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  • Writer's pictureDeric 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


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