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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Reasoning With the Unreasonable

 

In a blogpost entitled What Would it Take to Change Your Mind? I discussed willingness to change my mind when considering persuasive evidence. This is because I view myself as mostly reasonable—in accordance with reason (a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense).

 

As a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) practitioner, a significant portion of my clinical practice involves persuasion. In particular, I aim to help people reduce their level of self-disturbance through use of techniques regarding this psychotherapeutic modality.

 

REBT theory uses the ABC model to illustrate how when Activating events (“Actions”) occur and people maintain irrational Beliefs about the events, these unhelpful assumptions – and not the actual occurrences – are what create unpleasant cognitive, emotive, bodily sensation, and behavioral Consequences.

 

In particular, there are four predominate irrational beliefs which people use: demandingness, awfulizing, low frustration tolerance, and global evaluations. Addressing these, the ABC model incorporates Disputation of unhelpful assumptions in order to explore Effective new beliefs.

 

Regarding demandingness, the late psychologist who developed REBT, Albert Ellis, used the term “musturbation” to describe three major must-type demands. He stated, “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.”

 

Often, I find that people with unreasonable demands musturbate to the point of self-disturbance and it can be quite difficult to persuade them to consider changing their minds. Noteworthy, the beliefs of these individuals, and not the people themselves, are what are unreasonable.

 

I express this distinction, because people are not their beliefs. Contemplating this matter, I’m reminded of a quote attributed to the late satirist Jonathan Swift, “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired.”

 

The evolution of this expression is commonly understood to state, “You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place.” Regarding these quotes, I’m further reminded of something I once heard when training for a mental health technique.

 

Promoting use of the psychotherapeutic modality, an Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) trainer challenged use of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) by expressing something like, “It’s impossible to reason people out of a highly emotional state.”

 

While appreciating the Swift quote, and derivatives thereof, I rejected the EMDR trainer’s proposal. Of course, my position wasn’t grounded in logic or reason, because I entered training for the model with skepticism of its claims concerning how the technique actually worked.

 

Therefore, my biased perspective was unreasonable. After all, I reasoned that I’d studied and unofficially practiced REBT for years by the time I attended EMDR training. A form of CBT, REBT performed well enough in the ability to help people reduce self-disturbance.

 

Reasoning with my unreasonable position is representative of how challenging it’s been to persuade others to effectively and routinely use REBT since having been officially trained in this modality. It isn’t easy to abandon one’s own closely-held and unreasonable philosophy.

 

Nevertheless, I’m able and willing to change my mind. Therefore, while I’m still not committed to the notion of impossibility concerning changing minds of highly emotive people, I admit that it’s incredibly difficult – if not virtually impossible – to do so.

 

Regarding this matter, I recently listened to an episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast that featured professor Gad Saad. The following statement from Saad caught my attention:

 

[Explaining a question asked of him on a separate forum] He [interviewer] said, “In your 30-year career as a behavioral scientist, as a professor, what is the singular human phenomenon that has surprised you the most?” which I thought was an amazing question.

 

I had never been asked before. Yeah, it’s an amazing one, because you know I’ve seen tons of stuff. So I paused for a moment and then I said, “I think it’s the inability of people to change their opinions once they are anchored in a position.”

 

I began life coaching in the ‘90s, graduated with a Master of Arts in counseling in 2011, began officially practicing clinically at that time, graduated with a Master of Science in Social Work in 2014, and have continued coaching and practicing since. I, too, have 30 years of experience working with people.

 

As much as I may unreasonably want to object to Saad’s statement, I cannot honestly do so. Although not an impossible feat, I acknowledge significant difficulty with persuading people out of their anchored opinions and beliefs – with or without being highly emotive. Saad continued:

 

[When asked by Rogan later in the episode, “What is the most surprising thing to you that people do that seems obvious that they shouldn’t do, in terms of the way they think about things?”] Not alter their positions in light of incoming evidence. That’s the big one, because in a sense, it speaks to your decency as a human being – epistemologically – if we are true, honest people we change. It’s as you said, we make mistakes.

 

We held positions, because we had information ABC, but now XYZ comes in and we change. And any good, decent, moral person with integrity has to be able to do that. But to your earlier point, most of us are vain. Most of us have pride. Most of us have vested interests in whatever positions we’re in. We can’t let go of those positions, because it would affect my identity.

 

Just as I partially agreed and partially disagreed with the aforementioned EMDR trainer, I partially concede and partially repudiate Saad’s latter point. I disagree with the professor’s use of the no true Scotsman fallacy – indicating that moral people are those who change their minds.

 

I suspect people who are considered morally upstanding also assume unreasonable positions just as those of supposed lesser moral standing do. Moreover, as an REBT practitioner, I don’t view people as good, bad, or otherwise. Therefore, I reject Saad’s framing of the matter.

 

In any case, I agree with the professor’s citation regarding the difficulty with which reasoning with the unreasonable beliefs of others is incredibly challenging. All the same, I promote use of REBT. You may wonder why, given my position outlined herein.

 

I find that when people frequently practice REBT – preferably on a daily basis, though pragmatically at least several times per week – they’re able to significantly reduce self-disturbance preceding and succeeding activating events. Of course, my observation is anecdotal.

 

Nevertheless, I suspect that routine practice of REBT affords people the opportunity to conduct preventative maintenance that can come in handy at the start of descent into disturbance, when unreasonable beliefs influence unpleasant consequences. Without doubt, this often works in my own experience.

 

Likewise, research suggests, “Overall, the current meta-analysis indicates that REBT interventions (psychotherapy, educational, or counseling interventions) are efficacious/ effective for various conditions.” Thus, I will keep an open mind about changing minds.

 

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


 

References:

 

AEI. (n.d.). About Albert Ellis, Ph.D. Albert Ellis Institute. Retrieved from https://albertellis.org/about-albert-ellis-phd/

David,, D., Cotet, C., Matu, S., Mogoase, C., and Stefan, S. (2017, September 12). 50 years of rational‐emotive and cognitive‐behavioral therapy: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319653991_50_years_of_rational-emotive_and_cognitive-behavioral_therapy_A_systematic_review_and_meta-analysis

Hollings, D. (2024, May 22). A philosophical approach to mental health. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/a-philosophical-approach-to-mental-health

Hollings, D. (2024, May 5). Belief in knowing. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/belief-in-knowing

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Wikipedia. (n.d.). Jonathan Swift. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Swift

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