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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings




Recently, I attended Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) training, because I wanted to compare and contrast the psychotherapeutic modality with my preferred method of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). During the training, there was significant focus on validation.


Before I go any further, it may be useful to define terms. In the context of behavioral health care, validation may be defined as recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings (emotions or physical sensations) or opinions (beliefs) are valid or worthwhile.


Here, “valid” doesn’t relate to its actual meaning—having a sound basis in logic or fact; reasonable or cogent. Rather, it relates to acceptance of one’s emotions, sensations, and beliefs as is and without challenge.


Of course, this oxymoronic use of “valid” subverts what validity actually represents—the quality of being logically or factually sound. Therefore, subjective feelings and opinions through this lens are considered to be in accordance with fact and reality.


For those familiar with the content of my blog, it may not surprise the reader that I emphatically disagree with this misuse of the term “valid.” After all, through my practice of REBT, I dispute nonsensically irrational beliefs—which is an act of invalidation.


Using the ABC Model of REBT, I don’t dispute an occurrence or situation (Activating event), nor do I dispute the result (Consequence) of unhelpful beliefs (i.e., unwanted emotions, unpleasant sensations, or unproductive behavior). These elements are valid and do not require invalidation.


Therefore, I dispute irrational Beliefs which form a Belief-Consequence connection with which people disturb themselves. As an example, person X believes, “Life shouldn’t be so difficult and if things don’t go my way, I may as well not exist at all!”


Using validation from a behavioral health perspective, I could acknowledge that person X believes that life should be easy and that a heavy burden is placed upon the experience of undesirable outcomes. In this regard, I’m not opposed to acknowledging person X’s beliefs.


However, there are some people within the behavioral health care field who maintain that validation relates to affirmation of a person’s beliefs as being valid or worthwhile. Some colleagues with whom I share an occupational field also maintain that people are their beliefs.


I disagree. Simply because I may believe I’m the best REBT practitioner alive doesn’t mean my assumption is true. I am not my beliefs. Likewise, affirming beliefs of this sort isn’t particularly useful.


Regarding this matter, I’m reminded of a recent DarkHorse Podcast episode in which Heather Heying addressed disagreement with misuse of the word “validation” when critiquing another person’s description of the term by stating:


Validation is—I validate that you are having the feelings that you say you are having. And affirmation is—and your feelings are real and true. And so, validation of…yes, if you tell me you are feeling those things, you are feeling those things. But affirmation takes that an illogical step further and says your feelings are reflective of reality, which some feelings are and some feelings aren’t.


I maintain that the words we use matter. Misrepresenting “validation” by conflating truth with support is unhelpful. “Truth” suggests that which is in accordance with fact or reality.


On the other hand, “affirmation” describes emotional support or encouragement. These meanings aren’t synonymous, as Heying validly suggests.


To illustrate my contention from an REBT perspective, consider the following example:


Activating event – Person Y rejects person X’s attempt to begin an intimate relationship.


Belief – Person X rigidly believes, “Life shouldn’t be so difficult and if things don’t go my way, I may as well not exist at all!”


Consequence – Because of person X’s inflexible belief, sorrow results. As well, person X experiences a heavy sensation in the chest and curls into a fetal position while wailing in agony.


Without affirming person X’s irrational Belief, I can validate the A and C by stating, “Person Y chose not to engage in a romantic relationship and your belief about the matter results in an unpleasant experience.” In this regard, I wouldn’t express an untrue statement.


However, I’m aware that some behavioral health practitioners affirm people’s beliefs as factual and worthwhile—describing this act as “validation.” Such a clinician may say, “You have every right to feel the way you do, your sentiment is valid, and no one can negate your experience.”


I agree that person X is welcome to self-disturb. Likewise, I haven’t the ability to nullify the experience of those who upset themselves.


However, I can challenge whether or not person X’s attitude toward an event has a sound basis in logic or fact, or is reasonable or cogent. People aren’t their assumptions and disputation of irrational beliefs isn’t akin to invalidating individuals—only their incorrect and unhelpful attitudes.


In the DBT manual I received for training, validating is defined as acknowledging what one hears without judging or fixing. I suspect this form of support is well-intentioned and is perhaps an invaluable tool for DBT practitioners.


All the same, and without judgement, the “fixing” element regarding the form of psychotherapy I practice isn’t entirely compatible with validation as outlined herein. Genuinely, I have little doubt that validation can help people feel better.


Who wouldn’t want to hear that what they believe is logical, factual, reasonable, or cogent? Still, my work as an REBT practitioner relates to helping people get better, not feel better. This requires uncomfortable conversations and the invalidation of nonsensical beliefs.


I’m not here to affirm irrationality. Ultimately, I appreciate the DBT training I underwent. I may even use some of the skills I learned. However, I won’t be validating absurd ideas.


Not all prospective clients will appreciate my clinical approach and I respect their self-determination to find a behavioral health care provider that will validate, validate, validate, and then validate even more. If that’s what you’re looking for, I wish you all the best!


Still, if you’re weary of being affirmed while not actually getting better, and you’re searching for someone who will challenge your unhelpful beliefs, you’ve found a clinician who may better serve your interests and goals towards actually getting better. Are you ready to begin this process?


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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