Albert Ellis and the unhappy golfer

Updated on 13th June 2019

Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer:

A critique of the simplistic ABC model of REBT

By Dr Jim Byrne

The Institute for E-CENT Publications: 2019.

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Whole cover, Ellis and the Golfer3

Preface

This book is about two characters, both of whom are psychologically damaged:

The first is a man (whose age we do not know), who went out yesterday to play a game of golf with some peers (about whom we know nothing), and his peers showed that they did not like him. Today he is terribly unhappy.  We shall call him “the unhappy golfer”.

Ellis-on-love-Pt2The second character is a man (whose age we do know), who was seriously neglected, and virtually abandoned at times, by his mother and father.  (It seems to me that his winning formula in life became this: Deny that I was hurt.  Deny that I had any needs.  Become detached from my feelings.  Become an Extreme Stoic.  Deny that I can be harmed.  Deny that anybody can hurt me.)  We shall call him what his mother and father called him, Albert Ellis, and add the prefix, Doctor; because he gained a doctorate in clinical psychology.

The unhappy golfer is in Dr Albert Ellis’s office, in New York City, somewhere around the end of the 1950’s.  He tells Dr Ellis that he feels terribly unhappy about being rejected by his golfing peers, and Dr Ellis tells him: This is something you are doing to yourself!

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This book consists of five parts:

Front cover, Ellis and the Golfer3Part 3 is a critical analysis, line by line, of the case study of the unhappy golfer. The case study appeared in Albert Ellis’s 1962 book, Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy.  I have numbered each line of the dialogue between Ellis and the unhappy golfer, and commented upon the errors committed by Ellis in dealing with this unhappy man. Ellis interpreted the golfer’s problem, using his simple ABC model, and concluded that nothing but a B (or a belief – in the golfer’s head) could have caused him to feel terribly unhappy about his peers not liking him. I present a critical rejection of that perspective.

In Part 2, I move up into ‘helicopter view’, up above the action, and sketch out the broad brush strokes of the encounter between Ellis and the unhappy golfer. And I add a few more critical comments upon Ellis’s errors.

Then in Part 4, I take my analysis beyond the simple ABC model, into a world in which the unhappy golfer has a body, and not just a mind on legs; in which he has emotional needs for social connection; and in which there are multiple potential sources of his terrible unhappiness.

Part 5 is my overall conclusion.

The book is written in an accessible style, with most of the specialist knowledge stored in appendices at the back of the book, to avoid cluttering the text.  And the book is based on my 25 year engagement with REBT; and my 12 years of critical analysis of REBT theory.  Plus my study of more than 15 alternative ways of thinking about human emotions, and disturbed individuals.

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Back cover, Ellis and the Golfer3.JPGIf you study this book carefully, you will develop a reasonably sound, but basic, understanding of the golfer’s ‘personality adaptation(s)’; his ‘ego states’, and how he might move between them; his ‘attachment style’ (secure or insecure; avoidant or clingy).

You will also learn:

– Eight ways that the unhappy golfer could have re-framed his experience of peer rejection, to feel significantly less unhappy; without denying his existence as an emotional being, who has social-emotional needs;

– How the unhappy golfer could have managed his mind better, including the use of critical thinking; and:

– How to understand his terrible unhappiness; and how to manage grief and depression, using diet, exercise, sleep, self-talk, and much more besides.

Dr Jim's office2If you want to move beyond the simple, simplistic – dehumanizing – ABC model of REBT, then this book will provide you with the tools to do so.

I hope you enjoy it.

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Dr Jim Byrne, Hebden Bridge, July 2019

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Part 1: Introduction

Front cover, Ellis and the Golfer3Dr Albert Ellis was one of the most controversial psychotherapists in the history of psychotherapy, inciting as much love as hatred and rejection.  I followed him and his system of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) as a devoted fan, from 1992 to about 2007 – a period of more than fifteen years.  Then I began to write analytical papers exploring various aspects of his theory, which eventually built up into a major critique of the foundations of REBT.

I was originally trained as an REBT therapist, and I practiced as an REBT therapist from 1998 to about 2008 – period of ten years – but with increasing additions of elements of the other thirteen systems of therapy that I had studied post-MA.

In this present book I want to explore a chapter (six) from Dr Ellis’s 1962 book, titled Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. This book was his first major attempt to collate the various elements of his theory, developed in various journal articles, into a single source book.  However, because it was actually a collection of articles, written across the later 1950’s, there are contradictions and tensions between the various chapters, and a lack of consistent theory.

For example, in Chapter 2 he argues, among other things, that thinking and feeling are connected, overlapping and mutually causative; and he cites a range of theorists to support this view: (See, for examples, pages 38-45).   However, in Chapter 6, he works with a client (the unhappy golfer) who is terribly unhappy because the men he played golf with, the day before seeing Ellis for therapy, showed that they disliked Ellis’s client. In this case, Ellis does not take the view that thinking and feeling are overlapping and in certain respects essentially the same thing.  And he dumped his earlier (Chapter 2) understanding of the client as a creatures of habit; with bodily involvement in the causation of his emotions; which are habit based and linked back through the client’s personal history. Instead he insisted that the client’s feelings of unhappiness were not caused by his fellow golfers, who did not like Ellis’s client; but that “this is something you did to yourself!”

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Back cover, Ellis and the Golfer3.JPGIn my experience of Albert Ellis – from reading his books and articles; watching him demonstrating REBT in video clips, and the Master Therapist Series; and corresponding with him – the way he deals with the unhappy golfer is more characteristic of his approach to therapy than his writings in Chapter 2, which were much more complex and holistic.

Therefore, I have decided to write this book about the unhappy golfer, because Albert Ellis’s treatment of the unhappy golfer is typical of the REBT approach, as practiced by Albert Ellis and his closest followers, and many REBT therapists who have been trained, educated or influenced by Dr Albert Ellis.

In Part 3 of this book, I present the case study of the unhappy golfer, as presented by Ellis (1962), but with numbered lines for ease of reference.  I then analyse the fine detail of Ellis’s encounter with the unhappy golfer.

Then, in Part 2, I present more of a helicopter overview of my analysis from Part 3; plus some additional criticisms of Ellis’s approach.

Front cover, Ellis and the Golfer3In Part 4, I write about:

– Ellis’s background and the links between his childhood and his theory of psychotherapy; his attachment to Extreme Stoicism; and the ways in which he imports a distorted conception of harm into his work with clients;

– His lack of understanding – (in practice; as opposed to the theory expressed in Chapter 2 of his 1962 book) – of the nature of human habits and the limited nature of choice. (Humans, being creatures of habit, do not seem to have any choice but to do what comes naturally; unless they are woken up to a choice that they were unaware of – say, by a therapist.  Even then, if I point out a choice to one of my clients, are they then free to choose one of the options, or are they not compelled by the evidence and/or particular arguments to ‘choose’ the option that they cannot help but ‘choose’. But Ellis insists that the unhappy golfer is ‘choosing’ to upset himself.

– How I moved beyond the simple ABC model, arriving at the holistic Stimulus-Organism-Response (SOR) model.

– The importance of the childhood of the unhappy golfer;

– The nature of cumulative, interpretive experience; and the ways in which the unhappy golfer’s personality is based on states of the ego – called Parent, Adult and Child ego states.

– His attachment style (secure or insecure: See Appendix B, below).

– His personality adaptation (which is how he adapted to his parents, when he was very young: See Appendix A, below).

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I then present the ‘APET model’ from the Human Givens School of psychotherapy, which is structured like this:

A = Activating event: (The unhappy golfer’s peers reject him)

P = Pattern Matching: (This triggers a ‘pattern match’ with some experience from the past)

E = Emotion: (His emotional response is the same this time as it was in the past [by act of habit])

T = Thought: (The unhappy golfer’s thoughts follow from his emotions, and do not cause his emotions).

Back cover, Ellis and the Golfer3.JPGThe APET model provides a better model for understanding the mind of the unhappy golfer, as compared with the simple ABC model created by Albert Ellis, which claims that:

A = Activating Event (The unhappy golfer’s peers reject him)

B = Belief system (The unhappy golfer ‘tells himself’ something irrational about this rejection)

C = Consequence (the Belief causes him to Feel terribly unhappy).

Then I look at ‘external affect regulation’ (or emotional soothing from an external person) as the thing the unhappy golfer needs to calm his emotions, and to then internalize as a new way to respond to being disliked by his golfing peers and/or others in the future.

Dr Jim's office2And finally I look at the difficulties of habit change, and the impossibility of ‘choice’ before consciousness of options. Plus a long section on how I would have dealt with the unhappy golfer, in terms of my perceptions and models of therapy, which can be evaluated by you, the reader, as compared against Albert Ellis’s use of the simple ABC model.

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Jim Byrne, Hebden Bridge, June 2019

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Whole cover, Ellis and the Golfer3

References

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