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Practical Applications of Rational Emotive Therapy
10 CEUs Practical Applications of Rational Emotive Therapy

Section 23
The Humanism of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy

Question 23 | Test | Table of Contents | RET CEU Courses
Psychology CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs, Nurse CEUs

What is called "humanistic psychotherapy" and counseling tends to consist of (a) existential encounters between therapists and their clients (Frankl, 1959; May, 1969; Rogers, 1961; Yalom, 1990), (b) experiential and body-oriented exercises (Perls, 1969), and (c) transpersonal therapy (Grof, 1984; Tart, 1975; Walsh & Vaughan, 1980). The first two of these methods have often proven useful and even the third one has shown, at times, that it helps some people, though I still think that on the whole it does more harm than good (Ellis, 1994a, 1996; Ellis & Abrams, 1994; Ellis & Yeager, 1989).

The one form of therapy that has been most neglected by many humanist therapists is cognitive-behavioral therapy, perhaps because its main proponents have largely been secular humanists. Thus, Alfred Adler (1926,1927) was a pioneering cognitive therapist as was George Kelly (1955), both of whom were secular humanists. I started to do rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), the first of the popular cognitive-behavior therapies, in 1955 (when I had read Adler but not Kelly) and I followed a secular humanist model, which I largely derived from several philosophers, including Epictetus, Epicurus, John Dewey, George Santayana, Bertrand Russell, and Alfred Korzybski (Ellis, 1957, 1962, 1985, 1988; Yankura & Dryden, 1994).

Today's cognitive-behavior therapy was originally derived from REBT but also went its own way and followed, to some extent, the computer-oriented aspects of the cognitive revolution in psychology. Consequently, it sometimes became sensationalist, mechanistic, and rationalist, instead of, as REBT has always tried to be, existentialist and philosophic. Thus, some of the cognitive-behavioral therapies, such as those of Beck (1976), Maultsby (1984) and Meichenbaum (1977), used empirical disputing of irrational beliefs and added to them positive affirmations, as originally proposed by Coue (1923). But they included little of the philosophical flavor of REBT.

REBT, as noted above, is quite humanistic, but abjures spiritual, religious, and mystical overtones and implications. Its secular humanistic origins lead to some of the following theories and practices.

Like Kelly's theory of personal constructs, and in some ways more so, REBT is highly constructivist. It holds that although humans largely learn their goals, standards, and values from their family and their culture, they construct, yes, create, most of their emotional disturbances. For, unlike rats and guinea pigs, they take their strong desires and preferences, and they raise and propel them into Jehovian, absolutist musts, shoulds, and demands. Thus, when people want and prefer to succeed at school, work, or love, they frequently insist and command, "At all times and under all conditions I must, I have to succeed!" Because their self-constructed musts are often unrealistic and often impossible to achieve, they do not merely (as psychoanalysis and behavior therapy claim) get disturbed or acquire disturbances. More important, says REBT, they make themselves upset-consciously and unconsciously construct their musts and the emotional and behavioral disturbances that stem from these imperatives (Dryden, 1994a, 1994b, 1995; Ellis, 1973, 1988, 1991a, 1991b, 1994a; Ellis & Dryden, 1990;Yankura & Dryden, 1994).

REBT, with Epictetus and several other ancient philosophers, holds that it is not things and events that upset us but our view of these Activating Events (A's). Unfortunately A's influence us, but our B's (Beliefs) about these A's largely bring about disturbed C's (Consequences), such as anxiety and depression. Therefore, to undisturb ourselves, we can proceed to D-to actively and forcefully Dispute our self-defeating, musturbatory B's. The ABCD Theory of emotional disturbance and how to change it is unusually phenomenalistic.

The ABC's of REBT also stress the meanings and interpretations people give to events and to results rather than the events and results in themselves. Thus, being thwarted at point A may mean a horrible hassle to one person and mean an adventurous challenge to another. Also, feeling anxious at point C may be viewed as awful and terrible by one individual, who thereby creates her or his own great anxiety about anxiety and makes himself or herself doubly or triply disturbed. But another person may view this same kind of anxiety as "damned inconvenient" and may make real efforts to understand and to cope with it. REBT tries to help people look at the meanings and interpretations they give to events and results and, especially, to their own possibilities of creating new meanings and interpretations. It focuses not merely on people's gruesome past and present but also on their possibilities for the future (Ellis, 1991 a, 1991 b).

Existential Choice
Unlike most other therapies, REBT holds that people, even though they may not be fully aware of this, largely choose their dysfunctional core philosophies and lifestyles. Consciously and unconsciously, they mainly train themselves to feel panicked, depressed, self-hating, and enraged, rather than get conditioned to feel these ways. They are biologically and socially predisposed to needlessly upset themselves, usually from childhood onward, to create dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and they hardly have complete free will. But they still have a significant degree of choice, and they therefore can almost always choose to think, feel, and behave in less disturbed and more fulfilling ways.

Self- Fulfillment and Long-range Hedonism
REBT theorizes that people will not greatly enjoy or fulfill themselves when they make themselves distinctly disturbed, so it first helps them to significantly reduce their disturbances. It favors hedonism and fulfillment and tries to help people become less disturbed and happier. However, because immediate gratification-like excessive drinking--may easily lead to harmful results, REBT favors long-range rather than short-range hedonism.

Unconditional Self-Acceptance
Like person-centered therapy (Rogers, 1961), REBT accepts people unconditionally, whether or not they perform well or are likeable. But it also actively teaches them how to unconditionally accept themselves (and others). It shows them they can choose to fully accept themselves, no matter what they do, just because they choose to do so. It also shows them a more elegant philosophical solution in which they refuse to rate themselves and their totality at all, and only rate what they do and do not do (Berne, 1972; Ellis, 1973, 1985, 1988, 1994a; Ellis & Dryden, 1990, 1991; Hauck, 1991; Mills, 1993).

Flexibility and Alternative Seeking
While helping people to give up their dogmatic, rigid shoulds and musts, REBT also shows them how to look for other alternative solutions and pleasures. As they work to change their absolutist demands, they see the wide world for what it is-a place with many possible knowledges and adventures. They learn and teach themselves that either/or rules are often unnecessary and that all kinds of possibilities ("both/and" or "and/also") can be made to occur (Crawford, 1988; Ellis, 1962, 1985, 1994a, 1996; FitzMaurice, 1994; Korzybski, 1933).

Profound Philosophical Change
Like the other cognitive-behavior therapies, REBT helps people to give up their unrealistic, anti-empirical attributions and inferences, such as, "Because he frowned, I am sure he thinks I acted badly, he hates me, and he knows I am a real loser!" It shows them how to dispute and challenge these misperceptions and false Beliefs. But it also looks beyond them to people's absolutist demands by which they often create their mispcrception. Such as, "He absolutely must, and at all times, approve of me. And because he frowned this time--as he must not!--that proves that I acted badly, that he hates me, and that he knows I am a real loser!" Instead of just getting to people's disparate dysfunctional cognitions, REBT tries to help them get to their basic, core philosophies from which these spring, and to show them how to actively dispute them until they make a profound philosophic change. As they make this change, they may change their basic patterns of dysfunctional thinking and automatically and tacitly tend to think more rationally in the future.

Individuality and Sociality
Although REBT has been part of the human potential movement since the 1960s, REBT practitioners have tried to avoid its excesses by helping people see that they choose to live in a social group and that they are interdependent with this group. An essential part of people's lives is group living and their economic, ecological, political, and other happiness depends on the well-functioning of their community. While they had better not be too self-sacrificing and other-directed, they had also better not be too self-indulgent and self-centered. The principle of both/and, rather than either/or, is important. Active democratic participation in community affairs rather than self-centered isolation will usually help oneself and one's social group. REBT tries to help each individual in a family, community, or other system understand and healthfully change himself or herself. But it also stresses the importance of improving and changing the system in which all humans interdependently live (Ellis, 1985, 1991a, 1994a; Ellis & Dryden, 1991, 1997).

Therapeutic Encounter
REBT consists of a therapeutic encounter between the client and the therapist in the course of which the therapist may not personally like or want to befriend all clients but cares very much about helping them overcome their emotional behavioral problems and lead happier lives. Like their clients, therapists and counselors are humans in their own right and are not blank screens, nor are they purely objective. They may therefore reveal a good deal of themselves to clients and have human relationships with them, but still take care to be responsible professionals and not get personally involved with their clients. REBT practitioners clearly show clients their shortcomings and disturbances, but always try to accept them as people, to give them unconditional acceptance no matter how badly they perform, and never to condemn them for their poor behaviors. But in addition to giving and modeling what Rogers (1961) calls unconditional positive regard to their clients, REBT professionals actively-directively teach them how to give it to themselves. For REBT holds that most clients easily and naturally damn themselves as well as their dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and actions, and that unless they are specifically taught the humanistic philosophy of self-acceptance, they are not likely to devise it and work for it entirely on their own. REBT, therefore, is collaborative and instructive, supportive and active-directive. It uses the therapeutic relationship as a vehicle to show clients how to relate to one human, the therapist, and therefore to be able to relate better to others. But it also teaches a large number of cognitive, emotive, and behavioral methods that clients can use to help themselves function in their intrapersonal, interpersonal, and community relationships (Ellis, 1973, 1985, 1994a, 1996; Ellis & Harper, 1997; Franklin, 1993; Hauck, 1991; Mills, 1993).
-Ellis, Albert; The Humanism of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy and Other Cognitive Behavior Therapies; Journal of Humanistic Education & Development; Dec 1996; Vol. 35, Issue 2.

Personal Reflection Exercise #9
The preceding section contained information about the humanism of rational-emotive behavior therapy. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Like the other cognitive-behavior therapies, what does REBT help people to give up? Record the letter of the correct answer the Test.

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