A Rational Philosophy of Life

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The figure below shows how the framework distinguishes between the effects of rational beliefs about negative events, which give rise to healthy negative emotions, and the effects of irrational beliefs about negative events, which lead to unhealthy negative emotions.

Principles of REBT - Centre for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy - University of Birmingham

The client then identifies the underlying irrational belief which caused the original problem and comes to understand both why it is irrational and why a rational alternative would be preferable. The client challenges their irrational belief and employs a variety of cognitive, behavioural, emotive and imagery techniques to strengthen their conviction in a rational alternative. They identify impediments to progress and overcome them, and they work continuously to consolidate their gains and to prevent relapse. In other words, REBT maintains theoretical coherence while pragmatically employing techniques that work.

As one leading proponent of REBT has indicated, REBT is easy to practise poorly, and it is from this that one immediate criticism suggests itself from the perspective of someone who takes a philosophical approach to life anyway: inelegant REBT could be profoundly irritating! Perhaps more importantly, it would appear that the need to match therapeutic approach with client preference is even more pressing with REBT than with many others. In other words, it seems very important to adopt the REBT approach only with clients who truly are suitable, as it otherwise risks being strongly counter-productive.

On this point, however, it is crucial to realize that some clients specifically do appreciate exactly this kind of approach, and counsellors who are unable or unwilling to provide the disputation required are probably not right for those clients.


REBT is much less empirically supported than some other approaches: the requisite studies simply have not been completed yet, and the relevant data points for determining the best match with clients are therefore thin on the ground. However, one may envision clients responding particularly well who are both willing and able to conceptualise their problems within the ABC framework, and who are committed to active participation in the process of identifying and changing irrational beliefs including performing homework assignments in support of the latter.

Clients will also need to be able to work collaboratively with a counsellor who will challenge and dispute with them directly, and a scientific and at least somewhat logical outlook would seem a pre-requisite. REBT would be less suitable for clients who do not meet one or more of the above. And as hinted above in the section on Criticims, one might also speculate that clients who are already highly skilled in philosophical engagement could find the approach less useful. Perhaps REBT-style self help could be of more benefit for such clients?

Albert Ellis began his career working in the Freudian psychoanalytical tradition, but came to the conclusion that going deeper into a person's history and troubles did not actually have much positive benefit. His focus only on 'what worked' led him to the counterintuitive view that thoughts generate emotions, not the other way around.

Reasoning your way out of emotional tangles seems doubtful, but Ellis's pioneering ideas, and four decades of cognitive psychology, have shown that it does indeed work.

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Watching your internal sentences Human beings, the authors note, are language-creating animals. We tend to formulate our emotions and our ideas in terms of words and sentences. Therefore, if we are basically the things that we tell ourselves, any type of personal change requires us to first look at our internal conversations.

5 thoughts on “Stoicism and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy by Walter J. Matweychuk”

Do they serve us, or undermine us? Talk therapy aims to reveal the 'errors in logic' that people believe to be true. If, for instance, you are having terrible feelings of anxiety or fear, you are asked to track back to the original thought in the sequence of thoughts that led to your current anxiety. You will invariably find that you are saying things to yourself such as 'Wouldn't it be terrible if And ven if it is, will it last forever?

After all, if you label some event a 'catastrophe', it surely will become so.

What Is Rational Emotive Therapy, And How Can It Help Me?

You can only live up to your internal statements, whether they make something good, bad or neutral. Nearly always a choice Ellis and Harper challenge the reader to accept that it is not people or things themselves that cause us upset and anguish, but what we tell ourselves about those people or things. Something will remain 'bad' in your mind only as long as you tell yourself it is. If you do not keep creating the bad feeling, how could it possibly endure? Granted, if you are experiencing physical pain, you cannot simply ignore the pain, but once it is over there is no automatic link between stimulus and feeling.

Even with the death of a loved one, you cannot continue to experience depression over the death unless you keep reminding yourself 'How terrible it is that this person is now gone! After you have enjoyed a symphony or seen a play, you cannot keep feeling the positive emotions they sparked without going back in your mind to certain passages or scenes. Emotions need to be generated in order to be felt. Sustained emotion of any type requires thinking, and it is usually thinking of an evaluative type, that is, your judgment about a situation or person.

Therapeutic Approach of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy

People make the mistake of thinking that emotion 'just happens' in response to something, but in fact this is rare. Some types of anger are a direct response to a situation which relate to our inbuilt survival mechanisms.

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These are biologically rooted reactions. Generally though, it is thoughts you generate that determine the quality of your emotional life. Never being 'desperately unhappy' again Despite our great technological advances, human beings are little more advanced emotionally than in previous times. How is it that we have conquered space and the atom, but most of us cannot get ourselves out of bad moods?

As we have advanced materially, it seems the level of neurosis and psychosis in society has only risen; the main challenge for people today is gaining control over their emotional lives. In a chapter titled 'The art of never being desperately unhappy', the authors argue that misery and depression are always states of mind, since they are self-perpetuated.


When you are dejected after the loss of a relationship or a job, for instance, this feeling is quite understandable. However, if you allow the feeling to linger, its builds strength.

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  • Things snowball so that we become 'miserable with our own misery', instead of trying to see the situation rationally. Even in the s, Ellis was saying that drugs were only OK in treating depression - once a person stopped taking them, they tended to become depressed again. He shrewdly observed that some people secretly enjoy being depressed, because they don't have to take any action to change.

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    Presented for the first time with the concepts of rational emotive therapy, many people complained to Ellis and Harper that a more rational frame of mind would surely turn them into an unfeeling robot.