The new book on REBT that is causing a stir:
Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2017.
On this page, I have posted a book description; a 3.5 page Summary; and some extracts from the main chapters; including an extract from the contents page…
Update: 26th May 2017: Today, I have posted the flysheet of my new book, with a revised title.
Earlier, I posted the index, here: Index to my book critiquing REBT/CBT…
We are living through turbulent times in the world of counselling psychology and psychotherapy. On the periphery of the mainstream, the ‘cognitive turn’ is being challenged by the ‘Emotion Revolution’.
The burning questions are these:
What is the true cause of serious emotional distress, like depression, anxiety or uncontrollable anger?
And how can we all learn to manage our emotions better, and help counselling clients to become more emotionally intelligent?
These are vitally important questions for therapists, counsellors, psychologists and social workers, and for people in all walks of life, and in all parts of the world.
Up to the 1950’s, Freud and the behaviour therapists led the field. Then, in the mid-1950’s, Dr Albert Ellis began to promote his system of Rational Therapy (RT/RET/REBT), which claimed that people were always and only upset emotionally by their thoughts – or thinking about their thinking. Slowly this idea caught on, and spread all over the world, influencing other therapists, and giving rise to the CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) revolution. This system now dominates counselling and therapy, in the US, the UK, and various other parts of the world.
But the question is not how popular is this theory? The more important questions are these:
Is REBT/CBT the answer to the problem of how to alleviate the mental suffering of humans?
Is REBT/CBT an accurate description of how the mind works?
When Dr Jim Byrne first came across REBT, he would have answered both of those questions in the affirmative. He used REBT to manage his own emotional upsets (from 1992 onwards); taught it to anybody who would listen; trained as an REBT therapist (in 1998); and promoted this theory, and its creator, Dr Albert Ellis.
However, during the political conflict at the Albert Ellis Institute, in 2004-2007, Dr Byrne began to notice some disturbing cracks in the edifice of REBT as a coping mechanism for dealing with life’s stressors and challenges.
Then, from about 2009 onwards, through a long process of meticulous examination and critical reflection upon the theoretical foundations of REBT – worthy of Hercule Poirot, or Sherlock Holmes – he found several major problems in the very fabric of the theory, such that it can no longer sand up to serious scrutiny!
Albert Ellis made at least two fundamental mistakes in the creation of his theory of human disturbance, and these cannot be fixed without dismantling REBT, and replacing it with a new system of therapy, which correctly grasps the nature of the human organism; the centrality of innate human emotion; the complexity of the social individual; and the role of a range of lifestyle issues in supporting or undermining mental wellbeing
This book begins by reviewing the major theories of human disturbance; moves on to look at the ABC model of REBT/CBT and its link to extreme Stoicism; compares the ABC model to the simple Stimulus-Organism-Response (SOR) model, and a more Holistic SOR model which has been developed by this author. There is then an analysis of extreme Stoicism, following by a presentation of a new view of the true nature of human emotion.
Although this book looks at some important philosophical and scientific questions, it is written in a highly user-friendly style, and holds the reader’s attention and interest throughout. This is also a very humanising book for therapists who have been alienated from considering their clients as feeling beings, with vulnerable bodies and impressionable minds, by decades of the extreme Stoicism and ‘cognitive delusions’ of REBT/CBT.
Copyright (c) 2017 – Jim Byrne
A critical analysis of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy as a form of extreme Stoicism
I am in the the process of writing a new book on REBT. I have made a lot of progress so far. I have produced the first rough draft, which needs to be proofread, edited, polished and then published.
I now want to present a few brief extracts, as a foretaste of things to come. In particular, I am pleased to be able to say there is now a brief summary of the book, below, which should help you to quickly tell if this is a book you need to read, or not.
The draft book consists of 15 draft chapters, plus three appendices. Plus a Summary, Preface and a Foreword. And a detailed Index. To indicate what you can expect, when it’s all complete, here is an extract from the top of the contents page:
The full contents page can be seen here.***
And what follows is the complete 3.5 page summary:
This book contains a summarised account of the author’s journey through Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) – from beginning to end. He began, in 1992, as a fanatical supporter of REBT, which is the original form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Then, while trying to rescue REBT from two critics (Bond and Dryden, 1996), in 2001-2003, he accidentally discovered several flaws in the foundations of this theory of therapy.
Next, he wrote a series of papers, exploring some of the weaknesses of REBT – all the time hoping he would be able to salvage a defensible core of the therapy. But eventually, this led him to the development of a completely new theory of therapy, which rejects virtually all of the major theoretical and practical elements of REBT – apart from those moderate Stoical and moderate Buddhist influences that went into the origin of Dr Albert Ellis’s theory. (See Byrne 2013 and 2016a).
The intellectual journey described in this book took twenty-five years to complete.
The whole of Part 1 – which is a critique of the fundamental flaws in REBT (and also in CBT, and in much of extreme Stoicism and extreme Buddhism) – was written in 2017.
But most of Part 2 – which contains the historical documents – was written between 2009 and 2012, apart from the Introduction to Part 2 and the Reflections upon those historical documents, which were both written in 2017.
Although this book is a critique of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (sometimes called Rational Emotive & Cognitive Behavioural Therpay), some of the key criticisms apply just as much to all forms of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which utilize the ABC model, and which subscribe to a famous (or infamous) statement from Epictetus to the effect that “…humans are not disturbed by what happens to them”.
Chapter 1 establishes a fundamental flaw in the core concept of REBT, (which it shares with most systems of Cognitive Therapy and CBT therapies): the idea that humans are disturbed, and disturbable, because of their thinking, and their thinking about their thinking. This theory was borrowed from Epictetus, an ancient Roman philosopher, and then re-created, or somewhat modified, by Dr Albert Ellis, on the basis of a bit of ‘pure reasoning’, (Ellis, 1962), which Dr Byrne has discovered was then – historically – invalidated by an extensive piece of empirical research by Dr Martin Seligman. (See: Peterson, Maier and Seligman, 1995).
This claim (that people are upset by their thinking) is clearly irrational – meaning “not logical or reasonable” (Soanes 2002), for three main reasons:
- Humans are mainly emotional or feeling beings from birth, and our thinking, in socialized language, is grafted on to our affective states.
- Humans are not often (and certainly not normally) disturbed in the absence of a real, noxious, activating event. Take away the noxious event or stimulus, and the disturbance normally abates.
- The idea that humans are not disturbed by what happens to them comes from an ancient Roman philosopher (Epictetus), and is not supported by modern psychological studies. Modern psychological studies, in behaviourism, attachment theory, existential studies, social psychology, and many other sources, support the idea that people are shaped by their experiences; affected by their relationships; and that emotional disturbances are inherent in human existence.
Dr Byrne’s book could have ended at that point, but he goes on to examine Dr Ellis’s further attempt to support his theory with a case study – illustrating the use of his ABC model to help a disturbed therapy client. (The ABC model says: ‘A’ is an Activating event [normally a negative experience], which triggers a ‘B’ which is a Belief [normally an ‘irrational belief’]. The belief, then, ‘more directly causes’ the person’s outputted ‘C’ or Consequent emotional and behavioural response).
However, Dr Byrne has shown, by meticulous analysis of that case study, that it did not provide any significant support for Ellis’s theory – which was borrowed from Epictetus – which claims that the client was not upset by his negative experience, but rather by his ‘irrational beliefs’ about the experience.
Then, in Chapter 3, Dr Byrne compares Dr Ellis’s ABC model with the SOR model of neobehaviourism, (which says this: A Stimulus [S] impacts an Organism [O] producing an outputted Response [R]). As a result, he (Byrne) finds that it is essential to ‘add back the body’ to the ABC model; and once that is done, the core theory of REBT falls apart, because now we are dealing with a whole-body-brain-mind-environment-complexity, rather than a simple ‘belief machine’.
Furthermore, this complex-body-brain-mind engages in ‘warm-perfinking’ – (which means, perceiving-feeling-thinking) – which is coloured by emotion from beginning to end), rather than cool thinking and reasoning.
Again, this book could have ended there, and REBT would have been broadly invalidated as a theory of human disturbance. But Dr Byrne goes on to link the ABC model to the concept of ‘extreme Stoicism’, which is ‘a philosophy of wishful thinking about impossible goals’!
In Chapter 5, Dr Byrne reviews the research on innate emotional wiring; higher cognitive emotions (which are socially shaped); and culturally specific emotions. He looks at the fact that emotions evolved, to guide our actions, long before our ancestors could communicate with speech.
We know that those guiding emotions reside in the most primitive parts of the brain, and that they control the development of our thinking, in interaction with our earliest social environment (meaning mother, father, and significant others). And our thinking depends upon our feelings. Feelings, it seems, are both regulated and regulating. (Hill, 2015). Language is woven into our socialized experience, but only as one of many strands, the most fundamental one of which is innate feelings about everything we see, hear and apprehend.
In Chapter 6, Dr Byrne presents a succinct refutation of the various REBT positions, and a restatement of his own (emotive-cognitive embodied narrative therapy) E-CENT position on:
- The ABC model;
- The concept of ‘awfulizing’;
- The concept of ‘Demandingness’;
- The idea that ‘I can’t stand it’;
- The REBT process of ‘disputing’ irrational beliefs;
- And, the so-called ‘Effective new philosophy’.
At the end of this process of critical analysis, very little is left of the philosophy of REBT.
Then, in Part Two of this book, in Chapters 7 to 14, the author sums up his long journey from his early attempts to rescue REBT and its ABC model from their critics (Bond and Dryden, 1996), and shows how the whole theory fell apart in his hands, over a period a several years, as he wrote seven papers of critical reflection.
Finally, in Chapter 15, he produces an extensive, reflective summation of the entire book’s content.
Hebden Bridge, May 2017
Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne
…End of Summary.
Here are two extracts from the preface to this new book:
If you are a student, practitioner or fan of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), or more general Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), then this book will be of interest to you.
However, before I introduce myself and the book’s content, I would like to explore why we have any kind of counselling or psychotherapy at all.
Every human being is born into a pre-existing reality; a family (most often; but sometimes a family-substitute, like an institution). In this family, the individual learns what to think, long before they have any chance to consider how to think. (This has advantages and disadvantages. The most obvious advantage is that the family gets to pass on its morality and social conventions. The most obvious disadvantage is that the family gets to pass on its prejudices and neuroses!)
We are born into a family which is located somewhere on a (normally very steep) social-economic pyramid, which determines our ‘class position’, normally for life: (though a few individuals ‘escape’ into adjacent social classes – but not many, not often, and not much!)
Our parents may be emotionally intelligent or emotionally unintelligent – or somewhere in between, along a continuum. If we have the misfortune to be born to emotionally unintelligent parents, then we will fail to learn to name our emotions; to understand them; to manage them well; to understand the emotions of others; and/or to communicate with others about emotional issues.
Depending upon where on the social-economic pyramid we are born, and how emotionally healthy or damaged our parents happen to be, we will experience more or less stress and strain in our lives; which is directly linked to how anxious or depressed we tend to be on an ongoing basis. And if, further, our early development involves exposure to individuals who are either sadistic or sexual perverts, we may be grievously damaged psychologically, perhaps for life!
However, no matter where we are ‘thrown’ into this messy life (on Earth), one thing is clear: Our life will be difficult, at least some of the time. This is the fundamental reality of human existence!
Coping with suffering
Because of this fundamental reality of human suffering, we humans have a long history of trying to find ways to ameliorate our suffering. Over the centuries, we have used religious rituals; spiritual quests; mind altering drugs (like peyote; opium; alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, etc.); sublimation, in art, crafts, nature studies; distraction and diversions (like football, mountain climbing, etc.); acting out our distress (e.g. by passing it on to others in the form of domination and aggression); or by avoiding social contact altogether.
Buddhism and Stoicism are expressions of the human desire to find ways to moderate or reduce or avoid human suffering. However, they both have three fundamental flaws:
(1) Both of these systems are, to some degree, caught in a paradox. For they desire to avoid the results of desire! They seek to evade the consequences of evasion of aversive experiences.
(2) They both exaggerate the degree to which individuals are responsible for their own emotional upsets! (It is not that we have no responsibility. But our responsibility is after the event of the emotional upset, and not beforehand).
(3) They set up impossible standards of indifference to suffering for ordinary humans to follow! (And, at the end of the day, with the possible exception of Socrates, Jesus and the Buddha, we are all very ordinary, relative fragile humans!
So suffering, and the desire to escape from suffering, are key elements of the human drama, and key elements of every attempt to develop a therapeutic solution to the human condition.
Suffering is, it seems, unavoidable!
Theories of emotional suffering
The outstanding questions are these: Can suffering be reduced, or moderated? And if so, then how can this be done best?
Freud thought psychoanalysis could produce some improvement, but his patients would never achieve better than ‘ordinary misery’. Freud’s theorizing is very patchy and eclectic, so it is possible to find different ‘Freud’s’ in the many volumes of his writing. The one I find most ‘Freudian’ is the one who says neurosis is the price we pay for civilization. And that human disturbance is caused, not by what happens in the family of origin, as by the phantasies children have about their parents.
And Alan Watts went a bit further than Freud, on the subject of the impact of civilization, when he said that the loss of the natural spontaneity of little children is the acceptable price we pay for the undoubted benefits of civilization.
After Freud, the neo-Freudians and post-Freudians, including people like Melanie Klein, continued to blame the client for their phantasies about their parents.
Then John Bowlby changed the direction of this discourse – but only after decades of resistance by the Freudians – to one in which children are shaped by their family of origin; and they develop secure or insecure attachment to their parents depending upon how attentive and caring their parents objectively are – quite separate and apart from any fantasies or interpretations the child brings to the party.
In America, alongside the growing tendency of disturbed middle class individuals to seek psychoanalysis, especially in the big cities, like New York, there also arose a strong behaviourist movement, which ignored what goes on in the brain-mind of the client, and focuses exclusively on their behaviour. Later, with the development of cognitive psychology, the behaviourists became increasingly neo-behaviourist, believing that ‘something like thinking’ goes on inside the brains of their lab animals.
Lots of other fragmentations began to appear, including the updating of Freud by Erickson and Berne and others.
And then, Albert Ellis, in the 1950’s, stepped into the breach between neobehaviourism and psychoanalysis, and introduced his own system of therapy, based on his understanding of Stoicism, Buddhism, and the stimulus-organism-response model of neo-behaviourism.
Out on the West Coast of America, in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, Rogers and Perls were practicing their own new approaches to counselling and therapy, at Big Sur. Rogers’ novelty was that, instead of blaming the client, he blamed the parents. But perhaps blaming is the wrong game to be in. Perhaps understanding, informing and ameliorating would be the way to go.
Long suffering and short suffering
To try to bring this fragmented movement back to the original focus on human suffering, I would like to jump now to the innovation which was, though not strictly a system of therapy, a big part of the self-improvement movement of the 1970’s and ‘80’s: Erhard Seminar Training (est).
One of the most relevant things Werner Erhard said about human suffering was this: “I hate long-suffering stuff!”
And that was also part of the motivation of Eric Berne and Albert Ellis in developing their own approaches to what would eventually be called ‘brief therapy’.
Unfortunately, to achieve his system of brief therapy, and to avoid long-suffering stuff, Albert Ellis adopted the injunction: “Forget the god-awful past!”
Fortunately for him, nobody embarrassed him by asking him: “How precisely could I go about forgetting my traumatic childhood?”
I say this would have been embarrassing for him because it would have given him a choice.
He could either:
(1) Try to bluff his way out by trying to teach the client how to engage in denial, repression, avoidance, distraction, and all the other defence mechanisms that we know do not work! Or:
(2) Tell the story of his own childhood, and how he dumped his suffering during his many hospitalizations, one around the age of six years, when he was in hospital for about ten months with hardly any visits or comforting from his mother or father!
But if you read Byrne (2013), you will see that Ellis’s attempts to dump his childhood suffering rebounded on him later in life, and distorted not only his relationships with women, but also his system of counselling and therapy, making it cool, detached, and incapable of emotional empathy with suffering clients.
But why, precisely, does denial and repression of past emotional pain not work? Because, as Werner Erhard reminded us, ‘Whatever you resist persists! To whatever degree you resist (anything from your past) to that degree you get stuck with it!’
Erhard’s full statement (somewhat paraphrased) was this: I hate long-suffering stuff! I’m for short suffering. And what I know about short suffering is this. You have to face up to your suffering from the past. To complete your experience of it. To allow it to be absolutely. And thus to burn it out.
Albert Ellis never faced up to his suffering from the past, and thus he was never able to help any of his clients to achieve a full form of short-suffering. Ellis’s form of short-suffering could only deliver a hard, cold form of extreme Stoical coping; and not a post-traumatic form of more-complete healing!
I also hate long-suffering stuff. And my way of achieving short-suffering as a road to more-complete healing for my clients is:
(1) To teach them six ways to re-frame any experience of suffering in the present moment; and:
(2) (Once they know how to reframe any such experience) To help them to dig up their buried traumatic experiences from the past (which must be at least two years in the past!), and to process them, complete them, and burn them out.
Suffering exists. And we all seek to ameliorate it to some degree. Some of our strategies work. And some do not work. REBT works as a form of extreme Stoical denial of pain. But our system of E-CENT provides clients with the possibility of going through some short-suffering, and coming out the other end of the process with a more completely healed heart-mind-body-life!
(See Byrne, 2011/2016)[i].
[i] Byrne, J. (2011/2016) Completing your experience of difficult events, perceptions, and painful emotions. E-CENT Paper No. 13. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT. Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/
Brief extract: The core of the techniques of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) is built around the concept of “reframing your experience” of life, so that it will show up in a more tolerable and bearable way than if you frame it illogically and unreasonably. However, sometimes a client may have a problem buried in their past, about which they know nothing, and this buried problem – this ‘denied pain’ – is the main driver of their current depression, anxiety, panic, or anger. With these kinds of archaic problems of repression, we use techniques related to the concept of “completing” that archaic experience. Pages: 7.
About the author
A book can be a great power for good, or it can be a power for ill, or have a negative impact on the mind of the reader, and perhaps even on the mind of a whole generation of human beings. In this sense, we should be very careful what we read, and always read critically.
When I first discovered the writings of Dr Albert Ellis, outlining his system of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), I was in crisis – to be precise, I was 47 years old and heading into what felt like a terminal career crisis. I grabbed at Ellis’s theory of human disturbance with both hands, and used it to the best of my ability to handle that crisis, which went on for some years.
In the process, I taught REBT to anybody who would listen, and then trained as an REBT therapist with Dr Al Raitt, who ran, at that time, the Institute for REBT in Bristol.
That, I suppose, is the first part of my ‘credentials’. But you should still read this book critically. More critically than I read Ellis’s books!
Today is Thursday 23rd February 2017, and I am writing my Morning Pages in my journal. This is how the entry began:
I am feeling sad – I think – perhaps grieving… for… something. Some loss of the part of myself that was involved in REBT – or even created by REBT! To the degree that people (or individual humans) are ‘storied beings’ – products of internalised and self-created narratives about lived experience – then, to that degree, I am in the process of demolishing part of my own philosophical and cultural scaffolding.
REBT came into my life at too late a stage to be seen as part of my foundations – (unlike the Catholic Church, which was there from the start!) But REBT was a huge part of me, from 1992 to 2007’ish. A period of about fifteen years out of a life (at that time) of some sixty years. That equals a quarter of my life up to that point; and more than a third of my adult life to that point. So – yes! – I am grieving. I am disintegrating my ‘self’, and creating a new, storied-self, while still getting on with my daily life.
…End of extract No.1
About the book
This book is a critical analysis of the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), which is sometimes called Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (RE&CBT).
When I first published my earlier book on the childhood of Albert Ellis, and how his childhood had shaped the later-development of Dr Albert Ellis’s Rational Therapy, I was asked by one of Ellis’s fans: “But what about his legacy?”
Here is my answer to that question:
To the degree that Dr Albert Ellis was promoting moderate (or reasonable) Stoicism, he was to that degree being helpful and therapeutic, for his direct clients, his book readers, and the wider world which got to hear his proclamations. Reasonable or moderate Stoicism is, for me, typified by the statement that there are certain things we can control and certain things we can’t. And that our freedom and happiness depend upon distinguishing those two categories from each other, and then training ourselves to only try to control what seems realistically likely to be controllable in practice.
However, to the degree to which he was promoting extreme (or unrealistic) Stoicism, he was to that degree being unhelpful and anti-therapeutic, for his direct clients, his book readers, and the wider world which eventually would hear his pronouncements. For me, extreme or unrealistic Stoicism is typified by that statement which claims that people are not upset by what happens to them, but rather by the attitude they adopt towards what happens to them. The best critique of this extremist viewpoint that I have seen was presented by Bertrand Russell, who said that this kind of viewpoint could never be offered by anybody who had spent a small amount of time walking into a force nine gale with icy rain, and in an underdressed condition. Such a person could not maintain their equanimity, or be happy, or be anything less than totally miserable and feel as if they were soon to die a miserable death. And that would not be exclusively or even significantly a function of their beliefs or attitudes, but rather of the adverse effect of the environment upon the whole body-brain-mind of that individual.
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 1975 onwards, when some of the worst forms of neoliberal insensitivity to the suffering of the poor arose in the US and Britain.
Beyond that point, on the legacy of Dr Ellis, I would add that, to the degree that he was popularising some forms of emotional desensitisation, he was performing a helpful role. But, to the degree that he was promoting in vivo flooding – or ‘throwing clients into the deep end of the emotional swimming pool’ – he was probably often making a mistake, and promoting a cruel form of exposure, when gentler forms exist.
And his system of Rational Emotive Imagery – where the client is encouraged to get in touch with a feared memory from the past, and then to reduce its intensity – which he borrowed from Maxie Maultsby Jr – was a good contribution.
To the degree that he helped… so
…End of Extract No.2
To be added later…
Chapter 1 – Theories of Human Disturbance
Copyright (c) 2017, Jim Byrne
Sigmund Freud was one of the first major theorists of human disturbance in the modern world, at least in the sense of spending a lot of time thinking about it, and writing about it in case studies. Of course, as Anthony Storr has written, almost everything he said was wrong, especially his core organizing principle of relating human emotional disturbance to their biologized stages of sexual development. Because Freud got it so badly wrong, the post-Freudians moved off into more productive directions, especially the ‘object-relations’ innovation, in which the relationship between mother and baby was taken seriously. But did not become really useful until they began to incorporate some of the insights of Dr John Bowlby on attachment systems in humans – beginning with secure or insecure attachment bond between a mother and her baby.
Around the same time that Freud was developing his theories, a Russian researcher was investigating the digestive system in dogs, when he accidentally discovered learned associations between a stimulus and a response which previously had no association. This development was taken up by various American researchers, and the field of behaviourism, and later behaviour therapy, was born.
The ‘cognitive turn’
Then, in Switzerland, in the 1920’s, Jean Piaget, a clinical psychologist, who was investigating intelligence in children, accidentally stumbled upon the idea that the thinking abilities of children are age and stage related, and thus began the ‘cognitive turn’, which was to displace the psychodynamic and the behavioural therapies.
One problem with Piaget’s theory was that he only considered children as thinking/learning beings, and not as feeling beings; and he saw them as discrete individuals, rather than social beings. (Much later, Lev Vygotsky, a Russian theorist, would correct the social aspect, by clarifying that human learning is significantly dependent upon instruction, but that idea did not arrive in America until long after the cognitive turn had been completed). Part of that cognitive turn was down to one Albert Ellis, who had originally trained as a psychoanalyst in the Karen Horney (pronounced Horn-eye) School of analysis, in New York City.
Ellis’s innovation was to drop the emphasis on the client’s feelings and personal history, and to focus on their language, and the logic, or lack of logic, of their conclusions. This gave rise to Rational Therapy (RT).
The development of Rational Therapy
Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (RE&CBT), as it is sometimes called today, was previously known as Rational Therapy (RT), then Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), and then Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). This system was created by Dr Albert Ellis, in the decade between 1952 and 1962. (Ellis, 1962, page 8-9)[i]. In subsequent pages (10-17) Ellis reviews his disenchantment with classical psychoanalysis, and shows how he went back to the behaviourists to understand why some of his clients were strangely passive in holding on to their earlier acquired neurotic wounds, and why they failed to let them go when the environment had obviously changed. (His reasoning was this: They have no justification for holding on to these old thoughts and feelings now that the environment has changed! No good reasons. No reinforcement. Nothing was tying them to these thoughts!)
He contrasts his disturbed clients’ behaviour (in holding on to their neuroses) against the behaviour of dogs in Pavlovian experiments, which, he claims, tend to lose their conditioned responses when the reinforcement is withdrawn. (In other words, when the meat is not delivered after the bell is rung, the dog learns to disconnect bell-ringing from food time [according to Ellis, 1962: pages 12-13].)
(I go on to demonstrate that Albert Ellis got this whole argument wrong!)…
…End of extract.
Extract from Chapter 2
Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2017
Chapter 2 – The ABC Model and extreme Stoicism
Let us now take a look at the ABC model of REBT – which is the core model that not only determines the shape of each intervention by an REBT therapist, but which structures the entire 45 minutes of time spent with each client.
The ABC model is normally presented like this:
The ‘A’ stands for an Activating event, or stimulus, which results in some kind of response from an individual.
The ‘B’ stands for the Belief system of the individual (which includes distinctions to do with whether the individual is:
(a) being ‘demanding’ versus merely ‘preferring’ something;
(b) ‘awfulizing’ (which means describing something as totally bad) versus merely saying something is some small degree of badness;
(c) implying that they cannot stand something versus merely that it is difficult to stand it; or:
(d) condemning or damning self, others or the world, versus merely being critical of their own behaviour, the behaviour of others, and/or some features of the world/reality).
The ‘C’ stands for the Consequent emotions (and/or behaviours) that are assumed to arise out of the interaction of the ‘A’ multiplied by the ‘B’ above. The implication is that an extreme belief multiplied by a difficult stimulus will result in an intense emotional response; while a moderate belief multiplied by the same difficult stimulus will result in a greatly reduced emotional response. Hence, therapy consists of helping the client to develop moderate beliefs.
Different approaches to the ABCs of REBT
I have seen this ABC model applied in at least five different ways:
(a) The therapist (in this case Albert Ellis) uses the model to harshly accuse the client of disturbing themselves by the ‘irrational beliefs’ they hold at point B in this model;
(b) The therapist (in this second case, Janet Wolfe) uses the model to gently nudge the client in the direction of changing their beliefs;
(c) A former supervisee of mine (who shall remain nameless) uses the system as a set of three boxes: Box A; Box B; and Box C. He then interviews his client. The first major element of description of the problem is placed in box A. The second major element of description of the problem is placed in box B. And the third element is placed in box C. My former supervisee then uses his intuition to come up with some way to juggle the contents of those boxes, and guides the client towards some form of rethinking of their problem. (This is an example of the ABCs of Not-REBT! And nothing I tried to do could ever reform this person’s inability to grasp the proper-ABCs of REBT!)
(d) I’ve seen a video of YouTube of a therapist, allegedly “demonstrating REBT” to a (pretend) client, in which he looks for an A, a B and a C, but never, ever mentions the concepts of demandingness, awfulizing, low frustration tolerance (or thinking ‘I cannot stand it’), or condemning and damning of self, others or the world. (This is another example of the ABCs of non-REBT).
(e) I also suspect that there are lots of counsellors and therapists ‘out there’ who use a kind of mishmash of systems, including some little bits and pieces of REBT/CBT, like a notional ABC model. (This is probably the archetypal example of the ABCs of non-REBT).
In this book, I will not be paying any attention to the approaches described in paragraphs (c) to (e).
With regard to paragraph (b), the approach used by Janet Wolfe and some other ‘gentle REBTers’, my main critique is this: By using the ABC model to structure their sessions, they prevent certain important issues coming to light, including: the client’s approach to diet, exercise, sleep, use of alcohol and recreational drugs, family of origin, recent relationships, and general stressors which are impacting their Belief/Feeling System. They also take the focus off the quality of the relationships with the client; the client’s feelings; the client’s attachment style; and the client’s personality adaptation (which has implications for whether or not to focus on the client’s thoughts, feelings or behaviours [Joines and Stewart, 2002][i]).
But in this book, I will focus my attention on Albert Ellis, and his approach to REBT, because he wrote most of the theory down; promoted it publicly; and his style was therefore seen and heard and read more often than Janet’s or other’s. Therefore I want to explore how he used the ABC model, and how that usage links back to his commitment to an extreme form of Stoicism, which came out of his damaged childhood. (Byrne, 2013)[ii].
…End of extract.
[i] Joines, V. and Stewart, I. (2002) Personality Adaptations: A new guide to human understanding in psychotherapy and counselling. Nottingham and Chapel Hill: Lifespace Publishing.
[ii] Byrne, J. (2013) A Wounded psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood, and the strengths and limitations of REBT/CBT. Hebden Bridge: CreateSpace Publication Platform with the Institute for CENT.
[iii] Wood, D. (1994) How Children Think and Learn. Oxford: Blackwell.
[iv] Bruner, J.S., Goodnow, J.J. and Austin, G. (1956) A Study of Thinking. New York: Wiley.
Extract from Chapter 3:
Chapter 3 – Comparing the ABC model to the SOR model
The behaviourists did not consider the ‘mind’ to be a valid concept. There was observable behaviour, and observable reinforcement of that behaviour. And that was that. An animal experienced a Stimulus (S), such as a food pellet being delivered to them, when they pressed (or pecked) a lever. This caused them to link the food pellet (as a Response [R]) to pressing the lever, and so they commenced pressing the lever to get a new food pellet. This gave rise to the Stimulus-Response model of all animal behaviour, including human behaviour. We were all assumed to be Stimulus-Response organisms, with nothing in particular going on inside our heads or hearts!
After a while, some behavioural researchers (such as David Pribram) began to notice that their experimental animals – pigeons, rats, primates – were not as reinforcable as they should have been, according to behaviourist theory. Some of those animals sometimes seemed to have minds of their own; goals of their own; and memories of past experiences, etc.
Out of these developments came the Stimulus-Organism-Response model, which recognised that the organism – animal or human – processed the Stimulus in some way, and selected (from an array of possible responses) a Response to output.
It seems most likely that it was Robert Woodworth, an academic psychologist, who introduced and popularized the expression ‘Stimulus-Organism-Response (S-O-R)’; although it was often associated with the research work of Edward Tolman. This happened as early as 1929, and when Albert Ellis was studying psychology, he would have found it difficult not to come across one of Woodworth’s major introductory texts on psychology.
Ellis was almost certainly acquainted with the S-O-R model, which would have taught him that “…mental life consists of mental states (emotions, imagery, thoughts) and mental processes (judgement, thinking, appealing to oneself, asking oneself) as a function of stimulation (material, organic, social), motivation, experience, and knowledge”. (Buxbaum, 2016)[i].
Albert Ellis almost certainly took this model and translated it like this:
Woodworth’s ‘Stimulus’ became Ellis’s ‘Activating Event’ (A);
Woodworth’s ‘Organism’ became Ellis’s ‘Belief system’ (B); and:
Woodworth’s ‘Response’ became Ellis’s ‘Consequence’ (or Consequent Emotion/Behaviour [C]).
What becomes immediately obvious is that Woodworth’s/Buxbaum’s model was much richer than Ellis’s, because it consisted of many more factors that contribute to the processing of the stimulus by the organism. Indeed, we could say that the SOR model allows for the fact that the entire personal history of the Organism responds to the new Stimulus in the present moment. For Ellis, on the other hand, it is a specific Belief, chosen by the client, which on its own, causes the Organism (or person) to become upset.
[i] Buxbaum, O. (2016) Key Insights into Basic Mechanisms of Mental Activity. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.
…End of extract.
Extract from Chapter 4:
Chapter 4 – The nature of extreme Stoicism
In this chapter I will focus upon looking at the nature of extreme Stoicism, which will entail attempting to distinguish it from moderate Stoicism.
The main theorists I will have to review include:
(1) Zeno of Citium – (which is modern Cyprus) – who created this system of philosophical thought and practice.
(2) Epictetus, who was a Greek slave, who studied Stoicism and got his freedom because of his high achievement in learning and practicing Stoical approaches to life. And:
(3) Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor who applied Stoicism diligently to his daily life and wrote up his reflection in a journal which he called his Meditations.
So let us begin by looking at the life and contribution of Zeno.
Zeno and me
Human memory is very fragile, but I think it was somewhere in the late 1980’s that I first heard of anything about Stoicism: probably sometime after 1989. Initially, I came across a couple of random quotations from Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. And, if my memory serves me well, it was about two years after my introduction to REBT that I first heard the story of Zeno of Citium, the founder of the school of Stoicism. I can’t recall where or how I heard the story, but I can distinctly recall how I construed the story, and how I tried to pass it on to others.
This is my story of Zeno:
“About 300 years before the current era (BCE), a wealthy merchant called Zeno of Citium was sailing his ship around the Aegean sea when his ship ran aground and was wrecked. He lost all his possessions, which can be assumed to have been considerable wealth, and perhaps some family members. Walking ashore near Athens, and making his way to that city, he began, immediately, to expound a philosophy of life in which it mattered not at all whether one was shipwrecked or ennobled and enriched, or completely ignored by life. The point of life was to live in mental tranquillity.”
I told this story to others, drawing this lesson from it: “If Zeno can walk ashore and accept the loss of everything, surely you can cope with the relatively small loss that you have just described to me!”
I now assume that I had to tell myself this story first. I had to buy into this kind of extreme form of endurance of deprivation before I could consider selling this idea to others. And it never occurred to me that this might be an extreme reading of the life of Zeno.
When William Irvine begins the story of Zeno’s life, he has a somewhat different emphasis:
…End of extract.
Extract from Chapter 5:
Chapter 5 – Understanding Human Emotion
This chapter was originally written as Chapter 5 of my book on Holistic Counselling in Practice (Byrne, 2016). It covers the subject of understanding and managing human emotions, as conceived in Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), which is holistic and very different from the REBT/ CBT approach. As well as covering the general theory of human emotion, it also includes brief sections on how to manage anger, anxiety and depression.
Because counsellors and psychotherapists deal with their clients’ emotions – (as well as their behaviours, goals, relationships; plus their environmental stressors, and so on) – every system of counselling and therapy has to have a theory of emotion. This, however, is a significant problem, for three reasons:
- Firstly: Human emotionis hugely complex. For example, Stephen Pinker, in his book on how the mind works, draws attention to a quotation from G.K. Chesterton about the unutterable complexity of human emotional tones and moods and shades, which begins like this: “Man knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest”. (Page 367)[i]. Therefore, at the very least, we should show some humility in developing our systemic models of such complexity.
- Secondly: As one psychotherapist has pointed out: “The terms ‘feeling’ and ‘emotion’, and ‘affect’ are used in many different senses in psychology. A review of more than twenty theories of emotion reveals a plethora of widely diverging technical definitions. These vary with the technique of investigation, the general theoretical framework, and the value-judgements of the psychologist. Often, they are so diverse as to defy comparison let alone synthesis”.[ii] So we are not going to arrive at a universal definition of emotion in this book; though we have to come to some working hypotheses, in the form of practical conclusions, which allow us to understand and help our clients.
- Third: 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.
With regard to point 3, which is the most fundamental question we face, we should resolve that issue up front:
(a) In E-CENT counselling, 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 emotional wiring is 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 observable manifestations of feelings – over time. The main concepts we use are:
[i] Pinker, S. (2015) How the Mind Works. London: Penguin Random House.
[ii] Hobson, R.F. (1985) Forms of Feeling: The heart of psychotherapy. London: Routledge. Page 88.
…End of extract.
Extract from Chapter 6:
Chapter 6 – Summary critique of the ABC-D-E model
This chapter was originally written as an appendix for Byrne (2016), but it was never used, because of lack of space. It is presented here as a way of rounding out my critique of the ABC-D-E model of REBT.
In Appendix D (of Byrne, 2016), where we considered just how bad your problems are, and how to rate them more accurately, we used the example of getting upset about being stuck in a traffic jam. If you are familiar with the REBT perspective on human disturbance, you will be aware that Albert Ellis[i] would see your situation like this:
You were driving along the road; you saw the traffic jam build up; you formed this inference: “I’m going to be late for work”. That inference then triggered the ‘irrational belief’ that “It’s awful that this traffic jam is going to make me late for work. This should not be happening. I can’t stand this situation; and the world is a rotten place for getting me in trouble with the boss!”
I have a few of problems with Ellis’s viewpoint, which can be expressed briefly like this:
- People are not upset by words in their heads. And:
- Ellis’s definition of the word ‘awful’ is actually wrong and misleading!
- There are also problems with the concept of demandingness; the process of ‘disputing irrational beliefs’; and the ‘effective new philosophy’ (E).
The role of language in human mentalizing
Jean Piaget, who contributed greatly to the development of educational psychology, and is perhaps the original grandfather of cognitive psychology, believed that language played no role in the thinking of children. He thought language was just a medium of communication.
His view was summed up by David Wood like this: “Mental actions and operations, the processes of thought, are derived from action, not talk”.[ii]
Piaget was a biologist, who wanted to integrate biology and childhood learning theory; and he would have known that that all mammals think, but only humans have language. And, he further thought that, “although language does not create the structure of thinking it does facilitate its emergence”. Wood, 1988/1994, page 26).
But long before we have even the beginnings of language, we have several ‘emotional control systems’ in place. (Jaak Panksepp 1998).[iii]
…End of extract.
[i] Ellis, A. and Dryden, W. (1997/1999). The Practice of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, Second edition, London, Free Association Press.
[ii] Wood, D. (1988/1994) How Children Think and Learn: the social contexts of cognitive development. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
[iii] Panksepp, J. (1998) Affective Neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. Oxford University Press. And:
Panksepp, J. and Lucy Biven (2012) The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotion: W.W. Norton and Company. See the book description which is available at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Archaeology-Mind-Neuroevolutionary-Interpersonal/dp/0393705315.
Update: 3rd May 2017: I have today posted the list of book and article references used in the production of this book, here: References.***
More later: Watch this space…