Friday, March 9, 2007

The Power of Our Beliefs. Part 1 . . .

"People are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them." - Epictetus, 1st century AD

One of the core theories that I use for my counseling is REBT (rational emotive behavior therapy). REBT is based on the idea that we are not disturbed solely by our past but that we have strong inclinations to disturb ourselves consciously and unconsciously. We do this by taking our goals and values (which we mostly learn from our families/culture) and changing them into “shoulds”, “oughts”, and “musts.” To overcome this self -indoctrination REBT focuses on active/directive techniques such as teaching, suggestion, persuasion, and homework assignments. REBT therapists challenge their client to substitute an unhelpful belief system for a helpful one.

Albert Ellis, the founder of REBT believed that there were two kinds of beliefs: rational and irrational. Irrational beliefs are exaggerated and absolutistic, lead to disturbed feelings, and do not help individuals attain their goals. Some examples of irrational beliefs would be:

"I must make everyone I come in contact with happy."
"Others must find me intelligent and witty."
"I should always feel close to God."
"I must not be anxious!"

Notice the absoluteness of these beliefs. Beliefs which contain musts, oughts, and shoulds when internalized can cause us lots of trouble. As a personal example, in my third semester of seminary I was feeling increasing waves of anxiety about failing my counseling practicum. My symptoms included anxious thoughts, increased heart rate, and fear of the future. Part of our training involves going for therapy ourselves to understand what it is like so I brought this up with my counselor. Eventually, she got me to explore this anxiety and then asked me to outline my beliefs. Some of my beliefs about failing included "I can't fail because I've put too much money into this," "failing means that I am a failure," "failing practicum means that I've wasted my time for two years," and "failing practicum means that I'm not gifted to be a counselor." Notice the absoluteness of these expressions. Gently my counselor asked me if I believed these things and I had to admit that part me of did. "What about the other part of you, what does that part believe?" She then got me to dispute these irrational beliefs. I challenged each of them and came up with new rational beliefs to replace the irrational old ones. For instance, instead of "failing practicum means that I've wasted my time for two years," I replaced it with "failing practicum would be not be fun and would make me feel somewhat discouraged, but I have learned a lot from my training so far and am a better/changed person because of it and I have definitely received much for my investment." After doing this exercise my anxiety was gone within a few days. This is the power of finding our unhelpful beliefs, challenging them honestly, and replacing them with more helpful ones. I will show one way of doing this (along with an example) in my next post. What do you think about this stuff?

May Light increase!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

was here...saw your blog...smiled