Creative writing and the therapeutic journey

Blog Post No. 155

18th July 2017 – Updated on 22nd January 2019

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2018-2019

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Recent books

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

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Book Descriptions:

Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: 

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

Front cover Lifestyle Counselling

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications

Available at Amazon outlets.***

The contents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Write A New Life for Yourself:

Narrative therapy and the writing solution

Writing Theapy book cover

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications

Available as a paperback at Amazon outlets.***

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

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

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

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

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How to control your anger, anxiety and depression,

Using nutrition and physical exercise

Front cover design 4

By Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications.

Available at Amazon outlets.***

1. Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top secrets for

Building a Successful Relationship: 

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

By Dr Jim Byrne

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

The full paperback cover, by Charles Saul

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

Pre-publication review

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

Dr Nazir Hussain

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

September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent publications

Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons:

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

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Holistic Counselling in Practice:

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

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

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

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

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Introduction to first draft of this blog post

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

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

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

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The frustrations of writing

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

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

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

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

8-physical-symptoms-of-stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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People love simplicity and side-tracks

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

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

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

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

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

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Conclusion

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

Coaching, counselling and therapy for writers.***

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

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

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

 

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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Albert Ellis’s childhood shaped REBT

Blog Post No.117

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

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

Copyright ©Jim Byrne, 2015/2017

Introduction

It is not easy being me!

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

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

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

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

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

Foreword

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

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

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

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

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

Cognitive empathy versus emotional empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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Footnotes

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

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

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

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

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

Family conflict and violence at Christmas time

Blog Post No.150

By Dr Jim Byrne

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

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

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

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2015-2016

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elaboration

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

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

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

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Equality 1: The principle of negotiation and fairness

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

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

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On the importance of fairness, justice and morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The debate in 2010

Back to what I wrote to Michael in 2010:

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

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

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

Objective criteria in couple conflict

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

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

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

# Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# Accepting change; and:

# Being willing to compromise.

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

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

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

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

Here are my attempted answers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# 1 Seek mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# 2 Accept change; and:

# 3 Be willing to compromise.

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

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Moving on…

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

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

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

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

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

My experience

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

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

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That’s all for this week.

Part 2 will look at a power and control issue!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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