It is not unreasonable to conjecture that happiness is the final goal of a human life. Human beings engage in action for the sake of the end result of that action. For example, one engages in the activity of house-building for the sake of having a house; one walks for the sake of being not where one is, but somewhere else.
One peculiar activity or action observed within the human sphere is that action of suicide. Every day across the world some number of individual human beings takes direct purposeful action with the intention of bringing to an end the physiological functionings of their biological systems, i.e., their bodies.
Although all human beings are by nature inhabitants of a physical system that will ultimately cease to function, i.e., will die, and although this fact of inevitable death is known to all, or almost all, human beings, nevertheless, no small number of human individuals choose to take action with their own hands and according to their own devices to promote self-directed endings as human beings. Whatever it is that anyone who kills himself might think or believe regarding what happens after death, what does remain a singular constant is this: Anyone who kills himself has found his existence as a conscious sentient thing existing within a human body and all the entrapments of human living to have reached a threshold of such pain and discomfort that the only perceived solution is that of self-extermination.
This threshold of suicidal pain represents an extreme at one end of a continuum of human conscious existence, the other extreme of which can be given the term happiness. Consequently, for the purposes of this short essay, suicidal pain will be referred to as unhappiness, and whatever its possible opposite extreme may be will be referred to as happiness. Between these two extremes of unhappiness and happiness lies a continuum of human conscious existence such that happiness is that extreme representing the ultimate goal of human desire and activity. However, given the essential nature of the human animal as a thing existing in space and time, and thus as a physical system, work and activity are required of each and every human individual to maintain his or her physical existence. Consequently, it is within this arena of required work that human individuals find themselves unable to maintain either their physical existences or their psychic states without engaging in activity. That is, without making choices and engaging in activity, both individual activity and activity in conjunction with other individuals, the life of the human individual will naturally come to an end.
It just is within this sphere of individual and collective activity and choices that any given human individual will find the determinants of his or her subjective sense of well-being, i.e., his or her position between the above described extremes of unhappiness and happiness. When an individual finds himself or herself at a place within this continuum that is judged undesirable from which he or she is unable to escape, or when an individual finds himself inexplicably and uncontrollably moving to the extreme of unhappiness, the human individual may choose to take action for the sake of reversing his or her condition.
It is not unreasonable that a human individual may make attempts to reverse his or her condition by altering or changing any number of variables within his or her life. An individual may, for example, end relationships with one or more other individuals and replace these relationships with others, or none at all. An individual may make geographical or occupational changes. Or, an individual may choose to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Indeed, for some individuals, such changes in life-variables may temporarily or even permanently serve to improve their subjective senses of self-satisfaction and well-being, moving them closer to the extreme of happiness. However, there will always remain some individuals who find themselves unable to improve their senses of well-being by working to alter various external variables in their lives. Regardless of changes in relationships, geography, occupation, or other factors, some individuals will remain the same, or find themselves in an even more undesirable place along the continuum between the extremes of unhappiness and happiness. For these individuals, what does remain constant is more than obvious. That is, the constant just is the individual him or herself. Consequently, if an individual finds him or herself unable to improve his or her subjective sense of well-being by manipulating the external entrapments of his or her life, either well-being is impossible for this individual, or else the possibility of subjective well-being lies within a different sphere altogether. That is, the possibility of finding and achieving improvement in subjective well-being lies within the sphere of the individual himself, such that change and alteration of and within the individual comes to be a necessary, and perhaps even sufficient, ingredient in satisfying one’s desire for a greater sense of subjective well-being. Toward this end, then, one action that an individual may choose to take is that of seeking help from another individual, an individual who specializes in just such a category of care, i.e., a professional counselor or therapist.
The point at which an individual seeks out and requests help from a professional counselor is a point at which the individual is more or less desperate. For, it is at this point of seeking professional mental health assistance that an individual is likely to have exhausted what in his estimation is a collective whole of possible changes in life-variables. In a word, regardless of where he goes, what he does, or to whom he relates, this individual has come to a point of realization that altering and improving his subjective sense of well-being lies outside of his power to manipulate and arrange whatever external factors and variables that are within his power to manipulate and arrange.
Theories and philosophies regarding the truth of human nature matter little to an individual who approaches a professional counselor for assistance regarding his or her life-issues. What an individual in pain seeks is relief to a lesser or greater degree of whatever is disturbing and is causative of his or her discomfort. Consequently, the practice of professional counseling is, and should be, directed at alleviating such pain and discomfort to whatever degree possible, as quickly as possible, while also doing so in a manner such that an immediate intervention is not undertaken at the risk, possibility, or probability of future negative consequences.
For example, alcohol and drugs are very effective at immediately relieving immediate pain and discomfort. However, alcohol and drugs are transitory in their ameliorative powers and not only provide no lasting cure but are liable to generate more problems and issues for the individual in the future, such that they themselves come to be the sources and generators of pain and discomfort. In actuality, along with alcohol and drugs, any changes or attempted changes an individual may make in his or her external environment (geographical, occupational, relationship) may provide short-term immediate relief of felt pain and discomfort. However, any external change will also of necessity lead to additional external consequences and effects which will impact upon the individual in perhaps unforeseen and undesirable ways, effectively canceling the original sense of immediate relief consequent to some or another external life-change.
Consequently, although external life-changes are not outside the scope of possible or necessary interventions, a more conservative initial approach to dealing with an individual’s discomfort and pain of living would seem prudent. That is, an approach to counseling that encourages an individual to make no external changes in his or her life (at least initially) would demonstrate a number of advantages. First, an individual in distress is likely to make choices and decisions regarding external changes from the standpoint of a distressed mental state. In a state of mental distress, an individual is less likely to have full access to and control over his or her capacity for rational thought. Second, an individual in distress may or may not have an accurate perception of the cause or causes of the distress, and may seek to effect external changes that have little or nothing to do with the actual cause or causes of the personal distress. Third, any changes an individual makes in his or her external environment will certainly have effects and consequences upon others, effects and consequences that may not be beneficial, or even harmful, and such possible foreseeable effects and consequences upon others are likely to be disregarded or altogether ignored or discounted by the individual in distress.
It may at first seem that a bona fide theory or philosophy of the essence of human nature and the truth of the purpose and meaning of being human would be a prerequisite for dealing with issues of well-being, happiness and unhappiness. However, not only are there no small number of contending theories and philosophies facing adjudication, it is not even clear that there in fact are such a things as essential human nature and meaning of human life. Consequently, in the face of such competing theories and philosophies of human nature and its truth and meaning, in some respects it would seem but arbitrary which theory or philosophy would serve as the standpoint from which a counselor would approach a client seeking help for the sake of alleviating personal cognitive distress.
However, aside from philosophical theorizing regarding the essential nature of the human being, there is one generic method of approaching and beginning the practice of counseling for the sake of helping another human individual in cognitive pain and distress. This approach sets aside discussions of competing philosophical theories of human nature in favor of simply observing what there is before us, i.e., what humans in fact do. If counseling takes its grounding in observable facts, and is able to trace the lineage of at least some varieties of human suffering to these observable facts, then the counseling process with an individual in cognitive distress might provide the possibility of improvement in an individual’s subjective sense of well being such that the only initial adjustments an individual needs to seek and accomplish are those regarding variables that are internal, i.e., those variables that exists within the thinking and cognitive structure of the individual him or herself.
One the one hand, these facts referenced immediately above are elegantly simple in their demonstration and observability. One the other hand, effective counseling practice from the standpoint of these facts represents a skill that is difficult and is effective only after considerable practice and experience, as with any other human skill.
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is the counseling model that most closely fits and aligns with the constraints outlined above. REBT takes its fundamental grounding from the insight that “people are not disturbed by things, but by their view of things” (Sharf, 2008).
The above statement is provided in the text in the form of assertion. However, the following simple explanation might provide some argumentative and rational justification for the truth of the above statement. Human beings exist and live in a world in which things happen and daily experience a variety of events. These daily happenings and events are causes of other events and happenings; they have effects and consequences.
Take, for example, a fire that is used for the cooking of food. The effect of the fire is that of heat, and it is this heat that effects the cooking of the food for nourishment. Moreover, if any two or more individuals were to place their hands into the fire, the uniform result would be bodily injury and the subjective experiences of pain. Consequently, it would be reasonable to conclude that the true and actual cause of injury, pain and distress is the fire and the heat produced by the fire. Moreover, prevention of injury and pain could, and would, be accomplished by altering the relation between the hand and the fire, either by extinguishing (destroying) the fire or by keeping one’s hand out of the fire.
However, on the other hand, when an external event produces non-uniform and non-universal, or almost non-universal, effects upon human individuals, then there must necessarily be something else at work in order to account for the varying effects upon human individuals resulting from a single event. For example, a fact of human existence is that of death. Human beings die every day. It is also true that the death of an individual may have a severe traumatic effect upon one, and yet have no effect, or even the opposite effect, upon another. Consequently, in opposition to the injurious and painful effect of the fire, the consequent variable effects of an individual’s death upon others cannot be exclusively and entirely traced to the actual observable factual event itself, i.e., the dying and death of an individual. Thus, if an individual’s death has different or opposite effects upon other surviving individuals, and if all individuals share in common all other relevant external variables, then the only remaining locales of any elements accountable for the varying effects upon a plurality of individuals is within the individuals themselves. Consequently, by extension from this most extreme of events, i.e., the death of a human individual, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the cognitive and emotional effect of any event whatsoever upon any individual whatsoever is determined in part by elements possessed by the individual upon whom the final subjective experiential effect occurs. Thus, it would be just these internal elements possessed by the individual in cognitive distress that would warrant examination and consideration by the individual in accordance with the knowledgeable direction of an experienced counselor prior to an individual effecting changes in his or her external life variables willy-nilly in an effort to eradicate and evade what the individual himself judges to be events and happenings and other elements causative (like the fire above) of his or her internal cognitive distress, injury, and pain.
From the standpoint of REBT, these internal elements are components of the client’s belief system. It is these belief system components that work together to filter an external (or internal) event and the client’s final subjective experience occasioned by that external (or internal) event or, in the words of REBT, an activating event. Thus, an activating event, either external or internal, is something that is interpreted and filtered through the belief system components of an individual and eventually impacts and affects an individual in a cognitive manner. What is important here is that it is the eventual and final meaning given to an activating event by an individual as filtered through and delivered by his or her belief system components that determines the individual’s reaction, positively or negatively, one way or another way, to the original activating event, and also determines, or is a determining factor in, consequent behavior or action by that individual. Such consequent behavior or action by the individual then generates a new series of consequences and activating events which then again are interpreted and assigned meaning in the same way.
Obviously, if an individual’s belief system components are the elements responsible for patterns and sequences of emotional disturbances and unpleasant experiences, and thus subjective cognitive and emotional distresses, and unhealthy consequential actions and behaviors, then regardless of the manner in which an individual directs his efforts to altering his environment or others to whom he relates, he will never achieve a stable and lasting cognitive-emotional-behavioral equilibrium sufficient to relieve his immediate symptoms of distress, nor to promote any scenarios and life-changes that might promote personal self-actualization. These self-defeating belief system components are termed irrational beliefs (Sharf, 2008) by Ellis, and what makes a belief irrational for Ellis is its tendency to restrict or to prevent an individual from achieving self-determined goals, goals which the individual himself promotes as desirable and which are proclaimed to be that toward which he is working and toward which he wishes to walk.
A discussion of the interactions and interrelations between cognition (including beliefs, patterns of thinking and inference and logic, etc.), emotions, and behavior is far beyond the scope of this essay. What is of more importance here, though, is that between an individual’s experience of an event and the actual event itself lies a complex cognitive structure, a structure without which human life would not be possible, but also a structure that might harbor components that make a particular individual’s life less than more satisfying, and that might promote and maintain self-defeating behaviors and actions, as well as subjective distress. Consequently, if an individual were to be able to identify these unproductive components (irrational beliefs) and either replace them with more useful components, or perhaps to restrict these components within healthier limits, the individual in subjective distress would, simply by working within the sphere of his own belief system, be able to experience the very same world and similar activating events in such a manner as to ascribe different meanings to the same and, thus, would, in a sense, find that his world, both external and internal, has come to change itself in its appearance to the individual. Thus, if the world seems friendlier, and friendlier secondary to (perhaps) permanent changes the individual works to achieve within himself, then the human individual would be happier, and would be happier regardless of how his external and internal world changes and alters in ways that are out of his power to control. For, such is how the world is. Things happen, and things happen that are irreversible (such as death), and only a (more) properly configured and balanced inner belief system can successfully navigate an individual through current immediate difficulties as well as unforeseen future difficulties. Additionally, if the individual finds his relationship to the world to be friendlier than hostile, the human individual would automatically feel an acquired sense of power, or even real power, with which he or she can direct his or her thoughts, feelings, and actions toward the accomplishing of self-determined goals and for the sake of his or her own individual self-actualizing process.
This view of the human individual, the nature of at least some human problems, the delimitation of the territory within which the source of such problems reside, and the target of the counselor’s interventions has a number of significant advantages and attractions to other competing theories and practices of counseling.
A client (a human individual) always presents to a counselor with what might be termed a chief complaint. That is, a client’s chief complaint answers the question: Why are you here today? What is going on?
Although the client will present to the counselor with one, or more than one, chief complaint, it is not unreasonable that the client could, if motivated and encouraged, dig up and present a seemingly endless list of complaints and stories, all of which would share one common theme: The client is experiencing subjective distress, is not happy, and wants to feel better, whatever feeling better might happen to mean for any given client at any given time; and the client himself is at the center of all of his complaints, stories, emotions, cognitions, and past and intended future behaviors and actions. Moreover, regardless of a current client’s current chief complaint or complaints, the client will at some point exit the counseling process and continue on in his life.
The elegance of the REBT model is that it is designed to help a client more effectively deal with past activating events, current recurring environmental activating events, and also future activating events. That is, the REBT model incorporates a strong teaching component into the counseling process such that the counseling process might not merely resolve or remediate current problems or issues, or persistent emotional problems rooted in the past, but that the counseling process helps the client identify and manage those cognitive elements within himself that are contributing factors to his subjective distress and specters of unhappy experiences. Consequently, within the process of counseling a client might not only find effective means to reinterpret his current world-environment for the sake of increasing his subjective well-being, the client might also walk away from the counseling process with the tools and capacity to prevent future distresses and disturbances, or at least to quickly halt and resolve evolving episodes of subjective distress before finding himself once again in a situation that is judged to be desperate and inescapable. Moreover, a client who finds himself successful at resolving and curing his life-issues from within the REBT model might himself serve others by playing the role of the counselor-teacher as he inevitably comes into contact with other individuals who are experiencing and expressing sentiments of subjective distress and feelings of unhappiness.
On the one hand, human individuals are just that, individuals. That is, as an individual, a human individual is a wholly self-contained system. On the other hand, not one single human individual can long maintain his human existence without also relating to, depending upon, and in some way willfully connecting with other human individuals. This, then, is what represents, at least in part, a large difficulty for an individual experiencing subjective distress, and also for REBT as a counseling model. It is not unreasonable to assume that whatever their chief complaints or presenting issues may be, individuals who seek professional counseling will often cite relations or relationships with other individuals as contributing factors to their current sense of subject distress. The REBT model as outlined above is, or seems to be, an effective strategy for helping individuals deal with and cope with elements in their lives over which they have no control, some of which elements are other individuals and the necessity of relating to those individuals, i.e., on the job.
However, unlike co-workers, bosses, teachers, and others to whom an individual must relate on a daily basis, the individual members of a family, especially children, cannot without fault simply separate themselves from each other at the end of the day, nor even upon an impulsive whim or will, without potentially severe and undesirable painful consequences for all members of the family.
If the family is itself a system such that the family is a unit, a whole, constituted of parts, each of which is a necessary ingredient for the proper and effective functioning of the family, then the family functions well only when all of its parts are functioning well. One component of family is that of emotional intimacy. Whereas an individual may find life in the work place more manageable and negotiable consequent to REBT counseling and his newly discovered ability to identify and cure irrational beliefs, and consequently a better ability to manage emotions and define boundaries in relation to his coworkers, i.e., by finding it possible and necessary to be emotionally self-sufficient and emotionally encapsulated while still performing well on the job in a friendly manner, an individual identified as an elemental part of a family system does not have such a luxury. For, a family, by definition, demands emotional intimacy, stability, and constancy, within limits of course, and also demands behaviors, actions, and responses to other family members in a way that is very much other than what would be acceptable in, say, the workplace. That is, the individual may find improvement in his subjective experience of life via REBT as applied to the workplace without requiring change in his co-workers or other elements of the work place environment; and, such has been stated above as one of the prevailing advantages of REBT for disturbed and distressed individuals.
However, regarding the family system, it is unlikely that the family itself, as a whole unit, will improve its very own functioning if only one of the parts of the family, i.e., one of the human parts, puts into practice his newly acquired skills from REBT counseling. To be sure, that individual who is himself practicing and exercising the principles and new skills learned from REBT may himself feel better within the family structure, and though his new experience of the family as seen through an improved irrational-rational belief system may lead to different behaviors and actions toward the other members of the family, which would, or could, consequentially affect the other parts of the family, nevertheless, if the family itself as a single unit is to increase in its ability to function healthily, then each and every part of the family system must consciously contribute to the family for the sake of the family qua family.
It would seem that though REBT may have some use in application to a family system, the principles and practices of REBT would seem to meet with some difficulties regarding family systems. First, there are the children. REBT is invested in an individual’s ability to be aware of entrenched and probably unconscious components of his belief system, and the individual’s ability to recognize patterns and lines of thinking sourced in these irrational beliefs, and the individual’s ability to sustain a certain effort of work and practice (attention span), which work and practice is not always fun or playful, and which requires concerted concentrated effort and tolerance to discomfort. Children, because they are children, clearly do not yet have the cognitive apparatus to engage in such self-reflection, self-teaching, and internal self-dialogue. Second, if the principles of REBT are to be applied to the family then, assuming a simple nuclear family with a mother and a father, both the mother and the father must of necessity participate in the practices of REBT. For, unless both the mother and the father are actively engaged in the practicing the principles of REBT, there would not be any common ground or vocabulary upon which or with which the family, i.e., the mother and father, could equally discuss, manage, and resolve currently existing or future issues within the family. Also, if there are children, it would be in the children’s best interest that both the mother and the father work together for the sake of the family. For, otherwise, the family dysfunction may only increase if but one of the two parents is actively practicing the principles of REBT. That is, if only one of the two parents is actively practicing the principles of REBT, then everyone could find themselves less happy and more distressed.
In the current year of 2010, the United States presents a population that is anything but racially and culturally uniform. To be sure, within any geographical and national territory one is sure to find variations within its population, variations such as dialects, traditions, habits, and so forth. However, it is reasonable to conjecture that such territorial-bound variations of the individuals of a population are in no small part attributable to geographical differences, climatic differences, or differing influences according to differing territorial (national) neighbors, and the like. The United States in the same manner demonstrates such geographically attributable differences in its population. However, the United States has been, and still is, a territory (country) to which individuals from around the world have immigrated in search of personal freedom, liberation, and the attractions associated with the United States’ democratic form of government, i.e., capitalism and promises of success and reward for the hard-working individualistic spirit. Consequently, the United States harbors within its territory distinct racial and cultural groups, groups that are distinct not merely (if even) in virtue of observable physical distinctions, but groups whose distinctions (and internal unities) are defined by the ways and manners that these individuals relate to each other, to themselves, and to the world-at-large.
However, in 2010 United States, these racial and cultural groups represent a minority (nationally, if not always regionally) both in terms of population and in terms of power. That is, the individual human beings of these distinct racial and cultural groups of 2010 United States will, qua being human, find themselves facing any number of what might be speculated to be universal human lifespan development and human relationship issues. However, the individuals from within one of these distinct racial or cultural groups will in all probability be presented with a structure of professional counseling the individual members of which (the counselors) are statistically likely to be of a different racial or cultural group. This, then, represents one of the difficulties and resistances encountered by a racial or cultural minority individual in 2010 United States. To be quite frank about the matter, chances are better than not that any randomly selected professional counselor will be white and of European descent. The question now at hand is this: What is the relation between the counseling model outlined above (REBT) and the needs of individuals from non-white non-European racial and cultural groups?
The REBT counseling model, as it relates to racial and cultural minority individuals, can be both criticized and championed.
On the one hand, the REBT counseling model would seem to achieve an advantage over competing counseling theories and models simply in virtue of the (major) territorial scope of the counseling process itself, i.e., the belief system components (rational versus irrational) of the individual. Moreover, given the kind of beliefs that REBT targets, i.e., absolutistic irrational beliefs, for example, REBT would not challenge, call into question, or be adversarial to what might be termed worldview beliefs, i.e., those beliefs shared by a racial or cultural group regarding such things as religion and values, right and wrong, good and bad, and so forth. That is, by targeting irrational beliefs, such as those of the absolutistic variety, an experienced and skilled REBT counselor could, and would, dispute not necessarily the content of the individual’s belief, but rather would target the absolutism of an individual’s belief. To be sure, such a practice of the REBT counseling model with racial and cultural minority individuals, or with anyone for that matter, must be engaged according to and within certain limits, limits the nature and exposition of which are again far beyond the scope of this short essay. But, for example: If a racial or cultural minority individual has a belief that such and such must always be done, and be done in this or that way, for the sake of preventing post-mortem eternal infinite pain, i.e., to prevent going to hell, and if such a belief were to be a belief shared by his or her racial or cultural group, then clearly the REBT counselor would not dispute such a belief with his client. For, if such an absolutistic belief is (an) ingredient in the individual’s racial or cultural components of his personal identity, then disputation of and eradication and replacement of such a belief would serve only to disengage such a minority individual from his relation to the other members of his racial or cultural group, and would likely do the individual client harm, rather than to provide any lasting benefit.
Therefore, the above example succinctly illustrates the general idea of the limits and boundaries of absolutistic beliefs that would be, or might be, targeted by any given individual REBT counselor. That is, the REBT counselor might be of benefit to a client who is racially or culturally different by targeting those non-racially and non-culturally specific absolutistic elements of the individual client’s belief system components.
On the other hand, the interracial and intercultural practicing of the REBT counseling model, that is, where the counselor and the client are to a lesser or greater degree racially or, more importantly, culturally different, can be criticized by suggesting that the REBT counseling model very may well function effectively when, and only when, the counselor and the client are, for all intents and purposes, of and from the same cultural group. For, the REBT counseling model targets irrational belief system components not simply because such components are judged to be irrational, and thus inferior to what is in fact rational, but because those beliefs regarded by the REBT counseling model are the intermediary elements lying between an activating event, and whatever else happens after such an event is perceived by or affects the individual. That is, the rational and irrational belief system components, serving as intermediary filters of an individual experience of an objective event, determine and influence the resultant course and line of that individual’s thinking and patterns of logical inference (at least as far as such inferential thinking is grounded in an initial, albeit, irrational belief), which eventually comes to rest as a subjective emotional state (a feeling tone), which itself is then in the same way given to thinking and inference, eventually leading the individual to choose either this or that action, or even no action at all. This or that action, or even no action whatsoever, will without doubt then begin the next series of effects and consequences for which the individual is responsible, and which will undoubtedly have an effect upon the individual. That is, what an individual chooses to do, and in fact does, will either benefit or harm him, or else leave him unaffected, which might arguably be a kind of harm, i.e., a sense of powerlessness to do or change anything.
It is just because of such gravity of an individual’s choices and actions that the REBT counseling model may not fare so well for the counselor dealing with a client representative of a culture quite other than his own. For, the REBT counselor would be targeting and labeling (as irrational) things (beliefs) as they are presented to him by his client. That is, the REBT counselor would not be (the) recipient of a client’s stated, say, absolutistic belief as that belief exists concretely, i.e., in context, within the whole of the client’s cognitive structure and his complex manifold belief system apparatus, which belief system apparatus is shared by the other members of his cultural group, a group within which the individual client exists, lives, shares history, and will likely operate in the near and far futures. Or again, the ability of an REBT counselor to target and label any single belief as irrational, or rational, depends on the counselor’s ability to see and determine the extent to which other as yet unstated beliefs, i.e., the concrete context of any given belief, are related to and thus from which the same acquires at least some portion of its determinate content. Simply, the REBT counselor may find himself treading on risky territory when and if he targets and labels as irrational a client’s (absolutistic) belief as that belief is communicated to the counselor in abstraction, i.e., out of context.
Take the following for an example, which is admittedly but a caricature, but which nonetheless illustrates the point: Suppose a client were to express to a counselor that he absolutely must marry some girl, or else his life will not go well, and he will be an unhappy failure as a person. This just is the sort of absolutistic statement of a client’s belief that an REBT counselor might target for intervention by labeling it as irrational and not promotional of the client’s life-goals, one of which might to be happy. However, if the client is of and from a culture, or cultural group, where marriages are arranged by families when those to be betrothed are but infants, and if the REBT counselor is wholly unaware of this contextual territory of his client’s stated absolutistic belief, then it would be but harmful for the REBT counselor to dispute with the client the clients perceived relationship between his absolutistic statement and the quality of the client’s future life.
Although the above is clearly an extreme example, it nonetheless, as (an) example, serves to point out the very real possibility and probability of less extreme, less obvious contextual relationships between a culturally-other client’s stated absolutistic beliefs, and thus between what an REBT counselor may target and label as an irrational belief and his client’s current subjective state (of well-being) and his client’s concerns regarding the past, future, and present. Consequently, a practitioner of REBT style counseling must of necessity be very clear regarding the personal identity of his client insofar as his client’s personal identity is determined by his reported cultural group of inclusion; and the REBT counselor must take responsibility that he (the counselor) is sufficiently knowledgeable of the particular cultural group claimed by his client.
Regardless of the individual with whom the above outlined counseling model is practiced, change, of some sort, to some extent, should and can be expected. That is, the presumed goal of any brand of counseling is to benefit the client, whatever that might happen to mean. However, any change from one state to another state also presumes that between these two states lies a process of changing. That is, if a client presents to a counselor with a chief complaint of being unhappy, and requests assistance for the sake of reversing his current situation, then the client will, prior to achieving his intended goal, whatever that may be, traverse through a process of changing, i.e., through a period of time during which he is ceasing to be the way he was, and coming to be the way he wants to be, and to remain.
The client certainly (presumably) neither desires nor expects to worsen his situation secondary to the counseling process.
On the one hand, given the dynamics and the strategies of the above outlined counseling model, REBT, it is conceivable that, in the face of objective progress, the individual client encounters what might seem to be a kind of subject regress or worsening of his initial state of subjective distress and self-determined degree of well-being. For, it is not unreasonable to conjecture that any given client will present to a counselor with complaints of subjective distress and feelings of ill-being while also, at least initially, attributing his condition to variables existing in the external world. If this sort of client presents to a counselor practicing the REBT model of counseling, the client will soon discover that his attention is, under direction of the counselor, diverted away from indicting external variables and events and toward himself, his own cognitive structure, his thinking, and his belief system components. Thus, whereas this client initially walks into the counselor’s office with accusations against the external world in an effort to account for his own internal subjective distress, he will quickly find his accusations acknowledged yet dismissed, and he will be directed to examine himself as the cause and the source of his emotional disturbances, unproductive inferential thinking, and self-defeating behaviors. Consequently, the client in the early counseling process will find himself no longer contending with an external world from which he might seek escape or in which he might execute changes, and will come to find himself in a world, his own mental world, from which there is no escape and in which the offending elements (irrational beliefs) evade his current awareness, and the existence of which he (the client) may even be unwilling to acknowledge or willing to examine. In a word, the counselor practicing the REBT model of counseling informs his new client that it is not the client’s world that is the problem and which needs alteration or manipulation, nor that it is even the client’s behavior that might be tweaked this or that way, but that it is the client himself and his innermost and most intimate parts that are, so to speak, the problem. To be sure, the counselor would not intend to inform the client that it is the client himself that is the problem, or that the client himself is defective, but it is not unreasonable that a client may receive just such a message from an REBT counselor. For, at least initially, the client would clearly be relating to the REBT counselor with his currently established belief system components which would filter and interpret the well-intentioned teaching efforts of the REBT counselor. Consequently, a new client presenting to an REBT counselor may very well find himself in a subjectively worse state of mind. Be this as it may, the point is this: What to the REBT counselor might be seen and acknowledged as positive progress may by the client be seen and felt as negative, as a worsening of both his internal state of subjective distress as well as a narrowing of the possibilities of successful change for the better leading, perhaps, to an intense sense of distress, panic, and hopelessness and fear.
While the above may sound extreme, it nevertheless illustrates a salient point regarding the process qua process of therapeutic change. That is, the process of change as facilitated by the REBT counseling model may exhibit paradoxical aspects. While on the one had the client is making bona fide positive therapeutic progress, on the other hand the client may not always experience such objective progress in a subjectively congruent manner.
On the other hand, aside from the above described hazards, the process of client change as facilitated by the REBT counseling model could conceivably happen quite quickly. For, if a client is willing and able to entertain the idea that certain elements of his belief system are in fact influential and responsible factors in his resultant sense of subjective distress and seemingly impotent behaviors and actions, then a client could conceivably effect a wide range of emotional and behavioral change by targeting a relatively small number of irrational beliefs, or irrational belief themes, i.e., the absolutism of absolutistic beliefs, for example. Consequently, even in the face of the hazards describe in the above paragraphs, it is also possible that such hazards be quickly negotiated and effectively managed.
However, change within an REBT counseling model is the result, a result, of a process that is rooted in an individual client’s belief system components, a system that has likely been in place and active for a very long time. Consequently, even assuming a client’s ability and willingness to consider practicing the REBT counseling model, the client must do just that, i.e., practice. That is, the client cannot simply come to a counselor, dictate his chief complaint and some self-selected facts of his life, and receive clear-cut directions about what to do differently and about what to change or replace and then be done with the whole matter. Nor can the client simply come to the counselor once a week, or however often, and expect all the work toward self-change to be done and accomplished within the confines of the counseling sessions. That is, the process of change within the REBT counseling model is a process that absolutely demands of the client persistent effort, work, and practice in being aware of his cognitive processes and emotional reactions each moment of each day, to whatever extent is possible for any given individual client. Consequently, the REBT counseling model is one that does not so much fix and repair as much as it teaches and informs. That is, the REBT counseling model teaches and informs any given individual client what it is that the client himself does with what he has, i.e., his cognitive apparatus and his beliefs, that contributes to his emotional disturbances and consequently defined behavioral responses.
Thus, the process of change for a client engaged in an REBT counseling model process is a process the success of which is determined by qualities of the client himself, qualities such as willingness, ability, desire, and trust. Also, because the process of change within this counseling model requires the individual to effect alterations not in the external world but in his own internal world, and because his internal world of thinking and beliefs is, or has been, to a large degree automatic and habitual, not to mention unknown, then, as with any attempt by anyone to alter habits and discover what is hidden, the process of change will require diligent work and effort. More importantly, perhaps, is that given the nature of automatic habits, be they behavioral habits or cognitive habits, any achieved beneficial change on behalf of the client is a change that must be maintained. That is, unlike changing a log of wood to ashes with fire, a client who finds some, or more, success within the REBT counseling model will necessarily need to consciously and conscientiously practice the principles of REBT for life. To be sure, with practice, the client will, or may, come to find that what once required tremendous exertion and exhausting effort now requires work and effort akin to brushing his teeth, nevertheless, without some sort of daily maintenance and conscious effort it is unlikely that the client will not relapse and again become victim of either old, but not forgotten, irrational beliefs, or even of newly generated irrational beliefs. What is certain is that the individual client, while alive, will not cease to encounter activating events. For, any and all experienced events activate something within a human individual in some way or another, for such is what an experience is.
The actual clinical practice of the above outlined counseling model (REBT) is, and would be, itself a topic of discussion sufficient to fill volumes of texts. However, given the (far) above stated original attractiveness of the REBT counseling model, i.e., that it initially pursues client-change from within the client himself without initial perturbation of the client’s concrete external world-environment, and given some of the above considerations regarding possibly difficulty negotiated issues regarding intercultural counseling, it is conjectured that of the number of methods and approaches taken by an REBT counselor, it is that of the so-called Socratic method that would best conform to a number of the constraints and risks outlined above.
The Socratic method takes its name from the many dialogues of Plato, in which Socrates always, or almost always, is one of the interlocutors. Socrates clearly states his position as that of knowing nothing, of having nothing to teach, and of being but that of a student (versus a teacher), and engages the other interlocutors of the dialogue at hand simply by having a conversation, but a conversation in which Socrates serves as the primary agent of questioning. In the dialogues of Plato, though their themes and subject matters differ widely, Socrates invariably ushers from his conversational partner, or partners, contradictory statements, contradictory statements that are not contradictory in virtue of some contradiction that might be the result of inferences and implications of things actually said, but actual literal statements that flat-out contradict each other, such that one or the other statement could be true, but certainly not both at the same time, even if neither statement is true. In this way, then, Socrates pushes the topic under discussion further along and in this process is able to uncover and bring out deeper and more well-hidden cognitive elements of self-deception, i.e., cognitive elements the REBT counselor might target and label as irrational beliefs. Moreover, in this manner, i.e., the Socratic manner, Socrates effectively remains on the perimeter of his conversational partner’s cognitive territory, successfully remaining immune against accusations against any stated belief or suggestion of his own, and also successfully leaving the cognitive system of his conversational partner unadulterated by anything he, Socrates, might happen to say during the course of a conversation. To be sure, the cognitive structure of Socrates’ conversational partner inevitably comes to be perturbed, but again, it is, and would be, say, of the client’s very own doing, which again would, and does, leave Socrates (the counselor) free of accusation, entanglement, entrapment, and any possible indictment by the client that somehow the counselor is also a contributing element to the client’s subjective evaluation of his very own sense of well-being or emotional distress.
Consider the following example, which is allegedly a true conversational exchange that occurred on the steps of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Georgia: A graduate student (the author) reported the details of a conversation had with an undergraduate student as follows: The undergraduate student, nearing the end of his undergraduate years, and facing choices regarding his future, was in a dilemma between applying to and attending medical school to be a physician, and applying and attending graduate school in philosophy, presumably to be a philosopher, and also a professor of philosophy. Initially, the undergraduate student stated that graduate study in philosophy was unattractive because the scope and field of philosophy is so big that there seems there would be no end to it all, there always being something new and different to learn. But a few minutes later, under the knowledgeable directive questioning by the graduate student, the undergraduate student stated that medical school, and medicine in general, was attractive because the scope and field of medicine is so big that there seems there would be no end to it all, there always being something new and different to learn. At this point the graduate student pointed out to his undergraduate companion the contradiction: It very well may have been true that philosophy was unattractive and medicine attractive, but it is not possible for one to be attractive and the other unattractive for the very one and the same reason. That is, being endless cannot, or could not, be what made philosophy unattractive and medicine attractive. In the end, the undergraduate student chose to pursue graduate studies in philosophy, apparently at some point discovering for himself his own truth regarding his previous claims about philosophy and medicine as possible future careers.
The beauty and elegance of the Socratic manner of relating to a client in a counseling process model outlined in this essay is its ability, if practiced well, to quickly and efficiently bring forward from the client’s own mouth statements which are contradictory, and which thus provide a kind of objective indisputable evidence for a malfunction or incoherence of some kind lying within the clients cognitive system. If such incontrovertible evidence can be produced that the client’s own belief system and inferential thinking is occupied by hitherto unknown and unimagined powers of conflict production, then the client may then be more likely to entertain the idea that his experiential world is in part the result of his very own (cognitive) activity (thinking) and (cognitive) materials (beliefs). Moreover, the production of such self-expressed literally contradictory statements by a client also produces, or is intended to produce, within the client himself an impulse, presumably fueled by a sense of confusion and curiosity, to work within his own cognitive system for the sake of discovery and knowledge of self, or at least those parts of and within himself which may in whole or in part be causative of his subjective distress. For, logically, one can effectively eliminate or alter an effect if one eliminates or alters the cause. However, one cannot eliminate a cause that is hidden and unseen. Belief in the fact that his very own beliefs are wholly or in part causes contributing to his subjective sense of distress, i.e., to his lack of happiness, would, or could, be beneficial to the accomplishment of the individual client’s personally self-determined goals, one of which is to feel and be better, for such is why the client presents to the counselor in the first place. In short, the Socratic manner of practicing the counseling model suggested in this essay represents a method of counseling procedure that both minimally perturbs and adulterates the presenting client’s cognitive structure, his concrete contextual place in the world, and also minimizes any actual or perceived influence that might be attributed to the counselor in response to any change in the client, be that change for the better or worse, or more or less pleasant.
In the end, the attainment of happiness, at least in part, lies within our very own thinking. That is, it is possible to achieve a greater measure and portion of happiness simply by examining oneself, i.e, by examining one’s thinking, i.e., by pursuing self-knowledge.