• Deric Hollings

Description vs. Prescription


When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I encourage clients to consider the difference between descriptive and prescriptive statements. Comprehending how these narratives function plays a key role in understanding how irrational beliefs impact mood, body sensation, and behavior.

For instance, if I suggest that placing one’s hand over an open flame may lead to a painful burn, this is a descriptive assertion. I’m not telling a person what should, must, or ought to be done, though simply what is.

Conversely, if I advise you not to place your hand over an open flame, I’m issuing an order of how you should, must, or ought not to behave. Such a prescription may stem from moral, ethical, legal, religious, or other principled rules.

Many times, the prescriptions we use aren’t based in anything more than a rigid expectation of how we want others to behave. Therefore, descriptions inform us of what is and prescriptions advise us about what we think should be.

Between 2019 and 2022, much of the world was subjected to firsthand experience concerning the difference between description and prescription. It wasn’t simply that we were told about what COVID-19 was, allowing people to determine what course of action to take for themselves, we were told how we must behave.

Herein, I won’t delve into the sociopolitical consequences of how poorly telling people how they ought to behave turned out. It may take decades for data to reveal the impact of emotively-driven prescriptions (i.e., masking, vaccines, etc.).

For more information about my viewpoint on “the science”—prescriptive demands versus the testing and explaining process in order to gain knowledge (science)—I invite you to read my blog entry entitled Report: Revisiting Protective Measures.

However, the purpose of the current post is simply to differentiate between description and prescription. While I may describe how demanding may not serve you well, I’m not prescribing that you should, must, or ought not partake in this unhelpful or unhealthy behavior.

Trying to control the behavior of others may not end well for you, kind of like placing your hand over an open flame. Still, as a self-determined, autonomous actor, I’m not here to say you shouldn’t do so.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

Photo credit, fair use


Cherry, K. (2021, March 15). Self-determination theory and motivation. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-self-determination-theory-2795387

Ciarrochi, J., Atkins, P. W., Hayes, L. L., Sahdra, B. K., Parker, P. (2016, October 10). Contextual positive psychology: Policy recommendations for implementing positive psychology into schools. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01561/full

Collard, J. (2018, February 24). Rigidity versus flexibility: The key to mental health. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/rigidity-versus-flexibility-the-key-to-mental-health

DCStudio. (n.d.). Hovering hands over fire. Motion Array. Retrieved from https://motionarray.com/stock-video/hovering-hands-over-fire-316078/

Enriquez, A. (2021, October 25). Q. How does fair use work for book covers, album covers, and movie posters? Penn State. Retrieved from https://psu.libanswers.com/faq/336502

Fallon, M. (2009, November 13). Prescription vs description. Language Trainers. Retrieved from https://www.languagetrainers.com/blog/prescription-vs-description/

Hollings, D. (2022, May 17). Circle of concern. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/circle-of-concern

Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/disclaimer

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/

Hollings, D. (2022, March 25). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy-rebt

Hollings, D. (2022, August 24). Repost: Revisiting protective measures. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/repost-revisiting-protective-measures

Johnson, J. A. (2020, June 9). What is autonomy and why is it so difficult to achieve? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cui-bono/202006/what-is-autonomy-and-why-is-it-so-difficult-achieve

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). A Word on ‘descriptive’ and ‘prescriptive’ defining. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/descriptive-vs-prescriptive-defining-lexicography

Surbhi, S. (2018, August 22). Difference between should, ought to and must. Key Differences. Retrieved from https://keydifferences.com/difference-between-should-ought-to-and-must.html

Turner, M. J. (2016, September 20). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), irrational and rational beliefs, and the mental health of athletes. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5028385/

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All