Thinking, feeling and perceiving: REBT critique

Blog Post, 16th January 2020

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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Response to Comments upon my YouTube video about

A Major Critique of REBT

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Introduction

Dr-Jim-Byrne8 (2)I have frequently found that senior REBT theorists, like Albert Ellis and Michael Edelstein, do not seem to be able to string a valid argument together!

This is surprising, because Albert Ellis built his reputation upon being a ‘great thinker’ (although many who followed him thought him a ‘sloppy philosopher’).

In this blog post, I want to present some brief comments by a recent defender of REBT, to demonstrate that nothing has changed in the ability of REBTers to think straight!

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Here’s the background:

On 2nd September 2017, I posted a video clip, with the following title – REBT CBT Book: Title, Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes – on YouTube, at this web address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfmCs9hbN04

Front cover3 of reissued REBT book(Subsequently, that book was slightly updated, and reissued with the title, A Major Critique of REBT’).

On 15th January 2020, that video clip received its 20th comment from a viewer.

In this blog post, I want to present that viewer’s comments – in defence of REBT – plus my analysis and refutation of those comments.

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What the viewer wrote:

“Can’t we concede there are some instances in which beliefs and thoughts cause distress? If I believe that losing my job would be a catastrophe of gigantic proportions, won’t that make a job loss much more upsetting than if I view it as merely an unpleasant setback? There are times I’ve had to adjust my thinking with self-talk like, ‘OK, this is unpleasant but it’s not the end of the world.’ Such thoughts have actually made me feel less upset. Also, while I agree with you that blaming the client is usually unwarranted, I don’t think it always is. Don’t we bear any responsibility for our well being or lack thereof? Aren’t we often the architects of our own trouble? Is it always circumstance acting upon us?”

This viewer’s ‘handle’, or ID, was this: Some guy’s page. I checked out his page.  It does not have content.  And the identity of ‘Some guy’ is not revealed.

Some Guy's page

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Nevertheless, I replied to ‘Some Guy’ as follows:

“Hello: You have commented upon a video clip which was designed to advertise my book which critiques REBT.  As it says in the description below this video clip:

“For more information about the book which is reviewed in this video, please take a look at ‘A Major Critique of REBT’:  https://abc-bookstore.com/a-major-critique-of-rebt/

“But instead of following up that information, and reading the book, to see if you can fault its factual basis or its logical argumentation, you have commented upon the advert!

“It would have been more helpful if you had read the book, and commented upon the *actual arguments* presented therein.

“I am extremely busy, and I did not post the advert to stimulate debate.  I do not have time to debate your comments upon my advert.  However, as a quick one-off exception to that rule, let me briefly respond, in the following blog post”.  (And I added a link to this post which you are currently reading).

Here is my brief response to ‘Some Guy’

You asked: “Can’t we concede there are some instances in which beliefs and thoughts cause distress?”

My first answer would have to be this:  Even Albert Ellis (on a *good* day) would not make such a suggestion.  Why?  Because, on a *good* day, he would be pursuing the *official line*, to the effect that human disturbance is caused by the interaction of a noxious experience (or Activating event) with an Irrational Belief.  So, it is never the Belief that causes the upset, in the *official line*, but rather the interaction of a belief and an experience (or a memory, or anticipation).  (On a *bad* day, Ellis would have gone way beyond you, Some Guy.  He would have insisted that human disturbances are always and only caused by irrational beliefs!  And I have demonstrated, in many different ways, in my book, that this is a false conclusion on the part of Albert Ellis: See A Major Critique of REBT.***)

My second answer would have to be this: You (Some Guy) are here utilizing the concept of ‘thoughts’.  But what exactly are thoughts?  In Albert Ellis’s (1962) book on Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, he cites the idea, from McGill (1954) – Emotions and Reason – that emotions always have a ‘cognitive’ (or thought) component. But McGill was arguing that our emotions (with their cognitive components) determine how we respond to environmental happenings (based on our previous experience).

Albert-Ellis-childhood-imageFrom this, Ellis (1962) concluded that thoughts and feelings are never separate, and are, in some senses, essentially the same thing.

And even though he suggests that they are very often “the same thing”, he goes on to suggest, later in his book, that it’s our thoughts (or beliefs) that determine our feelings.  What a muddle he created here!

I tried to rescue Ellis from this muddle, in a paper from 2003, which is now incorporated into A Major Critique of REBT’.  It involved developing a Complex ABC Model; but when it was complete, it invalidated much of the original theory of REBT.  (More on the concept of ‘thoughts’ and ‘thinking’ below).

Whole cover3

My third answer would have to be this: You are suggesting, rhetorically, that beliefs and thoughts *cause* distress sometimes; and it seems to me you are making that suggestion because you, personally, *believe* that beliefs and thoughts cause distress (which you may or may not have learned from Albert Ellis’s writings).  So, you should then present *evidence* to support that conclusion.  Perhaps that is what you intended to do in what follows next, where you wrote:

“If I believe that losing my job would be a catastrophe of gigantic proportions, won’t that make a job loss much more upsetting than if I view it as merely an unpleasant setback?”  (Emphasis added – JB).

Let’s reconstruct that argument in the form of a syllogism, as follows (for an imaginary counselling client who is going through the difficulties that you describe, in bold above):

Premise 1: I believe that losing my job would be a catastrophe of gigantic proportions.

Premise 2: I am in the process of losing my job.

Conclusion: I have to *feel* very upset about this catastrophe.

For this to be a valid argument, both premises must be true, and the conclusion must follow logically from those premises.

Premise 1 seems to be true, because you have told me that you *believe* that losing your job would be a catastrophe of gigantic proportions.

Premise 2 also seems to be true, in that you have informed me that you are in the process of losing your job.

Back cover3However, the Conclusion does not follow logically from those two true premises, because you have smuggled the word *feel* into the conclusion, whereas it does not appear in either of the premises!  (It has to be in at least one of the premises to get into the conclusion, validly). Therefore, this argument is invalid, and it falls!

It’s interesting to me that you are a follower (or supporter) of Ellis, and Ellis argued that he was interested in the premises of his clients’ arguments, but he failed to teach anybody anything about how to construct a valid argument, or how to reconstruct an argument to test it for validity.

In my book critiquing Ellis’s theory – A Major Critique of REBT – I have reconstructed some of his key arguments, and some by Dr Michael Edelstein, and demonstrated that they use invalid arguments without noticing their invalidity – and therefore their arguments fall!  By contrast with my approach, Ellis’s followers in general do not seem to have learned to put his theories to this kind of test!  That is why you would be well advised to read my book: A Major Critique of REBT.

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You (Some Guy) then continue your comments like this:

‘There are times I’ve had to adjust my thinking with self-talk like, “OK, this is unpleasant but it’s not the end of the world.” Such thoughts have actually made me feel less upset.’

I have a problem with part of this statement, but not with another.  To try to tease them apart, let me present two syllogisms. The first is to demonstrate what I agree with; while the second is designed to point out a flaw in your presentation and understanding.

First argument reconstruction:

Defintion of an argumentPremise 1. Particular forms of self-talk help to calm our emotions.

Premise 2. I sometimes have to engage in one of those forms of self-talk.

Conclusion: (Therefore) When I use that kind of self-talk, I feel calmer emotions.

This is a valid argument, because both premises are true, and the conclusion follows logically from the premises.

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Second argument reconstruction:

Premise 1: It is often argued that positive self-talk will have a positive effect upon our emotions.

Premise 2: I’ve noticed that when I use particular forms of positive self-talk, my emotions calm down.

Conclusion: (Therefore) positive self–talk changes my *thinking*!

This is an invalid argument, because the concept of *thinking* has been smuggled into the conclusion, whereas it does not exist in either of the premises.

It is simply an article of your faith (Some Guy) that self-talk changes your thinking; and that your thinking changes your emotions. You have no evidence for that; and it is actually impossible to collect evidence to support your conclusions here.

Think about it: Where would you go to collect evidence that self-talk changes your thinking?

If my thinking/feeling/perceiving is all of a piece, why not conclude that my self-talk changes my thinking/ feeling/ perceiving?  (PS: Furthermore, it also seems to be the case that my self-talk is actually a form of thinking/feeling /perceiving!)

Front cover3 of reissued REBT bookIn the summary of A Major Critique of REBT, I introduce the concept of ‘perfinking’ – which is shorthand for perceiving/ feeling/ thinking, which seems to me, based on modern neuroscience research, to be what humans do – not discrete thinking, or discrete feeling, or discrete perceiving.

Indeed, Albert Ellis should have got to this point himself, because he had McGill’s (1954) statements about the interconnection of thinking and feeling.  But Ellis was so committed to Epictetus’ statement about how “people are never disturbed by what happens to them”, that he had to cling to his simple ABC model, with its discrete Beliefs causing discrete emotions.

Here’s a little extract from the summary of my book:

“…in Chapter 3, Dr Byrne compares Dr Ellis’s ABC model with the SOR model of neobehaviourism, (which says this: A Stimulus [S] impacts an Organism [O] producing an outputted Response [R]).   As a result, he (Byrne) finds that it is essential to ‘add back the body’ to the ABC model; and once that is done, the core theory of REBT falls apart, because now we are dealing with a whole-body-brain-mind-environment-complexity, rather than a simple ‘belief machine’.

“Furthermore, this complex-body-brain-mind engages in ‘warm-perfinking’ – (which means, perceiving-feeling-thinking) – which is coloured by emotion from beginning to end), rather than cool thinking and reasoning.”

Please pursue this argument in my book, A Major Critique of REBT.

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The final point that you (Some Guy) make is this:

“…while I agree with you (Jim Byrne) that blaming the client is usually unwarranted, I don’t think it always is. Don’t we bear any responsibility for our well-being or lack thereof? Aren’t we often the architects of our own trouble? Is it always circumstance acting upon us?”

These questions feel like ‘rhetorical devices’, designed to make statements without making them; and intended to hook emotional responses, rather than attempts at reasoning.

Draft-cover-3My REBT book, and also my Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person, argues that human beings are largely non-conscious creatures of habit, who are shaped by their lifetime of socialization and interactions with others.  I also wrote a lengthy essay on Free Will for my diploma in counselling psychology and psychotherapy, many years ago, in which I concluded that the most extreme scientist cannot prove that there is no possibility of some small elements of free will in a human individual; and that the most romantic philosopher cannot prove that free will exists at all.  This concept of ‘free will’, therefore, seems to me to be a highly contested concept. So, rather than blaming a client for their upset emotions, I think it is more ethical, and more productive, to teach them how to change and grow, rather than blaming them for where they are stuck!  (If you would like a copy of my paper on Free Will and Determinism, please email me, drjwbyrne@gmail.com).

I could write a lot more, if I had the time, but I am extremely busy.  Lots of new books to be written!

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What did you think of this blog post?

Was it helpful?

Please leave a comment below.

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Best wishes to all readers.

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

ABC Bookstore Online UK

The Institute for E-CENT

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