REBT: The limitations and errors in this system of counselling and psychotherapy

Updated on 9th December 2019

The main, new book that reveals the fundamental falsehoods at the heart of REBT

Front cover3 of reissued REBT bookMany of this author’s criticisms of REBT apply equally to all forms of CBT which utilize the ABC model of human disturbance.

Dr Byrne begins by showing that Dr Ellis was wrong on two major counts:

Firstly, Ellis’s claim that there is a difference in degree of disturbability of humans and other animals, and that the cause of that difference is the existence of language, and the capacity that provides to humans to think about their experiences, and to think about their thinking.  Dr Byrne presents scientific evidence to refute this line of reasoning by Dr Ellis.

And secondly, Ellis’s claim that he had evidence (in the form of a foundational case study) that people are upset by their thinking, plus their thinking about their thinking.  In a line by line analysis of the relevant text from Dr Ellis’s 1962 book, Dr Byrne destroys the basis of this false claim.

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

 

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

These systems of therapy are enjoying a short-lived popularity which will end in tears. (The Swedish government have already evaluated their massive investment in CBT, and found that it made not one jot of difference to the target it was supposed to hit: [getting workers off incapacity benefit, and back into work]. The British government should follow suit.  ‘Evidence-based’ should mean that evidence of efficacy is collected – by impartial evaluators – and published!)

If you are an REBT or CBT therapist, then you need to review the content of this book, to understand the errors at the heart of this system of philosophizing about human emotional and behavioural disturbances.

And if you are a student who is considering using some elements of REBT in your future counselling or therapy work, then you need to read this analysis.  You need to know that it is based on some serious errors which, it is not too strong a claim to state, are forms of madness!  (The precise form of madness underpinning REBT is what I call ‘Extreme Stoicism’ – the elements of Stoicism which assume that a human being can learn to live like a rock or a lump of wood; to ignore pain and sorrow; to agree that ‘nobody can harm them’; to agree that they are not upset by the horrible things that happen to them, but rather by their Silly Beliefs!  And that they choose to upset themselves! [Total madness!])

For more information about this book, please click this link: A Major Critique of REBT.***

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It is madness to deny the impact of the social environment upon the body-brain-mind of the client.  It is madness to blame the client for their emotional disturbances.  And it is madness to copy the delusions of a first century Roman slave, instead of being informed by the research evidence of modern social psychology, neuroscience, and interpersonal neurobiology!

…For more, please visit the ABC Bookstore Online for REBT Critiques.***

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REBT Discounts the Human Body

Humans are seen a simple ‘belief machines’

Introduction

Front cover paperback 2Before Albert Ellis began to develop his theory of psychotherapy, in the 1950’s – see Ellis (1962) – the dominant therapies in New York City were Freudian and post-Freudian analysis, and Behaviour Therapy.  Those theories of psychotherapy contained, at their core, a physical organism: the ‘It’, or the human body.

Albert Ellis was a damaged man, who had experienced significant levels of neglect, bordering on abandonment, including spending months in hospital, at the age of four years, and again at the age of six years, with almost no visits from his parents. There is also evidence of earlier neglect at home.

It seems he developed a particular personality adaptation[1] to the ways in which his parents ignored his emotional needs. This caused him to deny his own need for emotional comfort; and he became highly stoical (just like a substantial proportion of humans raised in industrialized societies).  Then, as a teenager, he discovered books on the philosophy of Stoicism – including the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca.  Those writings echoed with his own adaptation to neglect and indifference; and to emotional suffering in general. And he created his theory of psychotherapy under the influence of those philosophies of self-disregard or self-neglect; and in the process he denied or dumped the importance of the human body (which was central to earlier theories of therapy) and replaced it with a disembodied “belief system”.  A disembodied mind on legs!

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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 intervene between a noxious experience and an emotional-behavioural reaction. (The body is ignored!)

The aim of this book is to deconstruct the ABC’s of REBT/CBT, and extreme Stoicism, and to replace them with a more holistic, more humane, and more realistic model of the whole-body-brain-mind-environment-complexity, which is what a human being truly is.

But this is not mere humanism of the kind developed by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.  This is a new kind of holistic, organism-environment-dialectic. It could not have been anticipated by Dr Albert Ellis, who learned his psychology in the 1930’s and 40’s.  My critique of REBT depends upon the most recent neuroscientific discoveries; their elaboration into ‘affect-regulation theory’ and ‘interpersonal neurobiology’ (IPN); plus very recent research on the gut-brain-connection[2]. And also the biochemistry of physical exercise and the stress response. This new, cutting-edge philosophy of psychotherapy is called Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT).

Against Albert Ellis’s ABC model, we offer the Holistic-SOR model, which summarizes the many variables that intervene between our experiences and our emotional and behavioural performances or outputs. These include: diet and nutrition; sleep and relaxation; physical activity and exercise; family of origin experiences; current relationship experiences; current external stressors, including socioeconomic factors, and living conditions; etc.

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Whole cover paperback 1

Part 1 describes the background to this critique; and who the book is intended for. Target audiences include REBT and CBT practitioners; students of counselling and therapy; individuals interested in the distinction between moderate and extreme Stoicism and Buddhism; and many others.

I then describe the small element of REBT which I have retained in my approach to counselling and psychotherapy (which is a slightly modified form of Rational Emotive Imagery). And then I present a brief refutation of the core irrational beliefs of REBT, which are: demandingness; awfulizing; low-frustration tolerance; and condemning and damning of self, other people and the world.

One of the points that I make about the ABC model is this: The ABC model is an equation derived from the first century, extreme Stoic philosopher, and former slave, Epictetus.  It did not come out of cognitive science.  And it cannot be fitted into cognitive science as a significant element or component.

The ABC model could also be seen as an oversimplification of the Stimulus-Organism-Response (SOR) model of the neo-Behaviourists, who believed that the state of the organism as a whole determined its response to any incoming stimulus.

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Back cover paperback 3Then, in Part 2, I explore theories of human suffering. This includes a consideration of the Stoic and Buddhist theories of suffering; Freud’s theory; plus Alan Watts, Melanie Klein and John Bowlby’s perspectives. This is followed by a brief consideration of the behaviourists, cognitive psychology, and the emergence of Albert Ellis’s theory. I then distinguish between long-suffering and short suffering approaches to therapy; and I am definitely in favour of the shortest possible approach – brief therapy – but not at the cost of dumping the client’s history and feelings.

I then describe my ‘positionality’: or how I am positioned in relation to the discipline of REBT. I begin with how I got into studying Albert Ellis’s writings, to deal with my own career crisis; and then training as an REBT therapist; and then practicing as an REBT therapist for about 10+ years, until the death of Albert Ellis, in 2007.  My main moves away from REBT occurred between 2007 and 2009.

In this book, I will argue that Dr Albert Ellis was, to a significant degree, an extreme Stoic, and that to that degree he was a destructive, harmful influence, not just within the world of counselling and therapy, but – because there are no Chinese walls between the therapy room and the wider society – also on the political-economic discourse of the period from 1975 onwards, when some of the worst forms of neoliberal insensitivity to the suffering of the poor arose in the US and the UK.

…End of extract.  For more, please go to https://abc-bookstore.com/rebt-disregards-the-human-body/

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[1] Joines and Stewart (2002), in the References.

[2] Enders, G. (2015) Gut: The inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ.  London: Scribe Publications.

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The Amoralism of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT):

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

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By Dr Jim Byrne

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer:

A critique of the simplistic ABC model of REBT

By Dr Jim Byrne

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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.***

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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.

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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 only, at the moment.

Learn more.***

Price: £23.58 GBP

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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).

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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 paperback 2
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.***

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.***

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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 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 resilienceinstead 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.***

~~~

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!

~~~

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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The evolutionary psychology perspective is better

Our emotions are mainly guides to action in the world. While Buddhism and Stoicism mainly apply the negative theory of emotion – which assumes that all emotions are a problem – evolutionary psychology promotes the idea that our emotions arose, and were selected by nature, because they served to keep our ancestors alive. This is a positive theory of emotion.

Evolutionary psychology is an attempt to build a science of psychology, based on inferences – (many from anthropological studies; animal studies; and many which appear to be little more than applied logic) – about the ways in which our ancestors adapted to their environments, and how and why some psychological adaptations were most likely selected by nature for their survival value.  For examples:

Without your innate tendency towards anger, there would be nothing to stop selfish individuals taking advantage of you, even to the extent of threatening your survival (by stealing all the available food, for example).

Without anxiety, you might sit and watch with curiosity while a lion approached you and then ate you.

Without distress (or sadness) you might be unable to attract social support when you are weakened by illness, or when you are otherwise disadvantaged and in need of extra support.

So feelings, even apparently destructive or painful emotions, can be seen to serve useful survival functions, except when they are taken too far, and then they cause more harm than good.  (This concept of ‘taken too far’ is labelled hyper-arousal [meaning anger, anxiety, etc.] or hypo-arousal [leading to depression, inappropriate shame, etc.] in Affect Regulation Theory (Hill, 2015).

And, paradoxically, as pointed out by Siegel (2015), emotions are both regulated and regulatory.  They are regulated (or controlled) by both internal and external factors; and we also tend to internalize those external, social factors over time.  (The external factors often take the form of verbal or non-verbal feedback from significant others [mother, father, others] about their experience of our emotional expression [or expression of affects]). Some of our emotive-cognitive experiences (including that feedback from significant others) help us to regulate other of our emotive-cognitive urges.

The modelling (or demonstration) of emotional self-regulation by our parents is another of the major internalized sources of self-regulation that we have (which begins outside of us, but ends up encoded in our neurological, higher cognitive emotions, probably largely in the right orbitofrontal cortex [OFC]). (Hill, 2015).

Paul Ekman, an American anthropologist, set out to prove that Darwin was wrong about the universality of all basic primate and mammal emotions; and that, in fact, many cultures are wired up emotionally to be very different from each other – the major example being westerners versus the oriental mind.  This is the famous concept of ‘cultural relativity’.

However, despite the rigour of his studies, Ekman only succeeded in proving Darwin to be right.  There is no cultural relativity in respect of the basic human emotions of anger, fear, distress, surprise, disgust and joy.  There are some cultural differences in how those emotions are expressed – for example the American and southern European tendency to be very open about feelings and emotions, on the one hand; and the Japanese tendency to be concealing of their feelings and emotions. But the basic emotions – which are being revealed or concealed – are common to all cultures.  (The British upper classes are somewhere in the middle ground between the Americans and the Japanese in terms of their expressiveness of the basic emotions – and perhaps closer to the Japanese).

The perspectives of evolutionary psychology and affective neuroscience are better sources of explanation of human emotions than the Buddhist or Stoic theories, or the cognitive psychology theories.  According to Panksepp and Biven (2012) our evolutionary adaptations (as mammals) laid down certain subcortical structures in the limbic areas of the brain.  These neurological structures underpin seven emotional systems as follows:

  1. Seeking: Based on the urge to seek, the brain generates a euphoric and expectant response. (I am wired up by nature to seek: human faces; comfort; food; and as I grow, to seek novelty, stimulation, and so on. I ‘want’ what I am programmed by nature to ‘want’!) So when I am ‘wanting’ many experiences, I am expressing an innate, biochemical urge laid down by natural selection. Of course, my list of wants can be, and is, expanded by my cultural conditioning and experience).
  2. Fear: This innate feeling capacity dictates how the brain responds to the threat of physical danger and/or death. (I am wired up by nature [or natural selection] to fear threats and dangers, because my ancestors who survived long enough to reproduce were kept alive by their fear of predators; and they passed that fear down the line, biochemically.

This is my innate ‘flight response’. I ‘want’ to survive, because I am programmed by nature to ‘want’ to survive! [Again, of course, I can learn to fear things that are not real threats or dangers. But I cannot easily, if at all, learn to define potential ‘harm’ as exclusively related to potential threats to ‘my ethical stance in life’.  I am much more concerned about protecting my central nervous system from painful arousal]).

  1. Rage: Rage results from incoming stimuli interacting with sources of irritation and fury in the brain-mind. (I am wired up by natural selection to respond ragefully to serious frustrations; and to those threats and dangers in response to which I can overcome my natural fearfulness, presumably because this tendency in my ancestors helped to keep them alive long enough to reproduce. This is my innate ‘fight response’). But my regular pattern of manifesting rage is strongly shaped by socialization forces over time.
  2. Lust: This is a manifestation of how sexual desire and attachments are elaborated in the brain. (I am wired up by natural selection to feel loveand sexual desire, when I reach puberty.  Without this lust and desire for sexual congress, and close physical comfort, my ancestors might not have bothered to reproduce, and I would not exist. Because they survived, they passed on their loving-lusting tendencies to me).
  3. Care: The innate source of maternal nurturance. (Mothers do not ‘decide’ to care for their young. Among our ancestral tribes and clans, any non-caring mothers – [who lacked a strong, innate caring urge] – would have been unlikely to keep their offspring alive long enough to reproduce; so non-caring attitudes tended to die out. Those mothers who kept their offspring alive long enough to reproduce were most likely those with neurologically wired tendencies to care sufficiently: to be ‘good enough’ mothers).
  4. Grief: Feelings of intense loss when I lose a significant ‘attachment figure’, like mother, father, other family members and significant others. (I attach myself to significant others [especially mother {or my main carer}], by innate urging. This maximizes my chances of survival, so I reproduce, and pass on to my offspring this same urge to attach to me and their other carers.  But the downside of my strong attachment is that when my attachment figures die, or become unavailable to me, I experience an intense sense of loss [grief]). This is also the foundation of sadness and depression.
  5. Play: This urge explains how the brain generates joyous, rough-and-tumble interactions. (I have innate urges to play, driven by a sense of joy in my own playfulness, and the responses of my playmates. This may have survived through evolutionary time because my playfulness makes me attractive to my carers, and so they want to protect me to keep me alive and near them. Less playful and less joyful children might have been abandoned in tough times, and so their less-playful genes died out).

~~~

The general point arising out of Panksepp’s research on the brains of animals, and other studies, is that all mammals have these seven basic emotional systems hardwired into the limbic system (or mammalian brain).

These seven systems probably should not be seen as the end of the matter, since Panksepp himself included panic in his original list, and omitted grief. And, we have seen earlier that Ostrofsky (2003) has identified nine innate affects, which overlap, but are not coterminous with, Panksepp’s seven basic emotions.

The takeaway message is that humans have a small range of innate emotions or affects, upon the foundation of which they, non-consciously, and in interaction with their main carers, build a set of higher cognitive emotions, over developmental time.

Another way of expressing that insight would be this: Every human being is carrying a set of basic emotional, motivational and automatic control systems (or the developmental capacity to create them) in the subcortical areas of their brains, at birth.  Their neocortex, on the other hand, is available to be wired up by social encounters.  Their social encounters, initially, are managed from their basic emotions, which, through social interactions become woven together with social experiences, into ‘higher cognitive emotions’. This most likely takes place in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), where the limbic system and the neocortex overlap. (Hill, 2015; Siegel, 2015).

Contrary to Albert Ellis’s view, emotion, on the one hand, and conscious thought, on the other, begin as two separate, brain-based systems, which interact and moderate each other, so that reason (when it emerges over developmental time in the child) depends upon basic emotions [in the limbic system], (plus socially influenced emotions [based in the orbitofrontal cortex]), which are required to evaluate (or value) the significance of thoughts, options, actions, etc.  (Siegel, 2015; Damasio, 1994).

Logic cannot tell us what to value, what to like, or what or whom to love.  Those evaluations are made by our emotional systems (including our basic emotions and our higher cognitive emotions, including our moral emotions of guilt, shame and elevation [Haidt, 2006]).

~~~

Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person:

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

The Lifestyle Counselling Book
Cover design by Charles Saul

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

This book has been found in practice to be very helpful to counsellors and psychotherapists who want to understand the role of lifestyle factors in human disturbance. Because diet, exercise and sleep are increasingly seen to be important determinants of mental health and emotional well-being, it is now necessary to rethink our models of counselling and therapy.

Paperback and eBook versions.

Learn more.***

This book shows counsellors how to incorporate lifestyle coaching and counselling into their system of talk therapy.  It will also help self-help enthusiasts to take better care of their own mental and physical health, and emotional well-being.

Prices: from £4.26 GBP (Kindle) to £12.64 (paperback)

Paperback and eBook versions.

Learn more.***

~~~

Reuniting the mother and baby

After reviewing the complex ABC model, I went on to lay down the basic E-CENT model of the mother-baby dyad, in Figure 5 of Byrne (2009b), as shown in Figure 5.5 of Chapter 5, (of Byrne, 2017). This model helped us to explore the ways in which the mother of a new-born baby has to colonize the baby; take it over; and run its life, for the sake of its survival.  The first couple of years of each of our lives is spent in close proximity to mother (or a substitute carer), who is more or less sensitive to our needs; more or less responsive, attuned, and timely in responding; more or less gentle and caring; and so on.

The personality of the mother dictates the kind of care we get, and the kind of care we get is internalized as the foundations of our first Internal Working Model of relationship.  If she can provide us with a ‘secure base’, then we will grow up with a secure sense of attachment to subsequent love objects, including the individual(s) we marry.

As mother interacts with her baby, the baby internalizes representations of the experience of those encounters – at least those which seem emotionally significant. (Siegel, 2015).  And out of those encounters, the baby’s ego (or personality) self-constructs itself (as illustrated in Figure 5.5 above).

As I wrote at that time: “Thus the mother wires up the brain of her baby, initially by handling and managing its body; and later by introducing the baby to her language, her linguistic culture, her rules and moods and values and emotional responses; and her language-based world.” (Byrne, 2009b).

Of course, the baby brings something to the party – his or her innate wiring in the brain stem and the limbic system; and its enteric brain (in its guts).  All of which is instinctive and emotional.  There are no ‘innate beliefs’, since ‘beliefs’ are linguistic constructions (as distinct from attitudes, which can be visceral-emotive).  I have argued above that there are seven (or nine?) innate emotional or affective control systems, and there is an evaluation capacity – ‘good’ – ‘bad’ – which guides the baby’s reactions to incoming stimuli.  A felt experience seems either negative or positive to the new-born baby and young infant; and this triggers one of the emotional control systems: (e.g. anger or fear, or joy, etc.)

The baby, as it develops, shows signs of having pro- and anti-social tendencies, but these are shaped overwhelmingly by the mother’s level of skill.  A skilful mother can soothe a truculent baby; while an unskilful mother can aggravate and irritate a calm baby and render it truculent.

The child internalizes representations of its encounters with mother, and in the overlapping space of encounter, a cluster of ego state possibilities arise, which are later triggered by external stimuli.

The emergent ego of every child contains the embryonic components of Good and Bad Nurturing Parent ego state; Good and Bad Controlling Parent ego state; Good and Bad Adult ego state; Good and Bad Adapted/Rebellious Child ego states; and Good and Bad Free (or Natural) Child ego states.

~~~

Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons:

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

front cover, dragons
Cover design by Will Sutton

This self-help book presents two processes that are necessary for the digestion of old, traumatic or stress-inducing experiences.

The first looks at how to re-think or re-frame your traumatic memory; and the second is about how to digest it, so it can disappear.

~~~

Prices from: £6.16p (Kindle) and £13.63 GBP (Paperback) 

~~~

Paperback and eBook versions

Learn more.***

~~~

Discovering the social individual in myself

In Byrne (2009b), I explored the nature of a physical/social human by investigating my own nature.  This was my conclusion:

Perhaps I am just this physical organism (body/brain/mind)

Including its feeling/affective foundation (in the limbic system)

And its language based cognitive/emotive superstructure (in the neocortex, and the upper regions of the orbitofrontal cortex)

With all of its cumulative, interpretative experiences

Including internalized representations of good and bad aspects of significant others (especially mother and father)

And all of my good and bad adaptations towards them

And my good and bad reactions and rebellions against them

Which gave rise to my Internal Working Models, of how they related to me (positively or negatively), and how I related to them (positively or negatively) – Plus my personality adaptations towards them

All of which is stored in long term memory

In the form of electro chemical equivalents of stories, scripts, frames, schemas and other narrativized and non-narrativized elements

Below the level of conscious awareness

And permanently beyond direct conscious inspection.

Perhaps that is what I most fundamentally am (and, by extension, what you also are).  And thus, although I am distinct from others, I carry many others inside my head, and I am indeed made up of many ‘social/ relational/ interactional bits and pieces’.  So I am both individual and social.  But I am very far from being a ‘separate entity’.  Because my sense of ‘self’ develops in lockstep with my sense of ‘society’, and with my biological development, none of these three ‘levels’ of ‘me/I/us’ can exist (for any significant period of time) without the other(s).

Implications for counselling

From the point of view of an E-CENT counsellor working with a client, it is important to note that the social individual is hard-wired by nature to be an emotional being.  This emotional being (as a baby) is thrown into a family with its own cultural shape, which impacts the baby so powerfully that it leaves its mark on the baby like a die stamps a pattern on a copper or silver coin.  The coin is malleable, and can be melted down and re-stamped, but not easily. (It takes a lot of ‘heat’ to melt it!) And the child, once grown up, retains some neurological and psychological malleability, but also lots of rigidity or habit-based inflexibilities.

Counselling and therapy can begin to work on restructuring the emotional/ neurological shape of the socialized individual (by ‘melting it’), but the outcome depends upon how good the client is at taking on the necessary hard work.  The counsellor can be available as a secure base for the client, and thus hope to re-parent the client (which also means: to re-educate the emotions and thinking of the client). But none of this is easy, and it’s certainly not automatic or predictable.

When a client sits before me, I do not see a discrete, separate, stand-alone individual.  I see the outworking of a complex family history (and ‘racial / tribal’ history).  I sense the many Internal Working Models from which this social-individual relates to the world.  I am aware that this is an emotional being, with some capacity to think and learn, but also most likely s/he is a “community of sub-personalities” with some strongly frozen schemas! Those ‘frozen schemas’ are fixed frames, or ways of perceiving-feeling-thinking about the world as interpreted. (To understand the strength and resistance of frozen schemas, imagine trying to teach a racist person not to be racist in their thoughts / feelings and actions!) And some of those frozen schemas are the basis of the client’s personality adaptation, which predetermine how they will relate to me.

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In chapter 5 (of Byrne, 2017), I also outlined how to understand and help clients with problems of anger, anxiety and depression, using the E-CENT holistic approach – the whole body-brain-mind-environment understanding, which is illustrated in the Holistic SOR model, in Figure 3.3 of Chapter 3 (of Byrne, 2017).

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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.***

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~~~

Summary critique of the ABC-D-E model

In Chapter 6 (of Byrne, 2017), I introduced my summary critique of the ABC model by explaining that I have a few of problems with Albert Ellis’s perspective on human disturbance, which can be expressed briefly like this:

  1. People are not upset by words in their heads. They are upset by difficult experiences, which go against their desires and expectations – and those expectations exist in the form of socialized emotional states, hardwired into the client’s brain-mind.

And:

  1. Ellis’s definition of the word ‘awful’ is actually wrong and misleading! Awful means very bad or very unpleasant, which many of our experiences happen to be. I would agree that people may be upset, sometimes, because they are exaggerating the degree of badness of a situation; but that should not be called ‘awfulizing’. It should be called “exaggerating the degree of badness of a situation”. Or ‘catastrophizing’, perhaps.

When the client learns to stop exaggerating the degree of badness of their problem, they will feel less upset.  However, sometimes they are not exaggerating how the problem feels to them, and so there is a need to meet the client where they are, emotionally, and then to slowly, gently, try to enrol them into a new way of looking at, and feeling about, their difficult situation, so that they can feel it as less bad. (But it helps if they ‘feel felt’ before this is attempted!)

  1. There are also problems with:

(a) The concept of demandingness. People can be upset because they desire something that is not available to them. If they cannot let go of the desire, then they will suffer.  They might not feel that they have any right to demand what they want, but they can still be very upset by unattainable desires.

(b) The process of ‘disputing irrational beliefs’. This probably often shows up for clients as the therapist ‘picking a fight with them’; ‘making them wrong’; and treating them as if they are stupid, or as if they are wilfully upsetting themselves.

And:

(c) The ‘effective new philosophy’ (E). This is a misleading philosophy, because it includes the ideas of awfulizing and demandingness. And it also contains the insupportable concept of ‘Unconditional Self-Acceptance’, which we have argued against as an immoral stance in life!

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We have seen above that people are already wired up (by nature) to be emotional beings.

They are then socialized into a set of emotional responses to particular frustrations or difficulties that they may encounter in life from time to time.

Although we all have ‘words in our heads’, we also have images and gut feelings. Furthermore, we have our role models in our heads: How mum and dad would respond to this insult; that frustration; or this loss or failure. And, perhaps more importantly, we have myelinated connections (or axons) between brain neurons, which actually dictate how we are to respond to particular perceptions, negative and positive.

The word ‘awful’ does not mean “100% bad”, as suggested by Albert Ellis.  It means very bad or very unpleasant, which many things happen to be, objectively.  And I can tell myself that it is awful to have to work so hard to correct Albert Ellis’s philosophical errors without that word (awful) overly-upsetting me!

Ellis’s concept of ‘demandingness’ is also questionable.  This is Ellis’s belief that people mainly upset themselves by the use of the ‘demanding’ words: should, must, have to, ought to, got to, and need to. His central directive to his trainees, was this: “Look for the client’s should!”

But this approach ignores the fact that people may upset themselves by their unrealistic desires, as much as by Jehovian commands.

And it also ignores the fact that not all ‘shoulds’ are demands or commands; but rather (in the case of moral shoulds) prescriptions and proscriptions.  And, as some other theorists have observed, it is perfectly possible to have a ‘preferable should’.

What Albert Ellis advocated was a system in which the therapist challenges the client’s ‘irrational beliefs’ – like ‘shoulds ’and ‘awfuls’.  The form that this challenging process takes is to ‘dispute’ the logic, empirical validity, and usefulness of the client’s beliefs.  However, his idea of ‘disputing’ the client’s irrational beliefs probably often shows up – in the mind of the client – as ‘picking a fight’; or ‘making them wrong’; and provoking them by insisting that they are not upset about what they are actually upset about!

And then there’s the ‘effective new philosophy’. We originally liked the ‘effective new philosophy’ of REBT, which involved a reversal or negation of demandingness, awfulizing, low frustration tolerance (or “I can’t stand it”-itis), and condemning and damning of self, other people and/or the world.  But clearly, we cannot continue to subscribe to this philosophy given that people are most likely not upset by their ‘awfulizing’, as argued in Chapter 6 (of Byrne, 2017). And, while some of them may be upset by their ‘demands’, many others may be disturbed by their desires and cravings, as argued in section 3(a) of Chapter 6.  And we know that it is sometimes objectively true that our clients’ cannot stand their adversities, because they do not have sufficient, objective coping resources, due to poor diet, poor sleep, poor relationships, excessive environmental stressors, and/or poor self-management generally!  So we have to abandon these ‘effective new philosophies’, and substitute the E-CENT equivalents.

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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 only, at the moment.

Learn more.***

Price: £23.58 GBP

~~~

Emotion precedes thinking

The early cognitive psychologists overlooked emotion almost completely; and later on they added bits of emotion theory to the back of their textbooks!  (See Eysenck and Keane, 2000, as a fairly typical example: where only Chapter 18 [of 19!] deals with emotion – which is just 23 pages out of more than 523!).

What they should have noticed from the beginning – which is now being surfaced by affective neuroscience (Panksepp, 1998); interpersonal neurobiology (Siegel, 2015); and neuropsychoanalysis (Schore 2013) – was that humans are primarily emotional beings, from birth onwards, for the whole of their lives.

What was overlooked by Albert Ellis’s generation was this: Attention is directed by emotional signals from the emotional control systems.  Perception is coloured by emotional history.  Memory is directed by emotional significance.  Language cannot be separated from emotion.  And most ’thinking’ is really automatic, non-conscious, habit-based ‘perfinking’ (or perceiving-feeling-thinking), at the core of which is emotion!

So it is really unhelpful to think of people as being upset by individual words, like ‘should’, or ‘awful’.

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The body is involved in emotion processing

The ABC model omits the body. Indeed it dumps most of the body-brain-mind, apart from the individual’s beliefs – and boils them down to just four! Demandingness, awfulizing, low-frustration tolerance, and condemning and damning.

The ABC model has essentially three elements:

(A) The Event (or something that has happened outside or inside of an individual’s mind);

(B) The individual’s set of rational and irrational beliefs about the event; and

(C) The consequent outputting of an emotional and behavioural response (depending upon whether the individual holds [or ‘deploys’] a rational or irrational belief in response to a particular event or experience).

But, in reality, a significant role is played in the causation of emotional disturbance by:

# The face;

# The viscera (heart, lungs, guts);

# The (emotional) limbic system (in the mid-brain);

# The neocortex (or upper brain); and the brain stem;

# Diet and vitamin/ mineral supplements;

# Physical exercise;

# Quality of sleep;

# Early childhood relationships;

# Non-conscious attitudes; and:

# Habitual patterns of relating;

# Etc.

And the individual’s socialization plays a huge role in determining how an innate emotion can be expressed; and the triggers and targets that are considered legitimate.

In effect, the bulk of the human organism, (as well as much of its historical-social environment), has been dumped by Albert Ellis.

~~~

In Chapter 6 (of Byrne, 2017), I presented a succinct refutation of the REBT position, and a restatement of the E-CENT position on:

  1. The ABC model;
  2. The concept of ‘awfulizing’;
  3. Demandingness;
  4. The idea that ‘I can’t stand it’;
  5. Disputing of irrational beliefs;
  6. And, the so-called ‘Effective new philosophy’.

At the end of this process, very little was left of the philosophy of REBT.

~~~

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 paperback 2
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.***

~~~

Trying to rescue the ABC model from Bond and Dryden (1996)

Chapter 7 (of Byrne, 2017), is where it all began. This is where I started to try to rethink the ABC model in order to defend REBT from a critical attack by Bond and Dryden (1996).  If you have read that chapter, you will know that I began with an absolute faith in the truth of core concepts of REBT, including:

  1. The distinction between rational and irrational beliefs.
  2. The idea that people are upset (at point C in the ABC model) by their irrational beliefs (at point B in the ABC model), and not by what happens to them (at point A).
  3. That the job of the therapist is to teach the client the four core irrational beliefs: demandingness; awfulizing; low frustration tolerance (or “I can’t stand it”-itis); and condemning and damning of self, other people and the world.
  4. And, more importantly (for Ellis), that the therapist teaches these insights indirectly, through Socratic questioning. (But I had abandoned Socratic questioning, and informed Ellis as much – [on the grounds that Plato’s-Socrates is a poor role model for a psychotherapist, in that he constantly irritated and aggravated his interlocutors [or conversational partners] by leading them into verbal and logical errors, and rubbing their noses in their lack of understanding of their own beliefs and values)] – and I told him [Ellis] I was now sticking to didactic teaching of the irrational beliefs, and their rational alternatives, to my clients.)

The actual value of my paper on Bond and Dryden – which is reproduced in modified form in Chapter 7 (of Byrne, 2017) – has little to do with the fact that I was trying to defend REBT, but rather that, in order to do so:

  1. I had to think about the ABC model;
  2. Link it back to the SOR model, which most likely inspired it, and:
  3. To relate the inner workings of the ‘B’ to Freud’s theory of the It/ Ego/ Super-ego,
  4. And then to add in some ideas from neuroscience; and:
  5. To consider the part played by the concept of ego states from Transactional Analysis.

This five-stage process had the effect of blowing the cobwebs from the old, dusty ABC model, and showing up the hidden cracks in its foundations and its façade.

Out of this process of rethinking of the ABCs of REBT came the complex ABC model, in which I added back the body, and clarified the interactional nature of thinking and feeling at point B in the model.

The adding back of the body was necessitated by a number of factors, not least of which was the controversy in mainstream psychology between the James-Lange model of emotion causation and the Cannon-Bard model. (Figure 7.9).

Throughout this whole process of rethinking the ABCs of REBT, I was convinced that I was simply restating Ellis’s implicit positions from Ellis (1958).

But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that this was wishful thinking, and, just as Melanie Klein dismantled much of Freud in her attempt to ‘extend and clarify’ Freud, I also dismantled the core of the ABC model of REBT, Ellis’s brain-child, in the process of trying to ‘stand him up’ against his adversaries!

Many of the ideas in Chapter 7 (of Byrne, 2017), have now been modified by time and experience.  I no longer accept ‘the four irrationalities’ (in their REBT formulations!), and indeed I have critiqued them in this book.  I have now rejected the REBT concepts of:

  1. Demandingness’:

The REBT formulation denies that we can be upset by desires and cravings; and it insists that we upset ourselves through the use of words like should and must, as opposed to having historically shaped, socialized, emotive-cognitive affects about our desires and aversions. For these reasons I cannot accept it.

  1. Awfulizing’:

The REBT formulation says that ‘awful’ always means “100% bad”, or “as bad as could be”, and sometimes “More than 100% bad”.  But, as I showed, using two mainstream dictionaries, above, awful actually means something quite different, and much milder, than that!  It means ‘very bad’ or ‘very unpleasant’, which many of our clients’ experiences undoubtedly are!

  1. Low frustration tolerance:

We cannot accept this REBT formulation, when it implies that the person [or client] could not possibly be worn down by real stresses and strains, to such a point that they strongly feel that they cannot stand today what could perfectly well stand yesterday, when they were less stressed and drained!

And:

  1. Unconditional self and other acceptance:

This position is unacceptable to me, because it is an amoral stance – indeed an immoral stance – which could give comfort to people who are acting immorally, or who would like to act immorally, and want permission to unconditionally accept themselves.

I no longer practice REBT, having evolved my own system of E-CENT.

~~~

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.***

~~~

Learning to use demanding words – in reasonable ways

In Chapter 8 (of Byrne, 2017), I began (in 2009) to outline the case for moving on, beyond REBT, into new, uncharted territory. One of the positions I adopted was a defence of the so-called demanding words, for specific reasons and specific purposes.

Why did I defend the use of the words ‘should’ and ‘must’ – even though I acknowledged that they are often implicated in human disturbances (when they constitute unrealistic expectations, or impossible goals)?

Firstly, I defended these words because it is simply wrong to say that it is the demand, and not what is demanded, that disturbs people.  It is more accurate to say that people are disturbed by unreasonable, unrealistic indefensible demands or expectations.  As well as unachievable (or unachieved) desires and cravings.

Secondly, I had to defend these words because ‘the demanding words’ are also implicated in our moral prescriptions; and we need to hold on to our moral prescriptions.  We cannot have a moral discourse (or conversation) without using ‘ought’, ‘should’ and ‘must’.  But we can have effective psychotherapies that leave most shoulds and musts in place, while teaching the client how to think critically about their arguments and their conclusions; and to reframe their disturbing perceptions/ interpretations.

They can keep their shoulds, if they use them for the right kinds of purposes.  And they can get rid of their disturbances by learning to look at their lives from a number of equally viable perspectives, each of which is better than the one they habitually use (as will be illustrated when we come to look at the Six Windows Model, briefly, in Appendix B, below, which is derived mainly [but not exclusively] from moderate Buddhism and Stoicism).

In effect, the more realistic, logical, reasonable and defensible a person’s expectations are, the less disturbable they become, regardless of how many so-called ‘demanding words’ they happen to use to describe what they desire, and what they prescribe morally.

Furthermore, we should remember, people can have ‘demanding attitudes’, or unrealistic expectations, without using any words whatsoever.  The ‘demanding words’ – like should, must etc., – are inferred by Albert Ellis, and not found in practice in the client’s languaging.  As Edward Erwin (1997) points out, non-REBT therapists do not report finding such demanding words in the vocabularies of their clients.  And earlier in the history of REBT, therapists found one or more of the 11 core irrational beliefs that were (then) said to disturb people, and not the ‘core musts or shoulds’ (which are now said to always cause emotional disturbances).  Nowadays, they find only core shoulds and musts, and not any of the original 11 irrational beliefs. (Erwin, 1997, pages 106-109).  This suggests that therapists (who are unwary) find what they ‘look for’ in their client’s languaging.

The problem of lack of moral principles in REBT

When Dr Ellis was growing up in New York City, in the 1920’s and ’30’s, it seems likely that most families were headed by patriarchal, authoritarian, mainly religious parents, who went too far (in terms of harshness) in repressing their children’s ‘bad wolves’ (or immoral and anti-social tendencies).  It would have seemed inappropriate, at that time, for Dr Ellis to take responsibility, in that repressive environment, for the maintenance of public morality.

However, today, more than a century after Albert Ellis was born, we live in communities that are under siege by out of control children, teenagers and adults, in a world of greed, violence, spiralling inequality, drug addiction and alcoholism, people trafficking, and widespread decline in moral standards.  In this new context, counsellors and therapists have to consider the effects of their words on public discourse about moral standards.

(I was not the first person to draw attention to the lack of moral content in Albert Ellis’s philosophy of psychotherapy.  You can find a strong criticism implicit in the words of Paul Meehl, who wrote the Foreword to Daniel Wiener’s biography about Albert Ellis in 1988[x].)

It is no longer acceptable for counsellors and therapists to assume there is a ‘Chinese wall’ between the counselling room and the wider society, and that what we say in the counselling room is solely concerned with the client.  Our words are part of a discourse (or conversation); and our concepts are memes (or units of cultural transmission); and what we say in the counselling room today will one day, most likely, have physical effects in the real world.  (How powerful we turned out to be!)

For a good number of years, I failed to notice that REBT was strongly advocating that people ignore, or treat lightly, social norms regarding moral judgement.  At most, Ellis seemed to be saying that we (and the client) need to be aware that we may be ‘penalized by our society’ if we behave immorally – (but that the REBT therapist did not personally object to immorality on the part of the client).  This kind of prudence was what Meehl objected to, which caused him to wish that Daniel Wiener had “pushed Ellis harder on the matter of ethics” – which was to say, his lack of moral principle.

In addition to his tendency to confuse prudence for morality, Dr Ellis also rejected the idea that a person who acted badly could be thought of as being ‘a bad person’.  For example, his repeated references to the claim that “Hitler was not a bad man!”

He would also tell clients that “even if you went out and killed a few people, that action could not make you a wholly bad person!”  But it wouldmorally – in the eyes of society (meaning most people who were consulted about this issue).

He also rejected the moral principle that people should treat each other fairly and justly.  He would challenge his clients who complained of ‘unfairness issues’ like this: “Why must life be fair?” These seemed to be ‘harmless therapeutic tools’, at one point in history, but the time would come when they would be applied socially as guides to action or non-action.  I was finally awoken to this danger by the way in which Dr Ellis was treated in the final years of his life by some of his former colleagues.

In the final years of Albert Ellis’s life, certain things were said about him, and certain things were done towards him, which we, the ‘Friends of Ellis’ and the ‘Justice for Albert Ellis Campaign’, wished to oppose.  However, in practice, we did not know how to proceed, because we were not ‘allowed’, by REBT theory, to use any of the ‘demanding words’ that form the backbone of moral statements.  Thus we were unable to say: “They should not be doing … (X) … to Albert Ellis!”; “He must be reinstated, in all conscience…”; and so on.  We had gagged ourselves, and (presumably) our clients, so that we were incapable of making a moral statement!

I no longer subscribe to those extreme REBT beliefs about ‘should’ and ‘must’.  I now think it is important to state that there are both logical shoulds and moral shoulds, (and also other types of shoulds, such as conditional shoulds and unreasonable shoulds), and that they sometimes stand in diametrical opposition to each other.  (The so-called empirical shoulds and musts – as in ‘the water should boil’ and ‘the train must have gone’, are really not ‘proper imperatives’, but rather predictions of what ‘will’ (most likely) happen, and also what ‘has’ (as a post hoc statement) already happened, masquerading as imperatives.

When clients come to us with problems of shame and guilt, because they have transgressed their own moral code, it might seem that we were being charitable and empathic by challenging their moral shoulds, and insisting that logically, if they did something bad, then they must have done it; should have done it; have to have done it; and so on.  A more sensible way to go, with the benefit of hindsight, is to treat the past as past, and to ask the client: (1) “Are you sincerely sorry about what you did?” And: “Are you committed to being a good person in the future?”

If the answer to both questions is ‘Yes’, then they can forgive themselves their past transgressions against their own moral should, and move into a future in conformity with that should, without any feeling of excessive guilt or shame.  (They might also need to apologize to somebody, or to make amends for their transgressions). We do not need to dismantle human morality in order to promote mental harmony.  This is a clear case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Moral ‘shoulds’ are not just ‘preferences’ masquerading as shoulds.  They are prescriptions. And proscriptions.  With moral ‘shoulds’ we prescribe social rules and required behaviours, and we implement sanctions to ensure that those moral ‘shoulds’ are obeyed.  And we proscribe some forms of anti-social or harmful (to others) behaviour. Where those moral shoulds break down, we see nothing but social misery and the fragmenting of society.  Therefore, we must be very careful not to contribute to the breakdown of moral order.

Albert Ellis’s original motivation for ‘getting rid of the shoulds’ was a noble one – I am sure.  But it was also short-sighted.  Who could have known that he would end his life invoking moral shoulds in the New York Supreme Court, while denying that there are any valid ‘shoulds’ about fairness (in newspaper interviews with journalists).  He ended his life in a paradox: “There are no valid shoulds about fairness; but those people should not have unfairly removed me from office!”

For more than fifty years, Ellis insisted on the following principle: “A bad action does not make a person wholly bad”; “We should accept them unconditionally, as OK, while objecting to their bad behaviours!” However, when it became personal, and his colleagues removed him from office, he did not always distinguish between them and their behaviours.  In private, he and his nearest and dearest called them ‘The Bastards!’ (Which is a global negative rating, which is ‘not allowed’ in REBT theory!)

The bell cracked!

~~~

The Institute for E-CENT arose out of the philosophical crisis in REBT in the period 2005-2007, and is the first post-REBT/CBT institution to set about the challenge of resolving the tension between logical imperatives and moral imperatives.  This we set out to do through the development of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), which was further developed to incorporate moral philosophy and critical thinking at its foundation.  The therapeutic functions of E-CENT are natural outgrowths of that fusion of morality and logic.  This was explored in Chapter 10 (of Byrne, 2017), above.

~~~

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.***

~~~

Additional problems with REBT theory and practice

In 2011, I wrote about additional limitations of REBT, as follows:

Conventionally, the REBT therapist asks the client: “What are you telling yourself, at point B (in the ABC model), to make yourself upset at point C?”  Implicit in this approach is a more or less explicit belief on the part of the therapist that the client “chooses” their beliefs, and could have responded differently than the way they did. (Erwin, 1997, pages 107-108).

In a video clip that I made on 7th July 2009 – which is no longer available – I argued that it was wrong to tell a highly distressed client that they are causing their own emotional upset by the things they are “telling themselves”.  It is wrong because it is totally lacking in empathy for the suffering of that individual.  And it is also technically wrong.

In what way is it technically wrong?  Well, it is wrong because it asserts that “people are not upset by what happens to them”.  This is not so.  People are upset by what happens to them – especially when what happens to them involves intense pain, or violation of the personal space of the individual.  But the precise degree of intensity of their upset is a function of their largely non-conscious philosophy of life as it applies to their disturbing experiences (plus their historically-socially shaped emotional wiring – plus the state of their body-brain resulting from diet, exercise, etc.).  Not every individual will respond in quite the same way, but most people will respond pretty strongly to being physically or sexually assaulted, shot at, or stabbed with a knife, and so on. This was the view expounded by Aristotle, but which the Stoics (unrealistically) reject! (Sherman, 2007: pages 109-110.  See also Aristotle, 1925/1969).

The REBT approach is also wrong because it discounts the fact that the client is largely non-conscious most of the time, and that the client responds automatically, tacitly, to the noxious stimulus (at ‘A’).

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

Front Cover.3
Cover design by Will Sutton

Transcribed by Jim Byrne

It is rare that any of us gets a chance to peer inside the life of a troubled individual, from a dysfunctional family, and to have our lives enriched by their struggles for freedom and self-understanding.  Furthermore, their quest for love in a cold world can motivate us to keep trying to promote our own emotional liberation.

~~~

Available in Kindle eBook for £5.54 GBP

And in paperback for £27.38 GBP:

Learn more:

Daniel’s Amazing Journey.***

~~~

The nature of the socialized individual

In E-CENT we argue that, it is only after the client has been shown what non-conscious attitude (or belief, or frame) is most probably causing their upset, that the client can choose to try to change their emotional wiring – or to leave it as it is.  But even if they choose to try to change it, this is not perfectly automatic or immediate.

I believe Albert Ellis was quite wrong to hypothesize that the individual’s ‘beliefs’ (or attitudes) were not ‘deeply hidden’, but rather “just below the level of conscious awareness”.  It seems to me (based on a study of Bargh and Chartrand, 1999; Gladwell, 2006; Gray, 2003; and others) that most of our emotive-cognitive wiring operates non-consciously.  And only very little of it can ever be made conscious, to any reliable degree.

REBT seems to be enrolled into the myth of the separate individual, detached (or detachable) from its social roots.  REBT believes that humans have fundamental goals which are “survival, freedom from pain, and happiness”.  This seems to relate to innate tendencies of the organism (which probably show up for the organism as ‘felt needs’), rather than ‘goals’.

REBT also believes that individuals have biological tendencies towards “both actualizing themselves as healthy goal-attaining human beings and also to being irrational and disturbing themselves”.  This is an illogical conclusion.  Just because my desires for those things which prove to be unattainable have the effect of upsetting me, you cannot conclude that I have a biological tendency to disturb myself! If I am trying to get something that seems pleasurable, and that attempt is thwarted, it seems obvious that, if I was following any kind of biological tendency then it was a tendency to pursue a particular appetite (which seemed to be potentially pleasurable)!

As against the REBT view, E-CENT believes that the so-called individual has innate and socially acquired tendencies to act in self-helping and pro-social ways, and also in self-destructive and anti-social ways.  (We call these tendencies the Good Wolf and the Bad Wolf.  Freud called them Eros and Thanatos).  But most human disturbance is probably not caused by this split, so much as it is caused by the fact that ‘life is difficult’ for all human beings, at least some of the time, and often much of the time.  Life is frustrating because we can’t always get what we want! And in the modern world, we are encouraged to pursue almost impossible goals, and to eat all kinds of junk food, and to live a largely sedentary lifestyle. In addition, many of us abuse our bodies with drugs and alcohol; and most of us are trying to cope with impossible stress loads due to economic insecurity and rapid social change.  And we have a history of dysfunctional families, which makes about 45% of us insecurely attached to our main carers – and then this leads on to a 50% divorce rate.  And most people’s lives have become pretty meaningless in a post-Christian world of neoliberal harshness.

Although REBT holds that “humans acquire irrational beliefs partly by social learning”, there is a tendency to downplay the extent to which human individuals are wired up in relationship with their parents, and the extent to which they (unavoidably, and largely unalterably [or at least not easily alterably]) carry their experiences of their parents and teachers and peers in their heads as models of how to relate in the here and now.  (Unless individuals enter therapy, and acquire new Internal Working Models of relationship [and new personality adaptations] from their encounters with their therapist – or they are fortunate enough to have an unusually curative marriage-like relationship, or deep friendship – they are destined to continue operating from the Working Models and personality adaptations they acquired from their encounters with their parents [and/or parent substitutes] in the early years of their lives).

For these reasons, I believe Albert Ellis was wrong to assume that individuals go around ‘making choices’ and ‘upsetting themselves’.  Human beings are habit-based creatures that mostly operate tacitly, non-consciously.  These two antagonistic, and mutually exclusive approaches to conceptualizing the human organism (the REBT view and the E-CENT view), give rise to two totally different approaches to the client in the therapy room.

~~~

The Relentless Flow of Fate

By Kurt Llama Byron

An Inspector Glasheen Mystery

Front KDP Cover, paperbackC4
Cover design by Will Sutton

For more, please click this link:

The Relentless Flow of Fate.***

Learn more.***
~~~

My deviations from REBT

Before I began to read about Attachment theory, I was unaware of the huge degree to which I was shaped by my parents’ influences upon me.  But I quickly caught up. The development of Attachment theory has had a profound effect on the shape of E-CENT counselling practices.  In particular, I place more emphasis on my emotional attachment to the client, and not just on the quality of my thinking and philosophical teachings, and this makes my work quite different from REBT/CBT counselling approaches.  A ‘good enough’ E-CENT counsellor will seek to provide a ‘secure base’ for his/her clients; to treat them with concern, care and sensitivity; and to model mindfulness, body awareness, and emotional intelligence for the client to copy, or internalize.  In short, a ‘good enough’ E-CENT counsellor should be prepared to extend ‘maternal/paternal love’ to their clients, as a matter of course.

My own deviation from REBT-proper happened much earlier than I had realized.  I was under the impression that I was a ‘pure REBT’ therapist up to about 2007, with the exception that I did not like, and did not use, Socratic Questioning.  I preferred to teach, quite didactically, the core principles of REBT.  And I used the Parent-Adult-Child model of Transactional Analysis because I did not believe that REBT had a credible or useful theory of personality.  I shared both of these deviations with Al Ellis, perhaps in 1999 or 2000.  (His response was to sidestep my concerns in a bout of Sophistic fogging, which disappointed me! But it did not dent my attachment to him and his overall theory [at that time]!)

However, my fundamental deviations from REBT were much earlier than 2007. As early as August 2003 (and probably earlier), I was writing about the fact that stress was a multi-causal problem.  That idea contradicts the ABC theory that all emotional distress (including the common manifestations of stress: anger, anxiety and depression) are caused exclusively by the client’s Beliefs (B’s).  Here is an example of my writing from August 2003:

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

“What causes stress? Stress is a complex problem. It does not have a single cause, as indicated above. It is multifaceted; or is linked to many sources and influences. It is related to your resources for coping with major life changes, and your perceptions of environmental pressures. It’s about what happens to you; how you respond to it; how you then feel and behave; and how you handle those feelings and behaviours.”

These statements are a direct contradiction of Epictetus, Albert Ellis, and the ABC model! (And they also directly contradict most of modern CBT theory!)

I continued: “Environmental factors that trigger perceptions that result in stress include: Financial problems; loss or disappointment; threat or danger; excessive competition or conflict; time pressure; noise and pollution; frustration; and many others. You may also be affected by many life-change stressors, e.g. Moving house; death of your spouse or other loved one; divorce; marriage; redundancy; bullying at work; promotion; demotion; change of lifestyle; etc. Your stress level also depends upon such factors as your diet, exercise, what you tell yourself about your life pressures, and so on. (What you tell yourself about your pressures is called your “self-talk”). And a lot depends upon your sense of control. Can you control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you confident and assertive enough to at least try to control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you wise enough to learn how to stoically accept those things which you clearly cannot control? The more control you have, the less stress you feel, according to the Whitehall Studies, conducted by Michael Marmot, beginning in 1984.” (Marmot, 2005).

Strangely, I did not spot that, from this point onwards, I had effectively parted company with Albert Ellis and REBT, because I was no longer focused entirely on the client’s self-talk; and I no longer believed that the client is upset solely by their belief system.

~~~

Coming soon: The latest book by Dr Jim Byrne:

The Bamboo Paradox:

Flexible body, resilient mind and wisdom in action.

A, Front coverBy Dr Jim Byrne; With Renata Taylor-Byrne

At the age of thirty-four years, I woke up.  Woke up for the first time.  Became conscious of the fact that I was living a life that did not really work for me – which had never really worked in a fully satisfactory way.  At that point, I began to seek wisdom – to examine my life – and to explore better ways of living a fuller, more satisfying life.

In this book, I want to share some of the fruits of my journey towards wisdom, happiness and health.

This is a book about how to take care of yourself in a difficult world; so you can be happy and healthy, successful and wealthy. Your physical height, weight, muscle bulk and so on, are not the most important determinants of your ability to be strong in the face of life’s difficult challenges.

Click this link for more information about this forthcoming book.***

~~~

Fairness and justice are central to morality

In Chapter 10 (of Byrne, 2017), I took a detailed look at the REBT position on fairness and justice.  In the process, I had a debate with Dr Michael Edelstein, a prominent REBT therapist, and one of Dr Albert Ellis’s early acolytes (from the 1970’s).  Michael refused to accept that it was important to take the ‘unfairness issues’ of couples, in therapy, seriously.  This is in line with Albert Ellis’s own position.  Ellis was often seen (in public demonstrations of REBT) rejecting clients’ appeals for fairness from life, with the glib comment: “Why must life be fair, when it’s obviously unfair“.  In Chapter 10, I show exactly why fairness is important – as an expression of the Golden Rule, which is the foundation of most systems of (deontological) moral philosophy.

In the final years of Albert Ellis’s life, certain things were said about him, and certain things were done towards him, which we, members of the ‘Friends of Ellis’ and the ‘Justice for Albert Ellis Campaign’, wished to oppose.  However, we were unable to develop a ‘moral discourse’ on ‘the unfairness’ of removing Ellis from office’, because we had voluntarily given up all the moral injunction words – should, must, have to, ought to, got to, need to – and we had heard Ellis during some of his public demonstrations of REBT, with members of the public in the ‘client chair’, ‘whipping them’ out of their attachment to ‘unfairness issues’.  It often sounded like he was implying that no client should ever have any feelings of having been treated unfairly.  The only justification for this belief of his was this piece of false logic: ‘Why must your life be fair, when it’s obviously unfair?’

This is false logic because it implies that the only valid perspective is that “whatever exists must exist; therefore, when unfairness exists, it must exist!”  However, that is only one use of the word ‘must’ – derived from ‘hard science’ and Logical Positivism.  The other major meaning is this: According to the Golden Rule, life – at least interpersonal life – is obliged to be conducted in a fair manner by all parties. I must treat you fairly, because I want you to treat me fairly.  I will not harm you, because (at the very least) I do not want you to harm me.  But beyond that, I also do not want to harm you because I can feel empathy for you when you suffer, and I do not want you to suffer.  And even beyond that, I utilize the Golden Rule because I was socialized as a child to utilize the Golden Rule; and I feel moral emotions concerning the importance of fairness, because I was socialized into a family and community that insisted upon the principle, and it is hardwired into my orbitofrontal cortex (OFC).

This understanding of the link between fairness and the Golden Rule means that, in effect, we must treat each other fairly!  Why? Because we must not treat another person less fairly than we would want them to treat us if our roles were reversed!

In other words, it would be morally repugnant, to right-thinking people, for anybody to expect that they will not be harmed by others, but that they can get away with harming others.

Furthermore, according to social intuitionism (Haidt, 2001, 2003, 2006) we have some innate urges to behave morally, and because of our moral education, we feel restraining gut reactions when we consider acting unfairly or unjustly.  But some individuals can and do overcome both their innate urges and their socialized morality; and we therapists must do nothing to encourage or facilitate such developments, which could lead to our clients being more likely to harm others.

~~~

Advert for book, mock coverThis book, about how Jim Byrne cured his own back and hip pain, has been mothballed for the foreseeable future, because of lack of public interest.

The latest book by Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling, is about how he cured his own back pain and hip pain.  He wants to share that almost miraculous cure – of conditions which are currently said to be incurable by conventional medicine – with those myriad people out there who are in daily pain, despite taking painkillers, having surgery or being given steroid injections.

Dr Byrne has recently healed his hips of arthritis, despite being told by a chiropractor that arthritis is incurable, and that he would have to have hip operations sooner rather than later.  He has also healed his own low back pain; and sciatic fibrillations in the back of his upper legs.

Now he is writing up his healing journey in a book that will be helpful to millions of pain sufferers all over the world.

For a page of information about this upcoming book, please click this link: How to cure your own back pain and hip pain.***

~~~

The need for appropriate guilt as a moral emotion

In Chapter 11 (of Byrne, 2017), I explored the concept of unconditional self-acceptance (USA), developed by Dr Albert Ellis (1962, 1994).  In order to understand the background to the development of this idea, I investigated the concept of unconditional positive regard (UPR), which had previously been developed by Dr Carl Rogers.  I then related the idea of unconditional self-acceptance (USA) to some of the most important concepts of moral philosophy, including the ideas of praise and blame.  Then I related all of these ideas to the newly emerging field of study of ‘moral emotions’, and showed that Albert Ellis was (at least theoretically, notionally) in the ‘ethical rationalist’ tradition created by Jean Piaget (1952, 1954), which holds that moral judgements are driven by linguistic reasoning, rather than by emotional intuitions (as argued by Haidt, 2001, 2003, 2006).  I say that Ellis was ‘theoretically’ an ethical rationalist because, in practice, he was not actually a moralist of any description, being mainly a pragmatic promoter of prudence rather than moral codes and rules.  (Wiener, 1988: pages xi-xii). He expressly forbade all forms of the moral imperatives: should, must, have to, got to, need to, ought.  And he insisted that nobody should ever be blamed for anything. Furthermore, that life does not have to be fair! For these reasons, he cannot be said to have any kind of discernible moral philosophy.

In examining the views of Carl Rogers and Barry Stevens, I came to the following conclusions: Unconditional positive regard, for ourselves and/or others, does not make sense.  We need to relate to people on the basis of how they behave.  We would not unconditionally accept having a son or daughter who behaved viciously, or maliciously, with others.  We would see it as our duty to change that aspect of their functioning, and we would not be very happy with them while we were working for that change.

Professor Jonathan Haidt (2006) argues that we seem to have an innate neurological predisposition to respond with gratitude to people who treat us fairly; and to respond with vengeance towards those who treat us unfairly.  Clearly we would be vulnerable to exploitation and abuse to the extent that we responded to unfairness with unconditional regard for the perpetrator.

This is a very important point.  Just because Carl Rogers can find – at an advanced stage in his life – a sense of ‘inner guide’ that he can trust to be good and wholesome – and just because Barry Stevens can find in her mind an enlightened state in which there is only ‘one being’, and that that being is Barry, and you, and me, and everybody else, all connected up together – it does not follow that we should promulgate this (inner directedness – without considering outside [social] influences) as a universal philosophy of life to be followed by everybody.

Why not? 

Because many people will pull those elevated insights down to the level of the gutter, and use them to justify all kinds of nefarious actions. I have demonstrated this principle using the experience of Hindu enlightenment insights and India’s problems with moral corruption.

Furthermore, Rogers is here discounting the impact which his early socialization – (with Christian parents, and attendance at a Christian seminary for part of his undergraduate study!) – must have had in producing his ‘inner (moral) guide’ – and he was certainly wrong to imply that this inner guide is invincible. (Indeed, he has been accused of at least one seriously unethical action in his life: See Cohen, 1997: page 206)[xi].

I reject the idea that we are all innately enlightened, or that we could use our personal enlightenment to escape from social morality. We (as a society) need to teach people at the level at which they currently exist, which is mainly the level of the pavement, not the level of the clouds.  That is why, in Buddhism, the individual is trained to be a moral person; a moral person; a moral person.  Over, and over, and over again.  Alongside this process, the individual is encouraged to meditate; to meditate; to meditate.  Over, and over, and over again.  Through those two processes, a solid, admirable kind of social being is shaped: a moral being.  The meditation process might eventually bring about a sense of personal liberation, but not a sense that, since we are all one, I can take your stuff.  Neither could it result in the view that, since there is only one being, I can kill you, and no harm will be done. (Of course, some elements of Buddhism are just as extreme as extreme Stoicism!)

Some Buddhist philosophy may also be taught and studied (in moderate Buddhist circles), but not of a kind that will cause the individual to discount the value of other peoples’ lives; nor their right to be respected, honoured, and left to get on with their own journeys. Ethical functioning must always take precedence over enlightenment.  Furthermore, to use ‘enlightenment’ as an excuse for immoral behaviour has to be one of the lowest forms of self-serving rationalization.

~~~

How to Write a New Life for Yourself:

Narrative therapy and the writing solution.

Writing Theapy book cover
Cover design by Charles Saul

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Prices: from £4.22 GBP (Kindle) to £13.27 (paperback)

Paperback and eBook versions.

Learn more.***

~~~

This how-to book contains in excess of twenty exercises to help you to get more of what you want from your life.

You will become clearer about your goals; and how to work towards them intelligently.

Journal writing, and various forms of writing therapy and reflective writing are included, with specific exercises for specific purposes.

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Paperback and eBook versions.

Learn more.***

~~~

Defining ‘unconditional self-acceptance’

I then looked at Albert Ellis’s principle of ‘Unconditional Acceptance’ of self and others. Unfortunately for Albert Ellis, there are two aspects of the definition of the word “accept” which could be relevant to his argument.  The first is: “…(to) regard favourably”. And the second is: “… (to) put up with”.

I have ruled out the second of these definitions, on the grounds that Albert Ellis was not simply asking us to ‘put up with’ ourselves and others.  If we go for the first of these definitions, then it would seem that “self-acceptance” and “self-regard” mean the same thing; so that Ellis was not moving as far from Rogers as he thought.  (And again, it seems to be self-evidently unjustified to ‘regard favourably’ somebody who is behaving unethically or immorally).

Ellis was interested in how to avoid his identified problem which was, in his view, that sometimes counselling clients were upset because they could not accept themselves when they’d behaved badly or inadequately.

More generally, he saw that problem as one of rating yourself highly when you succeed, or when you get love and respect from others; and then, on the other hand, rating yourself lowly when you fail in work, or fail to get love and respect from others.

This is a common problem, but as I showed earlier, Ellis’s approach is not the only way to go about solving it.  Ellis’s solution was this: “Never rate your ‘self’ as a whole human being at all.  Only rate your acts and deeds.  And accept yourself unconditionally, whether or not you do well, and whether or not anybody loves you”.

What is missing from Ellis’s presentation is a serious consideration of morality.  He omits to distinguish between “personal effectiveness issues” and “personal morality”.

In E-CENT, we teach that it is okay to let ourselves and other people off the hook when we or they behave ineffectively or inefficiently in relation to our personal effectiveness issues, or practical goals and actions in the world.  However, it is quite another matter to say, as Albert Ellis said: “Even if you kill a few people, that (action) will not make you bad”.   (But, of course, it will!  It will make you a dangerous murderer!)

And Ellis explicitly said that we should offer unconditional acceptance to Adolf Hitler. Erwin (1997) argues against this position, using the illustration of Himmler (one of Hitler’s right-hand men), insisting that Himmler should not be told he can accept himself unconditionally.

Instead, Erwin argues, “Even if it would make Himmler extremely happy and neurosis-free, he still should not have engaged in self-acceptance if doing so encouraged him to continue as before (in terms of his crimes – JB).

There are other things to consider besides Himmler’s happiness and freedom from neurosis.” (Erwin, 1997: page 108). And those ‘other things’ include moral and legal issues, which are ignored by Ellis (and Rogers and Stevens).

We do not accept Albert Ellis’s (or Carl Rogers’) amoral (and indeed, immoral) position.  On the contrary, if you kill just one person, that will make you necessarily persona non grata with the rest of society, because you are a threat to the peace and viability of society.  It will make you a law breaker.  You will be arrested and deemed culpable (or blameworthy) – unless you can present extenuating circumstances – such as temporary insanity, or reasonable self-defence – which will exculpate you (or nullify your blameworthiness).  You will be treated – quite appropriately – as a bad person, (a person who does not act morally!) – unless and until you have paid your debt to society, and have shown remorse and made amends.

When Albert Ellis invented his system of unconditional self and other acceptance, (USA/UOA), he was obviously operating at the ‘transcendental’ level of the Upanishads: the Hindu texts which caused so much moral confusion in India.  These amoral transcendental positions make no connection with practical, everyday reality. They are quite inhuman and immoral. And that is why in E-CENT counselling, we only accept our clients, and each other, on the basis of being committed to moral action in the world.

We call this one-conditional acceptance’ of self and others. As long as we are committed to behaving morally, and working hard at that commitment, then it does not matter if we fail in terms of practical effectiveness goals and targets (such as being efficient or successful in material matters), or in our general judgements (such as backing the wrong business option and losing some money).

~~~


Front cover, sleep book, Feb 2019
Front cover, DIY Couples, 2
Anger, resentment and forgiveness:

How to get your inappropriate anger under reasonable control

Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap the Rewards:

Better health, happiness and resilience

How to Quickly Fix Your Couple Relationship:

A brief DIY handbook for serious lovers

~~~

Discovering moral issues in 2007

In chapter 12 (of Byrne, 2017), I tried to clarify the split between me and Albert Ellis, on principled grounds.  Some of that chapter overlapped bits of the history of my revision of the ABC model, which is covered in earlier chapters. This included the point about adding back the body to the ABC model.

I then commented upon my restoration of moral philosophy, because of the lack of moral content in REBT.  This is the highlight of that section, addressed to the deceased Ellis:

“One of the links that broke in the chain that tied me by act of faith to REBT as a monolithic theory was the question of morality.  In particular, which side in the conflict at your institute, in the period 2005-2007, was correct?  Both sides eventually claimed the other side was acting immorally.

“At least a couple of members of the ‘Justice for Albert Ellis Campaign’ argued that I should give up my adherence to anti-demandingness, and that I should say: ‘[Certain people] should not do [certain things] to Dr Albert Ellis’.

“However, I was too solidly an Ellisian to be able to do that.  I believed that if we pick and choose when to say ‘should’ and when to refrain from saying ‘should’ then REBT would sound like a cracked bell.”

It took me months of agonizing before I realized that we need to distinguish between moral shoulds and other kinds of shoulds, and that we absolutely must have ‘moral shoulds’ if we are to sustain reasonably viable societies and know that we are operating from the Good Wolf side of our socialized-self, and shrinking our Bad Wolf side.

This was my big split from the ‘core religious beliefs’ of REBT.

~~~

How to Have a Wonderful, Loving Relationship:

Helpful insights for couples and lovers

A, Front cover,1By Jim Byrne (with Renata Taylor-Byrne)

~~~

Originally published with the title, Top secrets for Building a Successful Relationship, in 2018.  Reissued with a new title and minor changes in November 2019.

~~~

Most human beings long to be engaged in a loving relationship with another person who they like and admire, and who likes, admires, loves and respects them in turn.

But most people have no idea how to bring this about.

A few lucky people will automatically ‘know’ what to do, non-consciously, because they had parents who openly demonstrated their love for each other.

If your parents did not love, like, respect and/or care for each other; or they failed to demonstrate active love for you; then you are going to have to learn from scratch. But do not despair.  The answers to your problem can be found in this book…

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~~~

Discovering Albert Ellis’s extremely ‘avoidant attachment style’

I then comment upon the way in which attachment theory has moved me away from the coolness of REBT, in my counselling practice. Writing directly to my memory of Albert Ellis, I said:

“There is little doubt in my mind that I identified you as a kind of father substitute, and loved you in a kind of son-father adoration mode.  That was why, in December 1999, when you presented a public lecture and live demonstration of REBT in Sheffield, I was so shocked at my resistance to approaching you at the dining table, at lunchtime, for a chat.  I was quite happy to write to you, and to phone you (later), on ‘official’ REBT business, but I was resistant to approaching you ‘in the flesh’.  Why?  I believe it was because I had an insecure attachment to my own father, who was cool and distant, and quite punitive; and I feared that you would reject me or dismiss me if I had approached you over lunch.”

“Years later, when you met and got involved with, and then married, Debbie Joffe (now Joffe-Ellis), I realized that you had a very different kind of relationship with her than you had with anybody else that I knew of.  You seemed to be much more secure in that relationship.  Then it came back to me that you had neglectful parents, and that you seem to have developed an avoidant attachment style with them.”

(PS: This was confirmed subsequent to this open letter, by my reading of Ellis’s autobiography: All Out! – [Ellis, 2010]).

“And your attachment style, in most of your publicly available encounters with others, on video and audio tape, seems to me to be cool, distant and somewhat avoidant.

“A couple of years ago I began to study the works of Dr John Bowlby and other attachment theorists, including Dr David Wallin. This helped me to see that what I was trying to work on, in my two ‘training analyses’ – in E-CENT Papers No. 4 and No. 10 – was my attachment style, in relation to my mother, father and family, peers, and ultimately, my clients. (See Byrne, 2009d and 2010e).

“This has (eventually) affected my way of interacting with my clients, which is now very different from what seemed to me to be your more avoidant style.  I now feel quite secure in most of my relationships, including those with my clients.  This has produced a significant softening and warming of my therapeutic style.”

(End of quotation).

But even at that stage, at the end of 2011, I was still very much attached to Albert Ellis, which is shown by the fact that I highlighted this goal of mine: “My main goals today are to honour your value as a human being, and a great psychotherapist, who helped me, and perhaps tens of thousands of others, to get over their emotional disturbances; through your therapy sessions, books, videos, audio programs, public lectures, and (in my case) personal letters and emails.”

At that point I was not clear about my current caveat: That Albert Ellis’s style of therapy works by persuading the client to act in an extremely self-denying way; as an extreme Stoic; which may often be a long way short of what their life could have amounted to with the right kind of attachment/affect-regulation therapy.

And I also declared (in that open letter) that I was still committed to about 80% of the core philosophy of REBT, at that time.  (That is no longer true; though I still adhere to those small elements of moderate Buddhism and moderate Stoicism which also influenced some aspects of REBT.  (See Appendix B below).

I do not, however, go along with any of the extreme Stoic positions, including the Epictetus quote which underpins the ABC model, which claims that people are not upset by what actually happens to them!)

~~~

Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person:

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

The Lifestyle Counselling Book
Cover design by Charles Saul

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

This book has been found in practice to be very helpful to counsellors and psychotherapists who want to understand the role of lifestyle factors in human disturbance. Because diet, exercise and sleep are increasingly seen to be important determinants of mental health and emotional well-being, it is now necessary to rethink our models of counselling and therapy.

Paperback and eBook versions.

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This book shows counsellors how to incorporate lifestyle coaching and counselling into their system of talk therapy.  It will also help self-help enthusiasts to take better care of their own mental and physical health, and emotional well-being.

Prices: from £4.26 GBP (Kindle) to £12.64 (paperback)

Paperback and eBook versions.

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~~~

The concept of human needs

One of the most important points addressed in Chapter 13 (of Byrne, 2017) is the importance of the concept of ‘human needs’, and the denial in REBT of human need.

Although Dr Ellis has often denied that humans have emotional needs, he has also been forced to concede that babies need to be loved.  And he also concedes (indirectly) that in order to be happy, humans ‘need’ to achieve certain goals (e.g. Ellis 1994, page 77); but the word “need” is never used.  Another example would be this: “According to REBT theory, humans are happiest when they establish important life goals and purposes and actively strive to attain these”. (Ellis and Dryden 1997/1999).  Notice that he shies away from admitting that this makes the achievement of those goals a form of need – which should not, of course, be exaggerated or denied.

Dr Tom Miller expanded Dr Ellis’s system into a seminar format, and he lumped “needs” in with “shoulds, musts, have-to’s, ought-to’s, and got-to’s”.  In other words, to talk of human needs is to act from demandingness, in Dr Miller’s world; and also largely in Dr Ellis’s world.  (Source: Miller, 1993).

E-CENT, on the other hand, holds that babies are born with definite physical and emotional needs, and that these needs evolve over time, with a movement towards greater autonomy on the part of the socialized individual, but that we never get beyond needing other people in order to live optimally happy lives, as argued by Lewis, Amini and Lannon (2001). Indeed, Lewis et al (2001) argue that we need other people to help us to ‘regulate our affects’, or to soothe our emotional disturbances. This need is greatest when we are very young, but, they argue, we never totally outgrow it.

(See the E-CENT emotional needs assessment form in Appendix C, at the end of this book).

The concept of ‘human need’ was something that Albert Ellis denied all his life, and I have argued elsewhere that this was because of his own unfortunate experience of being an extremely emotionally neglected child. (Byrne, 2013).

~~~

Writing Theapy book cover
1, Kindle Cover, SuccesSful, RelationshipKINDLE30.11 (2)
Diet,exercise book cover
How to Write a New Life for Yourself:

Narrative therapy and the writing solution.

Top secrets for Building a Successful Relationship:

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

How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression:

Using nutrition and physical activity.

~~~

Beyond the ABC’s of REBT, and into the SOR model

I am now convinced that, because of the limitations of the ABC model, we have to restore the Stimulus-Organism-Response (SOR) model to prime position in our understanding of human well-being and disturbance; and to downgrade the ABC model to subordinate status, or, even better, to omit it altogether. (And of course, elsewhere in this book, I have shown that, in effect, we replaced the simple ABC model with the Event-Framing-Response [EFR] model, which substitutes non-conscious frames – which are permanently beyond conscious inspection – for the ‘well known’ irrational beliefs of REBT).

I then discussed the limitations of the ABC-D-E model for structuring a counselling session, because it omits the body, and thus it overlooks the importance of diet, exercise, sleep, gut health, historic relationships, and so on.  Subsequently I outlined one of several potential structuring approaches that can be used in E-CENT counselling, mainly using the holistic SOR model for assessment, and a range of other models for specific purposes.

Also, I explained that we do not use ‘disputing of irrational beliefs’ in E-CENT.  Instead, the E-CENT therapist avoids the kind of probing questions which are likely to cause an anxious or angry response from the client, or obedience and conformity.  We prefer to show the client the Six Windows model illustrated in Appendix B at the end of this book.

We tell the client that they are most likely looking at their problem through a fixed ‘lens’ or ‘frame’, in the non-conscious ‘basement’ of their mind, and that we want them to try looking at it through several (normally up to six) different lenses or frames, to try to change how the problem looks to them, because that will improve how they think, feel and act.

We are able to have a conversation with the client, because the client has a visual referent for the six windows, and their ‘slogans’ or ‘perspectives’; and the client can refer to them, think about them, and talk about how the use of those windows (to view their problem) affects their perceptions of their problem.

During the course of this conversation, we are normally able to ask some gentle, probing questions which consider whether the client is being unreasonably, unrealistically or illogically demanding or desiring of some outcome which they cannot achieve, and to teach them to accept the things they cannot change and to only try to change the things they can.

We are also able to help the client to recognize – on a scale of 1 to 100 – that their problem is normally less than 65% bad, and often less than 15% bad – which means it is not a total catastrophe, which would be 100% bad.  And we are able to teach them to give up damning themselves, other people and the world (without having to suggest that they get rid of all shoulds, or to unconditionally accept themselves, other people and/or the world!)  We never dispute anything.  We never cross swords with the client.  We walk with the client in the direction of their worldview, until it is fully articulated, and then we gently turn them around, and walk them back in the direction of our philosophically and psychologically informed worldview.

This is very different from the process of disputing irrational beliefs

~~~

Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons:

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

front cover, dragons
Cover design by Will Sutton

This self-help book presents two processes that are necessary for the digestion of old, traumatic or stress-inducing experiences.

The first looks at how to re-think or re-frame your traumatic memory; and the second is about how to digest it, so it can disappear.

~~~

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~~~

Paperback and eBook versions

Learn more.***

~~~

In chapter 14 (of Byrne, 2017), I reported that I’d had a little time to review part of Albert Ellis’s (2010) autobiography – All Out!

In that book, I found evidence that he had an avoidant attachment style to his neglectful parents, but that he was in denial about the emotional significance of their extreme neglect. (Byrne, 2013).

Furthermore, I argued that this badly affected his capacity to love, as indicated by the abnormal way he expressed his sexuality as a young man – rubbing up against strange women on the New York subway train system, to the point of ‘mutual orgasm’ (according to him), with no emotional or conversational contact. (And not just occasionally, but twice a day!)

I then looked at his relationship with his first girlfriend, Karyl, and his thirty year relationship with Janet Wolf, his ‘apartment mate’.  With regard to his relationship with Karyl, I wrote this:

“Your relationship with Karyl, your first sex-love dating partner, seems to me to tell us a lot about how your mother was with you.  In the section between pages 340 and page 351, there is ample evidence to support my view that you had an avoidant attachment style, and that Karyl was a cool reminder of rejection by your mother. Karyl is clearly just as indifferent to your emotional needs as your mother had been, and you vacillated between being avoidantly attached to Karyl – including the detached and cool decision, right at the start, to write a novel about this new relationship, alongside living the relationship – and being desperate for her to show you some affection.  [I suspect you chose Karyl because she was just as aloof and rejecting as your mother had been; and that you were trying to complete your relationship with your mother, by proxy, with Karyl]) .”

~~~

It now seems to me that the coolness of REBT theory is a perfect manifestation of Ellis’s own emotional coolness – coldness; detachment from normal human concerns – like commitment to relationships; warm, intimate sharing; and passion about the person (as opposed to mere interest in their genitals).  And I now understand why I could not bring myself to approach him at the dinner table in Sheffield, in December 1999, even though we had exchanged what seemed to me to be ‘cordial letters’.

It further seems to me to be the case that Albert Elis’s main form of self-presentation, and his theory of therapy, both manifest his core concern to deny that humans have emotional needs, because he had to deny his love needs when he was a young, hospitalized child.  As he has travelled around the world, as a grown up man, being cool and detached with many thousands of humans, he has been illustrating for us just how coolly and neglectfully he was treated in his formative years by the people who should (morally and ideally) have loved him. (Miller, 1983)[xii].

I was also surprised that he persists in his autobiography in restating his view that his early childhood experiences had little or no impact on shaping his personality, which he seems to believe was largely determined by his genes.  In this era of epigenetics, in which it is now widely agreed that genes do nothing without an environment to switch them on or off, I find this idea completely insupportable[xiii].  I agree with the more empathic approach of Dr John Bowlby, who clarified the damaging effects of childhood abuse and/or neglect.  And I also agree with the dialectical perspective taken by researchers like Sue Gerhardt (2010), who writes:

“My approach to understanding emotional life is a systemic one.  I argue that human beings are open systems permeated by other people as well as by plants and air and water.  We are shaped by other people as well as by what we breathe and eat.  Both our physiological systems and our mental systems are developed in relationship with other people – and this happens most intensely and leaves the biggest mark in infancy”.

For this reason, E-CENT counselling is very interested in what happened to our clients in their childhood.  But Ellis cannot do that, because he never empathized with himself as a child, all alone, in hospital, for far too long for such a young child!  This is how I raised that issue in Chapter 14 (of Byrne, 2017):

“…instead of being able to reflect upon what a miserable experience you (Albert Ellis) must have had as a five, six and seven year old boy, in hospital for many months, with very few visits from your parents (relative to the other children – and absolutely), you create the fantasy of how you sat in bed ‘doing REBT’ on yourself – a system of thought which did not exist at that time.  Then, in your critique of your own chapter on that period of your life, you accept – perhaps because of some comments by reviewers or editors of your draft manuscript – that you could not have been practicing formal REBT, since you were a young child, and REBT did not yet exist.  So then you move the goal posts again.  Actually, you insist, you were practicing a form of ‘common sense’ which contains philosophical elements close to and akin to REBT.  This is an incredible proposition, and one I cannot possibly credit with any substance.  I would assume you were actually practicing denial of your emotional pain, some of which you admit, in passing, in your autobiography.  On the other hand, there is no doubt that you survived that dreadful period of neglect, and to do so you must have toughened up remarkably; and become a significant, or extreme, Stoic.  Indeed, you must have become dramatically avoidant of others (like your mom and dad) in order to protect yourself from the pain of their absence.”

Today, of course, I would say that this was where, and when, and how, Albert Ellis became an extreme Stoic.  In his experiences of significant neglect throughout the formative years of his childhood.

It seems to me that his autobiographical account of his childhood is a just-so story – to use the term coined by Fritz Perls – in which he ultimately denies the malign impact of parental neglect upon himself as a child, because he is an extremely avoidant individual – not only in relation to his parents, but also in relation to all later lovers and colleagues – up to, but not including, Debbie Joffe.  (Perhaps Debbie was able to effect a fundamental change in his personality adaptation and attachment style [in relation to her] because she had a secure attachment style herself; and because she was absolutely devoted to serving him selflessly; and because she was absolutely dedicated to helping him with his REBT work).

~~~

Who Are You, And Where Are You Going?

Transformative insights from psychology and the philosophy of psychotherapy

Front cover, Who are youBy Dr Jim Byrne
With Renata Taylor-Byrne

Most people lead lives of quiet desperation.  They don’t know who are what they are.  They also don’t know what is driving their actions in the world.

Most people skip the challenge of becoming conscious about who and what they are; where they are located in time/history; and what is possible for such an actor in terms of future directions for a viable/enjoyable life.

Most people spend the whole of their life living as largely non-conscious victims of a script they wrote for themselves, with the aid of their parents, when they were less than seven years old, when they hadn’t got enough sense to write a really good outcome for themselves.

This book teaches you who and what you are; and in particular, it helps you to come to know your own personality, and your life script.  It shows you how to change your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, including your relationship behaviours, in order to produce a better future for yourself.  Change your destiny!

Paperback book, £14.95.

Ebook version $US 3.99.***

For more information.***

~~~

Moving on from Ellis

Because of my serious disillusionment with Albert Ellis, arising out of reading his own account of his life, I decided to cut my ties from him completely.  Really, I had no choice but to do so!

Up to this point, I had been committed to keeping REBT and TA as two distinct bases of my own Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) system.  But after reading Ellis’s autobiography, I felt compelled to incorporate the best of REBT (meaning those moderate Stoical influences and moderate Buddhist influences) and the TA (ego states) into E-CENT, and to separate myself completely from the legacy of REBT, which is not only undermined in so many ways by developments since 2005-2007; and marked by Albert Ellis’s relational coolness; but also deficient in terms of moral philosophy, and many other respects (as outlined in various chapters of this book).

From my perspective, from now on, E-CENT is my new REBT.  And the old associations with unreformed REBT will be washed away.

And so I have come full circle, from stumbling upon REBT as ‘my salvation’, to discarding REBT as a wounded albatross around my neck.

There are too many fundamental errors in REBT to make it salvageable.  It was created by a damaged man, and is a damaged (and damaging [because it is an extremely Stoical]) philosophy of life.

~~~

Summing up the problems of REBT

The fundamental problems of REBT, which also infected some of those other forms of CBT which use the ABC model, are as follows:

  1. REBT is based on an ancient philosophy which is extremist – Extreme Stoicism. It contradicts most modern social psychology, attachment theory, and affect regulationtheory (most of which came after Ellis’s creation of REBT).
  2. The ABC modelof REBT is a manifestation of that extremist philosophy. I have argued that this simple ABC-DEF model is not suitable for structuring counselling sessions, because it omits the body, and thus diet, exercise, etc.
  3. The ABC model is also inadequate as an instrument for assessing the client’s problematic situation; and it would be better to use the Holistic SOR model, which includes the whole body-brain-mind-environment complexity which is presented by the client’s arrival.
  4. Because of points 1 to 3 above, REBT cannot get to the point of admitting the following reality, which has been unearthed by E-CENT theory:

(a) People are upset by what happens to them.

(b) They do not (normally) choose to upset themselves.

(c) Their distorting frames of reference (or upsetting interpretations) are wired into their brain-minds, through socialization processes (e.g. learned helplessness and other learned emotional orientations towards the world) – all of which are non-conscious, and permanently beyond direct conscious inspection or control.

(d) They can learn new frames of reference, or new ways of interpreting noxious stimuli: but not easily, not effortlessly, not immediately; and certainly not by having a counsellor arguing with them.

  1. Albert Ellis was a man of his time – a damaged man of his time. And his time was a long time ago. He was more a philosopher (of extreme Stoicism) than a psychologist.  His model of the human brain-mind has been superseded by the models emerging from Affect Regulation Theory and Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPN). And also by recent research on the gut-brain connection: (Enders, 2015).
  2. And his system of therapy has been replaced – for me – by Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT). In E-CENT counselling, we look at the whole body-brain-mind-environment of the client. And when we do focus in on their mentation, and its role in their disturbance, we prefer to use the EFR model, combined with the Six Windows Model, because these models not involve blaming the client, or suggesting we know what they are ‘telling themselves’ to ‘make themselves’ disturbed. (Byrne, 2016a).

~~~

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2017

~~~

Anger, resentment and forgiveness:

How to get your inappropriate anger under reasonable control

Front cover, anger2

By Dr Jim Byrne

This self-help book is based on twenty years’ experience by the author of providing anger management counselling and coaching to hundreds of individuals.

If you wan to stop wrecking your relationships, at home and in work, than this book is a must read.

It is based on a review of some of the most potent techniques and strategies for controlling your temper that were invented by thoughtful philosophers around the world and across the centuries.

It will give you mastery over you emotions, and the ability to forgive those who transgress against you, without being too passive.

Learn more

Paperback only at the moment

Price: £14.75 from Amazon.

~~~


Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap the Rewards:

Better health, happiness and resilience

Front cover, sleep book, Feb 2019
Cover design by Charles Saul

By Renata Taylor-Byrne

This book contains a detailed review of the science of sleep, and what this tells us about the importance of sleep for a happy, successful life.

Now you can begin to understand why you need sleep; how much you need; how to optimize your chances of getting a good night’s sleep; and what to do if you experience sleep disturbance. You will also learn how to defend your sleep against modern sleep-distractions.

If you wonder why you are gaining weight despite your attempts to diet; or your emotional intelligence keeps letting you down; now you can learn the links from those problems to your approach to sleep.

It is now available, in paperback only.

Learn more.***

Price: £14.99 (GBP)

By Renata Taylor-Byrne

~~~

Endnotes

[i] Myelin is a fatty white substance that surrounds the axon of some nerve cells, forming an electrically insulating layer. It is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. It is an outgrowth of a type of glial cell. The production of the myelin sheath is called myelination or myelinogenesis.

[ii] Jacques Lacan (1901-1981); an online essay, at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/lacweb/

[iii] Mirror neurons were discovered in animal research by Dr Rizzolatti – an Italian Neurophysiologist and professor at the University of Parma. He discovered particular neurons in the frontal and premotor cortex of monkeys while doing research on the neural representation of motor movements.

[iv] Haidt, J. (2001) The emotional dog and its rational tail: a social intuitionist approach to moral judgement.  Psychological Review, 108(4): 814-834.

[v] Le Doux, J. (1996). The Emotional Brain: the mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[vi] Sherman, N. (2007) Stoic Warriors: The ancient philosophy behind the military mind. Oxford University Press.

[vii] “Cross-species affective neuroscience studies confirm that primary-process emotional feelings are organized within primitive subcortical regions of the brain that are anatomically, neurochemically, and functionally homologous in all mammals that have been studied. Emotional feelings (affects) are intrinsic values that inform animals how they are faring in the quest to survive. The various positive affects indicate that animals are returning to “comfort zones” that support survival, and negative affects reflect “discomfort zones” that indicate that animals are in situations that may impair survival. They are ancestral tools for living – evolutionary memories of such importance that they were coded into the genome in rough form (as primary brain processes), which are refined by basic learning mechanisms (secondary processes) as well as by higher-order cognitions/thoughts (tertiary processes).” Panksepp, J. (2010). Affective neuroscience of the emotional BrainMind: evolutionary perspectives and implications for understanding depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 12(4), 533–545.  Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181986/

[viii] Source: John Coleman, (2017) A Lecture at the University of Oxford.  PowerPoint presentation,  Available online at: http://www.jcoleman.co.uk/book_launch.pptx

[ix] Byrne, J. (2007) Am I completely determined by my genes and my environment? Assignment 5(c) for my Diploma in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy (from 2002-3). Available online: http://free-will-assignment.blogspot.co.uk/

[x] Wiener, D.N. (1988) Albert Ellis: Passionate Skeptic.  New York: Praeger. Pages xi-xii.

[xi] Cohen, D. (1997) Carl Rogers: A critical biography.  London: Constable.

[xii] Miller, A. (1983) For Your Own Good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence.  London: Faber and Faber.

[xiii] Spector, T. (2013) Identically Different: Why you can change your genes. London: Phoenix.

~~~

 

2 thoughts on “REBT: The limitations and errors in this system of counselling and psychotherapy

  1. I’d love to read more about your criticism of REBT. I don’t like the way REBT dehumanizes people for not living up to the stoic ideal. I also don’t like that REBT takes literally the metaphor of mental illness and treats suffering as a disease. I recently posted some clips of Szasz and Ellis debating to my blog, https://freethoughts.blog/2018/02/23/thomas-szas-vs-albert-ellis-is-mental-illness-a-myth/.
    It is so obvious that Ellis lacks the ability to think outside of the box or in abstract terms. I think you are correct in that he found a religion that worked for coping with life and applied it to the rest of human suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. RET brings artificial difference in thought and emotion. Thought need not be precede emotion always as REBTs believe. Emotion is powerful force and can be precede action due to habitual force. People who are emtional oreiented could not get much help from REBT.

    Like

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