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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Three Things

I recently had conversations with three people about the limits of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call these individuals “Sarah,” “Theo,” and, “Joaquin.”

Sarah told me she understood the utility of REBT and could resolve many of her issues by using the psychotherapeutic method. However, when existential matters of a larger scale were concerned, she struggled with the application of the technique.

Theo told me REBT sounded good in theory, though he rejected the tools I provided. As for Joaquin, he simply didn’t believe in REBT.

When receiving feedback from more than one person, in a relatively short period of time, I find it helpful to think through my response by use of my blog. As such, I invite the reader to mentally dine on the content listed herein.

It’s worthy stating that I don’t offhandedly dismiss criticism of REBT. In fact, I outright addressed the limits of REBT practice in a blogpost entitled Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

This form of therapy isn’t the be-all, end-all solution to all or even most of the problems a person may experience. In fact, I will make the bold claim that REBT doesn’t fix, cure, or resolve any of dilemmas of the world.

That’s right; you didn’t misread that last sentence. REBT is not a remedy for a single unpleasant situation a person will face—not one!

Understandably, a logical question now arises. “Deric, why are you committed to a form of treatment, wellness, or whatever if you admit it doesn’t work?” someone may ask.

Allow me to expand upon my claim using Sarah, Theo, and Joaquin, because I provided a similar answer to each of these individuals. Though not an assertion necessarily supported by the Albert Ellis Institute (AEI)—I think there are essentially three things required for success with REBT.

Element one relates to REBT as a psychotherapeutic modality. Sarah expressed that while she understood how and when to use the tools available to her, she was displeased with the notion that my approach to REBT relates to the circle of control and not the spheres of influence and concern.

Determinately, I don’t assist individuals with changing other people or the world as a whole. Rather, I encourage individuals to work on changing their irrational beliefs, because we have very little influence and exceedingly limited (if any) control of other humans and life.

I invited Sarah to consider the analogy of a sushi restaurant. My eatery serves sushi (REBT) and other dishes related to miso soup (existentialism), edamame (Stoicism), and kani salad (other cognitive behavior therapy techniques).

While I’m neither “Itamae” nor “Shokunin,” let’s analogize my preparation of Japanese dishes consisting of small balls or rolls of vinegar-flavored cold cooked rice served with a garnish of raw fish, vegetables, or egg as that relating to a sushi chef.

I don’t serve pizza, tacos, hotdogs, hamburgers, or fried chicken. When visiting my restaurant and ordering onion rings, French fries, or baked beans, I will politely inform customers where they are and what is served at the eating establishment.

If Sarah contacts me, wanting to change the behavior or her friends or loved ones, I don’t serve that sort of dish. If she requests an off-menu item of chicken nuggets, I’ll remind her that my restaurant is a sushi joint, not the McOtherPlace.

Therefore, element one of success entails full disclosure of what is and isn’t offered when interacting with an REBT practitioner. If Sarah isn’t bye da bye bye bye, lovin’ it, there are other restaurants available elsewhere.

Element two concerns the foundation of REBT. Theo informs me that he understands the two pillars of REBT—the ABC Model and unconditional acceptance—though he rejects both of these necessary components.

Entertaining his challenge to REBT, I ask Theo what he imagines may better serve his interests and goals. “I don’t know,” he responds. Theo knows for certain that he doesn’t want the two fundamental tools which may lead to improved functioning and quality of life.

However, he remains uncertain as to what alternative approach he desires. I’m not a mind reader, magician, or celestial being capable of intuiting what people want.

Likewise, if changing irrational beliefs is undesirable and a person instead wants me to prescribe what one should, must, or ought to do, Theo has sought an unsuitable source for his needs. I don’t make a habit of giving advice or moralizing to the world (e.g., do this, not that).

Consequently, element two of a favorable outcome relates to not only understanding though practicing the REBT technique—and doing so frequently. After all, there are other options available for one’s wellbeing and I fully encourage others to seek them out.

Element three relates to belief in the process of REBT. Joaquin informs me that REBT is logical and reasonable, though it doesn’t “feel” right.

Clarifying his statement, Joaquin tells me that what he means isn’t related to an emotion or bodily sensation (feeling), though the colloquial use of the word feeling— a belief, especially a vague or irrational one. Thus, Joaquin doesn’t believe in REBT.

As someone who is often skeptical, who uses critical thinking (questioning), and who employs the scientific method to better understand the world, I hesitate to advocate belief systems. Yet, this doesn’t mean I reject belief altogether.

Using the word belief, I’m referring to confidence that something exists or is effective. Suppose Joaquin goes through the motions of REBT though he doesn’t believe this psychotherapeutic modality will be of any benefit to him.

How likely is it that Joaquin will achieve his goals? Now, what is the probability of him attaining success with any other therapeutic model in which he doesn’t believe, as well?

Though it may be possible for Joaquin to inadvertently stumble upon a favorable outcome while not believing in the method used to realize his success, it may not be feasible to presume Joaquin could replicate progress through unintentional means in the future.

If people don’t believe REBT can actually make an impact on their lives, this technique may not be effective for them. How then can one increase confidence in REBT?

I invite people to put the tools to use on a daily basis. With almost any available medium—corporate or social media outlets, trips outside the home, interaction with colleagues in the workplace, etc.—opportunities arise for use of the ABC Model.

As well, practice of unconditional self-, other-, and life-acceptance is possible with concrete, abstract, and other mediums in between. What I often tell clients about REBT techniques is, “The tools we use less are useless.”

Moreover, the tools you don’t believe will work may end up not being used at all. Accordingly, element three for achievement involves believing that REBT can benefit you. Ultimately, other mental health opportunities exist and people are welcome to go in a different direction.

“Wait a minute, Deric,” you may protest, “I thought you said, ‘REBT is not a remedy for a single unpleasant situation a person will face—not one!’ So, if REBT doesn’t work, why use it?”

I appreciate the astute, though imaginary, reader who thinks critically about my blogposts. Using the ABC Model doesn’t result in changing an event, circumstance, situation, or Action one experiences.

Instead of resolving what occurs, I help people to challenge irrational Beliefs about situations which result in unpleasant Consequences. In this way, the AEI and I are in agreement regarding my approach to REBT:

When you think about it, what REBT sets out to accomplish sounds pretty ambitious: its goal is no less than changing core irrational beliefs that you’ve spent your whole life rehearsing, living, and “feeling.” For many people, it takes some time before the emotional “gut” follows what their head already “knows.” Learning new ways of thinking and new beliefs can be compared to a horse-driven carriage which has had the same driver and horse for years. The horse knows where to go without having to be told by the driver. Once you change the driver (new ways of thinking), the horse still goes in the same direction (old emotions and behaviors), but the driver has to strain at the reins to produce a change in direction (new emotions and behaviors). The positive aspect of the strain you may experience in using REBT is that it shows you are learning new ways of feeling and behaving and that you are taking charge of your own direction in life.

If Sarah, Theo, or Joaquin desire McTater Tots, reject REBT, or disbelieve in the therapeutic method I practice, not only will their situations not change—they will likely continue to self-disturb using irrational beliefs, thus contributing to the suffering experienced in life.

I have witnessed REBT impact the lives of many people and it has been fundamental in helping me to improve my life. Is it for everyone? No. Of course, I doubt any single psychotherapeutic modality is the solution for every person.

When practicing REBT, I’m serving sushi (analogy). Maybe you won’t like the dishes. Who knows? Perhaps you will. If you’re open to considering the three things addressed in this post, I invite you to sample the menu.

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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