moderate Stoic position: “There are certain things we can control and certain things we cannot control, and freedom and happiness are determined by making this distinction and acting upon it.”

And for a while, this way of understanding the difference stood up to my own scrutiny.  For example, I developed a moderate Stoical approach to teaching my clients how to distinguish between what they could and could not control, and to only try to control what seems likely to be controllable.

However, it is not a hard and fast distinction, or separation.  Even the core of Stoicism tends to be quite extreme.  And nobody can live up to that cool, detached attitude of indifference.  Epictetus’s view that we are not upset by what happens to us goes against our common sense, and our values and attitudes.  It also contradicts much of modern psychology.

We are upset by what happens to us (when it’s perceived as a negative experience), just as we are gladdened by what happens to us (when we experience it as a pleasant experience).  We bring our past experience to our evaluations of what happens to us, and we have no choice but to bring our past experience to those events.  We are creatures of habit that respond to the new on the basis of the old, by using our memories of past experiences.  And when I say ‘we’ do that, I do not mean the kind of ‘disembodied mind’ that Albert Ellis seems to have envisioned, like a ‘smoke filled’ cranium.  No.  When I say ‘I’ or ‘we’, I am pointing to a socialized body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!

Epictetus is also clearly wrong to say we have control over our impulses, desires and aversions.  That we can either “assent” or “refuse assent” to ‘appearances’ and ‘impressions’.  I would venture to suggest that if our ancestors had had the capacity to assent to their impressions (of an approaching sabre toothed tiger, for example), or to refuse to assent, then we would not be here now.  We modern humans are descendants of extremely jumpy, anxious ancestors, whose emotional automaticity kept them alive, and paved the way for us to be here today!  And we are innately just as jumpy, and angry, and depressive, as they were!

We are born and bred to be emotional

We are innately emotional beings.  We are born with a set of innate feelings. (Panksepp, 1998; Darwin, 1872/1965; Ekman, 1993, and Ostrofsky, 2003). And those feeling states are shaped by our interactions with our mothers/main carers. (Siegel, 2015).

People are upset by what happens to them.

And the nature and degree of their upset is a function of their socialized ‘affect regulation mechanism’ (Hill, 2015).  This is stored in the upper region of their orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and its job is to damp down the emotional surges which come up from the limbic system, via the lower region of the OFC.

People are upset by what happens to them, as interpreted by their socialized schemas/stories, which are emotive-cognitive-experiential structures in long-term memory. (Siegel, 2015; Hill, 2015).

We can learn to improve our ‘affect regulation’ abilities, especially through interactions with a good attachment counsellor; or even a good REBT/CBT therapist.  But the REBT/CBT therapist will think that they have “…helped the client to get rid of their irrational belief, or their negative automatic thought”, which they assume was the source of the upset.

The attachment counsellor, on the other hand, will think that they have “…helped the client to rewire the upper region of their OFC, so they are better able to damp down their limbic surges of innate emotional response to environmental stressors”.  I am convinced that the attachment counsellor is right and the REBT/CBT therapist is wrong.  And, in any case, the REBT therapist exacts too high a price from the client, by blaming the client for their own upset emotions, excusing their social environment, and encouraging the client to become a relatively unfeeling, passive tolerator of the intolerable! (Which the client will not be able to sustain when the going gets tough!)

~~~

Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer:

A critique of the simplistic ABC model of REBT

By Dr Jim Byrne

~~~

Front cover, Ellis and the Golfer3
Cover design by Will Sutton

This is a book of reflections upon a case study, presented by Dr Ellis in his 1962 book about the theory of Rational Therapy.

The ‘unhappy golfer’ is in Dr Albert Ellis’s office, in New York City, somewhere around the end of the 1950’s.  He tells Dr Ellis that he feels terribly unhappy about being rejected by his golfing peers, and Dr Ellis tells him: This is something you are doing to yourself!

Ellis uses the unhappy golfer to introduce his readers to his simple ABC model of Rational (REB) Therapy, which claims – in those places that matter most – that a person cannot be upset emotionally in any way other than by their own beliefs!

This book sets out to refute this simplistic idea.

For more.***

Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer.***

~~~

The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself

Finding the Golden Mean that leads to strength and viable flexibility, in order to be happy, healthy and realistically successful

A, Front cover-2By Dr Jim Byrne.

With contributed chapters by Renata Taylor-Byrne

~~~

The Institute for E-CENT Publications: 2020

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Are human beings like bamboo?  Are we designed to withstand unlimited pressure, stress and strain? Is our destiny to be sacrificed on the altar of ‘flexible working arrangements’?

We live in a world in which there are dark forces that wish us to forget that we are fleshy bodies, with physical and mental needs; and physical and mental limitations; and to be willing to function like mere cogs in the wheels of somebody else’s financial or technological empire.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) has played into this narrative, and given it philosophical support, by promoting a form of Extreme Stoicism in the name of therapy and wisdom, which it patently is not. (General Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [CBT] also supports this agenda, but to a lesser degree, or in a less obvious way! And some forms of Extreme Buddhism also advocate ‘detachment’ from material concerns, such as the need for a balanced life!)

In this book, I review the research that we have done on the limits of human endurance, and the determinants of that endurance – as well as identifying a viable philosophy of life – which will help you to optimize your strength and flexibility, while at the same time taking care of your health and happiness.

If you want to take good care of yourself in the modern mad-market, you could benefit from studying this book. It will provide you with both a compass and a suit of armour which will support you with the challenges and battles you will inevitably face.

Click for more information.***

Paperback copy: £14.99 GBP***

Kindle eBook: £5.99 GBP.***

~~~

How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness: Especially during Festive Celebrations:

Coping with and resolving frustrations, disappointments and interpersonal clashes at family celebrations like Christmas, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Eid, and Thanksgiving

Front cover 1Dr Jim Byrne (With Renata Taylor-Byrne)

Conflict can happen in families at any time of year.  It jut so happens that the first Monday after the Christmas & New Year annual holidays is called ‘Divorce Day’, because that is when the highest number of divorce petitions is issued. And it seems most likely that the other major family holiday times are the runners up in the divorce stakes.  However, what is hidden under these divorce statistics is the mountain of personal and social misery that precedes such drastic ‘solutions’ to repeated conflict, disappointments and interpersonal clashes.

But there is a better way to deal with these problems. Rather than letting the misery build up over time, you can take control of both your own mind, and the way you communicate within your family and society.  You can insulate your social relationships from constant or repeated misery and unhappiness; and learn to have a wonderful life with your family and friends.

The solutions have been assembled by Dr Jim Byrne in this book about how to re-think/re-feel/re-frame your encounters with your significant others; how to communicate so they will listen; how to listen so they can communicate with you; and how to manage your lifestyle for optimum peace, happiness and success in all your relationships.

PAPERBACK AND eBOOK ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION…

Don’t let your relationships deteriorate. Get the solution today. Click this link for more.***

~~~

The extreme perspectives of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius also proved to be an extremist in relation to three issues which I considered, as follows:

  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, Marcus 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 Stoical self-delusion if I taught my clients that nobody could harm them!

~~~

  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 reasonably 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.

The Stoics made the mistake of thinking that all emotions are a result of false beliefs. This is untrue, as a person who believes, 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) – 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!

  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. (The Stoics would have missed this point because, although they thought they had to be socially involved, their ethics was an ethic of self-directed wise action, rather than socially responsible non-harming of others. And Marcus himself despised mankind!)

~~~

The evidence for extremism in Stoic philosophy

I did not create the idea of ‘Stoic extremism’.  The idea dawned upon me as a result of reading various books and articles on Stoic philosophy.  For example, in a book on Stoicism and the military mind, Nancy Sherman (2007), writing about the threat of torture among captured soldiers (e.g. American prisoners of war in Vietnam in the 1970’s), looked at how Epictetus would have ‘framed’ the idea of torture.  He would not have ‘assented’ to the idea that torture is ‘a genuine evil’ to be feared.  He would have denied that torture could threaten his well-being or his happiness.

How could he have sustained such an extreme perspective?  According to Sherman, Epictetus would “…hold that only one’s own vice or failure of character is truly evil and, conversely, only virtue is unqualifiedly good and the source of genuine happiness.  These substantive claims are extreme” – write Sherman – “and they clash, at least intuitively, with our own conceptions of good and evil and happiness”. (Sherman, 2007: pages 8-9)[vi].

I agree with Sherman that these are extreme ways of framing adversity, and of defining well-being and happiness, and virtue. And, as I argued above, when it came to the crunch, Ellis could not stick to this kind of extreme approach.  And we do not know, because there were no journalists or historians present, whether or not Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius ‘walked their extreme Stoical talk’.

The reason extreme Stoicism is unliveable under difficult circumstances is this: The Stoic ideal is to use reason to become ‘godlike’!  However:

“Such godlikeness, the Stoics will be the first to admit, is exceedingly rare.  For the Stoics, however, the near impossibility of becoming a (Stoic) sage is not a problem.  They talk about sages primarily so they will have a model to guide them in their practice. The sage is a target tor them to aim at, even though they will probably fail to hit it”. (Irvine, 2009: page 37.)

In E-CENT counselling, we prefer to set our targets close to reality, and becoming a god is so far from reality that we would never set out to try to achieve that.  Nor would we insist that our clients should be able to function in a godlike manner!

~~~

Next, I will simply present three final points on Stoicism. These are:

Two criticisms and a suggestion for counsellors to consider.

  1. The two criticisms are of Marcus Aurelius’ philosophy of life. Both of them come from D.A. Rees, the Oxford scholar who wrote the Introduction to Marcus’s Meditations (1946/1992).
  2. And the suggestion is that perhaps counsellors should utilize a good understanding of modern research on resilience instead of reliance upon a few random quotations from Stoic philosophers.

Firstly: Stoicism effectively denies the social nature of humans, while affirming it in theory; and then they make the mistake of thinking we can pick and choose how we respond to our experiences, as if we were separated from experience by a huge space in which we get to think, consciously, about how we will respond to each experience as it happens. Or, as Rees expresses it (in Aurelius, 1946/1992):

“The Stoic ideal is radically self-centred (Meditations xii, 1); one’s concern is solely with one’s own thoughts, with one’s own moral purpose; and in laying its stress upon the ‘assent’ of the individual to those ideas which obtrude upon his attention, insisting that this is purely under the control of his will, Stoicism seems to open the door to an unlimited degree of wishful thinking”. (Pager xi)

Secondly: Humans are social animals, socialized and educated by family, community, school and mass media.  We are subject to all kinds of social pressures which shape our trajectory through life.  Or, as Rees has it:

“Stoicism was forced to disregard in its doctrine of freedom those all-pervasive social pressures which radically condition our beliefs and attitudes, of which Aristotle had shown more awareness, and upon which thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have laid so much stress” (Page xi).

Finally: There are (at least) two extensive discourses on ‘resilience’ in the world today.  The first argues against the idea that we must all become resilient to cope with a permanently insecure world. (The ruling class can use Buddhism against us all, by making the world more insecure, and then blaming us for not being ‘able to stand it’!) (See: Evans and Reid, 2013)  While the second discourse, in the realm of counselling, psychology and personal development, argues that we need to be able to bounce back when life knocks us down. (Tartakovsky, 2017).

If I advocate the second discourse, there is nothing to stop people from the first discourse using my words to support their contention that ‘Everybody should be much more resilient, and therefore we do not need to be so caring, or focused on welfare, or social security, and so on’.

This is a big problem in counselling and therapy.  I sincerely believe that the ideas that Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis developed to help their clients have seeped into the wider culture and are now used to advantage those who wish to exploit and oppress ordinary people.  (Can’t you just imagine a Wall Street Banker, or similar type of neoliberal type, accepting himself/herself unconditionally as s/he engages in socially destructive practices?) So we have to be careful how we express our therapeutic philosophies, so they cannot easily be used to worsen social and political realities outside the therapy room!

In this spirit, I want to make the following point:  Perhaps we should abandon any references to Stoicism in counselling and therapy, and replace them with advice on how to become more resilient in the face of unavoidable life difficulties.

Southwick and Charney (2012) – two medical doctors – suggest that a useful curriculum for the development of greater resilience would include:

Developing optimism (and overcoming learned pessimism); Facing up to our fears (or being courageous); Developing a moral compass (or learning to always do what is the right thing, rather than what is opportunistically advantageous); Developing a spiritual, faith, or community connection that is bigger than the self; Connecting to others for social support; Finding and following resilient role models; Practicing regular physical exercise; Working on brain-mind fitness, including mindfulness and cognitive training (but they overlooked the impact of food and gut flora on the brain-mind, so that needs to be considered also); Developing flexibility in our thinking-feeling-behaviour (including acceptance and reappraisal); Focusing on the meaning of your life, the purpose of your life, and on desired areas of personal growth.

Perhaps a consideration of these ideas could take us beyond the ‘wishful thinking’ about impossible goals set by Zeno, Marcus and Epictetus (and Albert Ellis, and some other CBT theorists).

~~~

Holistic Counselling in Practice:

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

front cover holistic couns reissued
Cover design by Will Sutton

By Jim Byrne DCoun FISPC

With Renata Taylor-Byrne BSc (Hons) Psychol

This book was the original introduction to Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), which was created by Dr Jim Byrne in the period 2009-2014, building upon earlier work from 2003.  It is of historic importance, but it has been superseded by Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person, above.

Prices from: £5.83p GBP (Kindle) and £15.18p (Paperback)

Paperback and eBook versions

Learn more.***

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End of Page 5…

Continued on REBT’s limitations and errors; Page 6.***

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REBT’s limitations and errors; Page 6

The nature of emotions

There is a good deal of confusion regarding whether emotions are innate, or socially imposed; and whether they exist ‘inside the client’ or ‘outside’ in social relationships. Our resolution of that confusion (In E-CENT theory and practice) goes like this:

(a) We use the insight from Dylan Evans’ (2003) book on emotion, about ‘degrees of innateness or learned emotions’. This means that we accept the conclusion that some basic emotions (or affects) are innate, at birth.  However, those basic emotions (or feelings) are inevitably shaped by the culture of the mother (and father [normally]) into acceptable and unacceptable expressions of affect (or affect display) – or observable manifestations of feelings – over time. The main concepts we use are:

(1) Innate emotional wiring (Panksepp 1998)[vii]; which is also seen as a range of basic emotions (Siegel, 2015);

(2) Higher cognitive emotions (like pride, confidence, guilt and shame, jealousy, trust and so on – (Panksepp and Biven, 2012; and Ostrofsky, 2003); and:

(3) Culturally specific emotions (as in the ways in which various universal emotions are manifested differently in different cultures; e.g. the more restrained Japanese versus the more expressive Americans – (Evans, 2003; Ekman, 1993).

Somewhere between the universal, higher cognitive emotions and the culturally specific emotions, I would place the “family variations” in the range and mode of expression of the basic and higher cognitive emotions.

So, individuals have some of the ‘universal shape’ implied by Plato, Freud, Albert Ellis, Eric Berne, etc.; but also quite a lot of ‘family shaping’ which is idiosyncratic and unique. Plus national variations in how those emotions are expressed.

In evolving our theory of emotion, we went back as far as it is possible to go in developing knowledge of our ancestors, and what we inherited from them.  For example, we have been influenced by the perspective of Jonathan Turner (2000), which can be summarized like this: “…our ability to use a wide array of emotions evolved long before spoken language and, in fact, constituted a preadaptation for the speech and culture that developed among later hominids.  Long before humans could speak with words, they communicated through body language their emotional dispositions; and it is the neurological wiring of the brain for these emotional languages that represented the key evolutionary breakthrough for our species”. (One of the paradoxical implications of much of Albert Ellis’s therapy practice is this: He would have to conclude that our ancient ancestors felt no emotions, because they had no ability to ‘tell themselves’ any irrational ideas in ‘simple, declarative sentences’!  But, of course, the truth is that feelings came before language in evolutionary time.)

According to Panksepp (1998), those innate emotional systems, which we inherited from our mammalian ancestors, are located in the most primitive parts of the brain: the limbic system and brainstem.   (These are the neurological substrates (or foundations) underpinning what Freud called the ‘It’ – which is the physical baby and the primary (emotive) processes of mental life. Those primary, sub-cortical (limbic) processes inform our secondary, more culturally shaped emotions, which modulate our capacities for cognition: which means that our attention, perception, memory, and thinking can never be separated from our feelings.  As Damasio (1994) demonstrated with his patient, Elliot, we cannot make choices and decisions without the emotional capacity to evaluate options!

Finally, in E-CENT, we would never go along with a list of categories of emotional disturbances like that displayed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) and/or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (or ICD-10).

Humans are too complex to be classified into ‘disease boxes’ or ‘personality disorders’.  And we have argued in this book that much of the modern explosion of emotional disorders are a result of lifestyle distortions, especially in the areas of bad diet, lack of physical exercise (sedentary lifestyle), and rising levels of externally imposed socioeconomic stress (which is largely created by the dominant neoliberal ideology).  Our tragedy is that it is highly profitable for psychiatrists and big pharmaceutical companies to ignore this truth!

~~~

A counsellor reflects upon models of mind

Integrating the psychological models of Plato, Freud, Berne and Ellis

Front cover
Cover design by Will Sutton

Prices from: £5.99 (Kindle) and £14.99 GBP (Paperback)

This book explores some significant ways of thinking about the nature of the human brain-mind. Every counsellor needs to think long and hard about their perceptions of their clients.  Are they based on ‘common sense’, or have they been subjected to the discipline of considering the theories of great minds that preceded us, like Plato, Freud, Berne and Ellis. (Ellis, of course, oversimplified the SOR model of mind into the simple ABC model, but he is still important because of his impact on the whole CBT theory, which currently dominates the field of counselling and therapy in the US, UK and elsewhere).  The author provides a stimulating review of several theories of mind.

Paperback and eBook versions available

Learn more.***

~~~

The problem with Buddhist influences on counselling and therapy

Although it is fashionable to rely upon Buddhist insights in some schools of thought in counselling and therapy today, the Buddha’s insights are far from perfect.  For example, the Buddha’s thought as represented in the Dhammapada includes this distortion:  “…our life is the creation of our mind”. But he forgot to add:

Plus our physical existence! And our relationships, plus our experiences; plus our diet, exercise, and external stressors – including economic and political circumstances, family life, and on and on).

So the Buddha can easily mislead the unwary; as the unwary were misled by Albert Ellis – and other cognitive therapists and theorists – who downplayed the role of the environment in human experience; with Ellis denying the role of early childhood in shaping the later life of the social-individual.

Those theorists also overlooked the importance of our eating of unhealthy diets; and our failure to exercise our bodies; all of which impacts our emotional states.

To serve our clients well, counsellors and psychotherapists need to be critical thinkers; to be awake; to be well informed (meaning widely read, and subject to multiple influences); and to think (or perfink) for ourselves (to the degree that that is ever possible for a human being!)

Buddhist ideology downplays the impact of the environment upon human organisms, in a way which is corrected by modern social psychology.  (Social psychology is an attempt to understand and explain the various ways in which “we, as individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others”. (Allport, 1985, as cited in Cardwell, 2000).

If we are to develop a theory of human emotions, we must not follow the Buddhist dumping of this impact of the social environment on the thinking, feeling and behaviour of our clients, lest we end up blaming the client for their disturbance, as was done by Freud, Klein, Ellis and some other cognitive therapists.

Indeed, it was Dr John Bowlby who most strongly emphasized the importance of early childhood relational experiences: the impact, for better or worse, of our early social relationships upon our attachment style, and our chances of having a happy marriage in adult life. Because this went against both Freud’s and Klein’s perspective – [which blamed the child for their own emotional disturbances] – Dr John Bowlby was ostracized by the British psychoanalytic community for decades – because they insisted upon blaming the clients’ ‘phantasies’ for their upset emotions.

~~~

The Emergent Social Individual:

Or how social experience shapes the human body-brain-mind

Kindle Cover1By Dr Jim Byrne

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2009-2019

The E-CENT perspective sees the relationship of mother-baby as a dialectical (or interactional) one of mutual influence, in which the baby is ‘colonized’ by the mother/carer, and enrolled over time into the mother/carer’s culture, including language and beliefs, scripts, stories, etc.  This dialectic is one between the innate urges of the baby and the cultural and innate and culturally shaped behaviours of the mother.  The overlap between mother and baby gives rise to the ‘ego space’ in which the identity and habits of the baby take shape.  And in that ego space, a self-identity appears as an emergent phenomenon, based on our felt sense of being a body (the core self) and also on our conscious and non-conscious stories about who we are and where we have been, who has related to us, and how: (the autobiographical self).

Learn more about this book.***

E-Book version only available at the moment.***

~~~

The distorting influence of the Stoic philosophers on psychotherapy

Here I will present a brief restatement of some of the points made in Chapter 4 (of Byrne, 2017), with some elaboration and clarification.

The most famous saying of the Stoic philosophers, in the world of cognitive counselling systems today, is this belief: “People are not upset by the things which happen to them, but rather by their attitude towards those things”.  This extremist belief is central to Rational Therapy (REBT), Cognitive Therapy (CT) and CBT in general.

That belief is also very similar to the opening statement of the Dhammapada, which represents the Buddha’s philosophy of life, in that it both blames the client for their interpretation of their experience, and ascribes to them the capacity to be indifferent to their environmental insults, hurts and defeats.

But there are some moderate principles of stoicism that seem to be helpful, and which we should probably try to practice and preach.

The most helpful principle of Stoicism, which is also found in Buddhism, is this, from Epictetus’s Enchiridion:

“Freedom and happiness consist of understanding one principle: There are certain things we can control and certain things we cannot control.  It is only after learning to distinguish between what we can and cannot control – and acting upon that knowledge – that inner harmony and outer effectiveness become possible”.

If some of the things that negatively affect me, in my current social environment, are within my control, then it makes sense to try to correct and control them: to change them, etc.  And if something proves to be beyond my control (or it seems most likely to be beyond my control) then it makes sense to not rail against that, but to learn to accept it (which will take time and effort, and courage and fortitude).

But that is not (ultimately) what is taught by the major Stoic philosophers, when they deploy their more extreme principles.  For example, in his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius defines ‘harm’ as being the ability of some outside agency to damage his individual ethical stance’.

This is the first premise of his argument:

Premise 1: ‘Harm’ does not mean physical or emotional harm, but rather harm to an individual’s ‘ethical stance’.

And he then declares an absolute principle, which is this:

Premise 2: Nobody has the ability to damage my individual ethical stance.

Hence, logically:

First conclusion: Nobody has the ability to harm him.

And this leads, also logically, to his

Final conclusion: Nobody can disturb me!

(See the Introduction to the Meditations, by D.A. Ross).

The problem with that conclusion is this:

  1. Most people do not define ‘harm’ the way Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius do. You can check any dictionary, and you will not find ‘harm’ defined in their esoteric way. I checked two dictionaries online, and this is what I found:

Definition of harm 1:  physical or mental damage:  injury; e.g. the amount of harm sustained by the boat during the storm; 2:  mischief; hurt; I meant you no harm.” From Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Online: https://www.merriam- webster.com /dictionary/harm

Or take a look at the Oxford Dictionaries Online:

NOUN: [mass noun] 1. Physical injury, especially that which is deliberately inflicted.

‘I didn’t mean to cause him any harm’.

1.1 Material damage.

‘It’s unlikely to do much harm to the engine’.

1.2 Actual or potential ill effects or danger.

‘There’s no harm in asking her’.

Online: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/harm

~~~

  1. Because of this difference in the two approaches to defining harm, Stoic philosophers and non-Stoics are talking at cross purposes when they discuss ‘harm’.
  2. Only a rare sage, or a nut (which might be the same thing!), could live a life based on the idea – the fantasy – that a hatchet through my skull does not constitute harm, since it leaves my individual ethical stance intact.

Or, that somebody murdering my baby and raping my wife cannot disturb me, because it leaves my individual ethical stance intact.

Or, to take the military characters in Sherman (2007) – (US bomber crews shot down over Vietnam in the 1970’s) – that they could choose not to be disturbed by the prospect or the reality of being tortured by their Vietnamese captors.

This is a form of macho self-delusion!

But even Sherman (2007) admits that Stoicism is a form of unworldly perfectionism, which cannot be achieved by anybody.  Indeed, she seems to acknowledge that this was known by Epictetus and other Stoics, but not normally mentioned!

“As we shall see”, she writes, “some Stoics, notably Epictetus and Seneca, are at times more than eager to downplay the unworldly perfectionism of strict Stoicism.  Stoicism must have appeal, they urge, even to those non sages such as themselves who will never be more than moral aspirants.  For such an aspirant, catastrophic loss may well upset happiness and throw substantial challenges in the path of regaining it.  But even so, as Epictetus puts it, we do best if we fight the good fight and try to recover an attitude that puts us back in charge.  Our job is to find and refind our agency, however, vulnerable and constrained it is.” (Sherman, 2007: page 10).

Downplaying the ‘unworldly perfectionism’ of Stoicism does not change the fact that it is a philosophy of unworldly perfectionism, and nobody (in their right mind) should seek to follow a philosophy of unworldly perfectionism!

If ‘catastrophic loss’ may upset the happiness of even Epictetus and Seneca – the most hardboiled unworldly perfectionists – how can an REBT/CBT therapist justify demanding that their very ordinary clients, who have had no training in hard-boiling themselves, should be able to handle losses and failures, and threats and dangers, and insults, and so on, without becoming unhappy and upset?  This is a form of madness.

And what can this next bit mean? That Epictetus says or implies that “…we do best if we fight the good fight and try to recover an attitude that puts us back in charge”.

In charge of what?  According to Marcus Aurelius, we are actors in a play which the manager directs!

In other words, we are not in charge of our lives.

There are very few things we can clearly and unambiguously control – or ‘be in charge of’!

On the other hand, Epictetus and Marcus maintain that we can choose our attitude towards what happens to us! 

But if that were true, then nothing – not even ‘catastrophic loss’ could spoil our happiness; but Epictetus, on the quiet, admits that that is not the case.  We are (most often) made unhappy by catastrophic loss.  (Which again raises questions about how upset Zeno must have been, as he walked, or swam ashore, from his shipwreck experience.  And it also means that people are upset by what happens to them – especially when the event is painful or extreme in any negative form!)

Let’s leave the extreme Stoics to their self-contradictions, and develop a more sensible approach to self-management.

“In the social sciences, agency refers to the capacity of the individual to act independently and to make their own free choices.  By contrast structure refers to those (environmental) factors which seem to limit or influence the opportunities that individuals have. Disagreement on the extent of one’s agency often causes conflict between parties:  e.g. parents and children”. (Coleman, 2017)[viii].

In sociology, agency (or personal power), on the one hand, and structure (or the power of social structures to shape the individual), on the other hand, are seen to be in dialectical tension – or interacting with, and influencing, each other.

The concept of ‘agency’ overlaps the concept of ‘locus of control’.  And, for the Stoics, most of life is said to be beyond our control; but we can (they maintain) control our own responses to things.  We can ‘assent’ to ‘impressions’ or ‘refuse to assent’. This is totally unrealistic, as we have already argued, since we are wired up by our experiences to be largely stimulus-response organisms, responding on the basis of ‘pattern matching’ interpretations from the past – which are virtually instantaneous and habit-based.

It seems to this author that there is no way, ultimately, to resolve the question of whether or not we have some free choice, or whether we are completely determined by our past experiences interacting with our innate natures.  (Byrne, 2007)[ix]. In other words, this is a contested and unresolved argument or disagreement between the hard sciences and romantic philosophers.

But we can – as we have in E-CENT theory – develop a tendency to list our apparent options, desires and goals in two columns:

# One for things which appear to be Within My Control (If…); and:

# One for things which appear to be Beyond My Control (Unless…)

But let us forget the fantasy that we can choose to assent or not assent to incoming impressions from our environment, in the present moment.  We cannot do that.  What we can do is this: We can retrospectively decide that, in the future, we will try to respond differently to a particular stimulus.  But in the present moment, we do not seem to have any choice but to respond to every stimulus on the basis of our habit-based patterns from the past.  So it makes no sense to blame clients for their less than optimal responses to incoming stimuli.  It makes more sense to explore better possibilities for the future with them!

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Processing Client Stories in Counselling and Psychotherapy:

How to think about and analyze client narratives

Cover of eBookDr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

The Institute for E-CENT Publications – 2019

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2019. All rights reserved.

Of all the systems of counselling and therapy, the main ones that pay attention to the body of the client include Gestalt Therapy, and my own system of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (or E-CENT for short).

In E-CENT counselling, when a client arrives to see us, we see a body-brain-mind-environment-whole enter our room.  We agree that this person will begin by telling us a story about their current difficulties; but we recognize that this story is affected, for better or worse, by the quality and duration of their recent sleep patterns; their diet (including caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods, and trans-fats in junk food); and whether or not they do regular physical exercise; and other bodily factors.

However, in this book, we will mainly focus upon the client’s story or narrative; and perhaps remind ourselves occasionally that this story is being told by a physical body-brain-mind which is dependent for optimal functioning upon such factors as diet, exercise, sleep, and so on. We will focus upon the question of the status of autobiographical narratives; and how to analyze the stories our clients tell us.

Available as an eBook only.***

Learn more about this book.***

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