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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Focus on the Target Problem


Unlike some people within the field of mental, emotional, and behavioral health or wellness, I’ve chosen not to ditch the term “target” when referring to an intended objective. For context, consider how one source infantilizingly states:


“Target” sounds a tad aggressive, like militaristic terms we try to avoid. And it may make people feel they’re being, ahem, targeted — rather than prioritized, which is what we actually mean! This connotation can get especially dicey when you’re writing about marginalized communities.


I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and rather than conducting myself as a moralizing busybody who aims to language-police others, I’ll target in an appropriate manner. Besides, I don’t take issue with “militaristic terms,” having served in the military and gained appreciation from lessons learned through my service.


As an example, I recall being on Edson Range as a Marine and focusing intently on the target in front of me. There were 50 targets downrange and I was required to aim solely at my assigned objective, not the target to the left, right, or otherwise.


This is the process of target acquisition, which one source expresses as relating to the detection and identification of the location of a target in sufficient detail to permit the effective employment of lethal and non-lethal means. I can apply this “non-lethal means” condition to matters related to REBT.


For instance, page 60 of The REBT Therapist’s Pocket Companion invites REBT practitioners to encourage clients to select and work on a specific problem when in a session. By retaining “focus on this target” at hand, specific examples may be applied to the issue, per page 61.


To illustrate this point using “militaristic terms,” suppose I was firing on Edson Range and my weapon malfunctioned or “jammed,” in common parlance. What would I do? According to one Marine source:


Shooters learn an immediate action drill, a method used to quickly repair several malfunctions that occur on the firing line. The breakdown of the immediate action drill involves tapping the magazine, racking the charging handle to the rear, sending the bolt back to its original position and attempting to resume fire. Applying the “tap, rack, bang” technique while on the firing line allows shooters to clear a stoppage as it occurs.


Transitioning this “tad aggressive” terminology to an REBT example, if a client was experiencing psychological malfunction—known in REBT as self-disturbance—I could encourage the clearing of one’s own stoppage by reorienting the client to the target at hand.


Disputation of irrational beliefs or unconditional acceptance could then be employed so that the individual could resume regular operations. Remaining on target is crucial so that once the stoppage is cleared a person doesn’t have to search for the intended objective all over again.


Addressing this matter, page 62 of The REBT Therapist’s Pocket Companion encourages REBT practitioners to fully work through the target problem before moving to another example or issue. Page 63 then delves into “ego-based” and “non-ego-based” targeted problems.


Helpfully, one REBT source states of ego-based disturbance:


Ego disturbance is the self-defeating fear and shame that results when a person fears a future failure or has already failed. In their thinking, they jump to the conclusion that a particular failed attempt defines them as a failure, that is, a failure as a person.


As an example, when on Edson Range and I failed to place a series of shots in a row on the intended targeted bullseye, I may’ve unhelpfully concluded, “I’m a failure,” rather than, “I failed at meeting my expectation.” This self-defeating attitude could then lead to fear of repeated instances of validation concerning my self-disturbing narrative.


The same productive REBT source adds of non-ego-based disturbance:


This disturbance is an extreme attitude of unbearability. In non-ego upset, we consider either a particular situation or the feelings we might experience before, during, or after facing a difficult situation as unbearable. Non-ego based anxiety rooted in an attitude of unbearability leads to avoidance. Avoidance prevents us from learning that we can bear adversity, withstand the uncomfortable feelings we may experience, and tolerate failure despite not wanting to fail.


Sticking with my Edson Range example, I may’ve unproductively concluded, “I can’t bear missing the bullseye,” which relates to low frustration tolerance or “unbearability.” When irrationally convincing myself that missing my intended aim is literally intolerable, I’d suffer the consequences of my inflexible attitude.


Therefore, use of REBT can help resolve self-disturbance when a person disputes unnecessarily rigid beliefs and accepts that although one would prefer to perform well, one doesn’t have to do so. Importantly, focus on the target problem is a method of fully resolving issues one by one.


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—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, 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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