Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mount TBR #36

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2017. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

A Guide to Rational Living – Albert Ellis and Robert A. Harper

Therapists in rational-emotive therapy (an early name for cognitive behavioral therapy) believe that people who want peace of mind had better control their emotions with their reason. This book is an attempt to teach people how to put into perspective emotions that don’t help them. They emphasize how people can challenge their irrational ideas, which are the following. Note demands for perfectionism, not pride, will lay a person low.

1. You must have love or approval from all the significant people in your life.
2. You absolutely must be thoroughly competent, adequate, and achieving in all important areas.
3. Other people absolutely must never act obnoxiously and unfairly, so when they do, you should blame and damn them, and write them off as bad, wicked, or rotten individuals.
4. You have to judge things as being awful, terrible, and catastrophic when you are seriously frustrated or treated unfairly.
5. You must worry and fret when you have pressures and difficult experiences because you have little ability to control, and cannot change, your own disturbed feelings.
6. You must obsess about hard situations and difficult people and frantically try to escape from with alcohol or drugs. Or TV or chocolate. Or sports or politics. Or cleaning or yardwork.
7. You can eat, drink and be merry today - and every day - and still lead a highly fulfilling existence.
8. Your past remains all-important and because something once strongly influenced your life, it has to keep determining your feelings and behavior today.
9. You yourself, other people, the whole world must be better than they are at present; it is an awful and squalid world since you cannot change life’s grim facts to suit you.
10. You can achieve maximum serenity and felicity by inertia and inaction.

The authors argue that when we feel anxious or sad, one or more of these irrational beliefs is at the bottom of our disturbance. We can – and had better – think in order to dispute these irrational beliefs and improve our tranquility. They grant that some of us are too slow to dispute our own irrational beliefs convincingly and consistently , so they advise us to keep in mind slogans such as Hamlet’s “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so” or Epictetus’ “Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.”

The authors readily admit that none of this is easy and takes a lot of practice. I’ve been taking this way of thinking seriously since late 2015. There’s still a part of me – call it “the flesh” - that balks at making straightforward thinking and employing reason a habit. I am prey to crooked thinking, unwarranted assumptions, half-digested information, lame prejudices, silly default settings. It’s hard for me to control my thoughts, fears, hopes, frustrations. But lately I’m a lot better at not letting traffic and other drivers get my goat. Second, I’m more patient with co-workers than I used to be. Third, I’m much tougher, hard-boiled, when dealing with health care merry-go-round of appointments, tests, waiting, confusion, anxiety, preventable medical errors, which is a good thing for my own sake and for a significant other’s.

I read the original 1961 edition of this book, which uses the helping verb “should.” Ellis later assiduously avoided this absolutist word, preferring to use “had better.” This 1961 version also uses forms of the be-verb, such as “had been” and the passive voice.  The authors revised this book in the middle 1970s, using exclusively the e-prime style which eliminated all forms for the verb “to be.” This 1961 version does not have forms to do cognitive behavior homework, but these worksheets are available here and there on the web. This book gives only a passing mention of the ABC method, which are better sketched out in later books.

So I would advise this 1961 edition only to those readers who know CBT already and either want to examine the roots of the therapy out of curiosity or want to review the method for the sake of periodic refreshers. I try to read or re-read one Ellis book a season, to keep the ideas and methods fresh. Backsliding is all too easy, but that’s the way it goes!

Other books about CBT
·         A Guide to Personal Happiness

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