Written by Kristin Barton Cuthriell M.Ed., MSW, LCSW
Reality leaves a lot to the imagination. -John Lennon
Your reality is really just your perception. Your thoughts create your reality, and your reality creates your emotional and behavioral response. How does this apply to psychotherapy? How can we use this information to become happier and healthier people? Lets take a look.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, is a general form of counseling or psychotherapy, developed by Aaron Beck. CBT emphasizes thought as the precursor to emotion and behavior. The therapist and client work together to identify and challenge cognitions that may be interfering with the client’s mental health and/or interpersonal relationships. The psychotherapeutic treatment helps the client change his thinking, emotional response, and behavioral reaction. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has proven to be an effective treatment for a variety of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, and personality disorders.
While there are many different types of CBT, we are going to take a look at an approach called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, developed by Albert Ellis in the 1950s. Ellis believed that it is not an event that upsets people, but their beliefs about an event. By teaching individuals to challenge their irrational beliefs, their emotional reactions and behaviors may change, leading to better interpersonal relationships and improved mental health.
Ellis came up with the ABCs of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Let’s take a look at how this works.
A: Activating event (something happens)
B: Belief about the event
C: Consequence (our emotional and behavioral reaction)
Ellis believed that A (the event) does not cause C (our reaction), but B (our belief) causes C (our reaction).
Here is an example.
A: The Event- Kim’s husband, John, plays golf on a Saturday. Kim stays home and cuts the grass.
John comes home and is surprised the grass is cut.
B: John’s Beliefs- John thinks that he should have stayed home and cut the grass and assumes Kim thinks the same thing. She could have waited; I would have done it, he tells himself. She is always trying to make me feel guilty. I feel like a failure. Kim thinks that I am a failure. After all that I do, I deserve to play golf.
C: The Consequence- John becomes angry and defensive and shows no appreciation for Kim’s hard work.
It was not the grass being cut that angered John, he doesn’t even like to cut the grass; it was his assumptions and beliefs that got him into a tail spin.
In therapy, the client works on D and E.
D: Disputing, challenging, and questioning irrational beliefs
E: Effective new thinking that may be more rational.
Let’s continue with John.
D: Disputing- John would question his beliefs. Is it a fact that Kim did not want me to play golf? Is it a fact that she wanted me to feel guilty? Does she have a pattern of trying to make me feel guilty? What evidence do I have to support my belief? If she were upset that I played golf, would it be the end of the world? Does playing golf instead of cutting the grass make me a failure?
E: Effective New Thinking- The only thing that I know for sure is that Kim cut the grass. I do not know the reason why. Kim could have been trying to be kind. She may have wanted to please me. Kim may have just wanted the grass cut. She may not have minded doing it at all. Kim might have wanted the exercise. It was a pretty day outside. Kim is usually a thoughtful person. Playing golf rather than cutting the grass doesn’t make me a failure. Maybe it is my guilt that has gotten in the way.
Because John was able to change the way he was thinking about the event, he changed the way he reacted to Kim.
Challenging our cognitions can help us to view things in new ways. If we can learn to do this, we will be less likely to resort to mind reading, making faulty assumptions, and jumping to conclusions which cause us unnecessary anxiety, anger, and pain.
To read more about Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Rational Emotive Therapy, check out the links below.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy to Quit Smoking (everydayhealth.com)
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Distortions (carlarenee45.wordpress.com)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Effective for Bipolar Disorder (pdresources.wordpress.com)
- Cognitive Restructuring: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Attitude (everydayhealth.com)
What is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy? www.rebtnetwork.org
ABC’s of REBT www.stressgroup.com
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy www.nacbt.org
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? www.beckinstitute.org