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Practical Applications of Rational Emotive Therapy
10 CEUs Practical Applications of Rational Emotive Therapy

Section 22
The Use of Syllogism in Rational-Emotive Therapy

Question 22 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | RET CEU Courses
Psychology CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs, Nurse CEUs

The author indicates how the use of syllogistic logic in rational motive therapy can help therapists expose clients' irrational beliefs.

According to adherents of rational—emotive therapy (RET), it is possible for a therapist to eliminate a client' undesirable emotions (e.g., depression or anxiety) by attacking and changing certain irrational beliefs that the client may have as part of his or her belief system. Yet, RET theorists misunderstand the relationship between events, beliefs, and emotions. Although they do not deny the role of activating events in contributing to emotions, they believe that “you mainly cause your own consequences at C by strongly believing things at B” (Ellis. 1977. p. 7). That is, people’s beliefs are the primary causes of their emotions, as, for example. striking a match is the primary cause of the match lighting. Furthermore, just as one can­not light the match without oxygen, one cannot have emotion without an activating event.

Although the importance of peoples beliefs in experiencing certain emotions is correctly emphasized in the above view of the relationship between events, beliefs, and emotions, this fails to capture adequately the logical process by which these emotions are generated.  The purpose of this article is to provide an alternative account o this relationship by explicating and applying certain fundamental concepts of the science of logic and concepts of syllogism logic in particular and to explain how this new understanding can place RET therapist in a better position to aid clients in isolating unjustified or irrational beliefs that may be responsible for their undesirable emotions

The Nature of Reasoning
Roughly speaking, rational-emotive therapy constitutes an at tempt to correct mistakes in a client's reasoning as a way of eliminating undesirable emotions Therefore, some preliminary distinctions about the nature of reasoning itself are in order.

First, there are two aspects of any form of reasoning premises and conclusions. If any process is to qualify as reasoning, both of these elements must be present. The conclusion is the belief that one is attempting to prove or justify, the premises are the beliefs that one is using to prove or justify this conclusion. Reasoning may have more than one premise, but it must have at least one.

Second, there are two related but different kinds of reasoning, deduction and induction. Deduction is a kind of reasoning in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises (Cohen. 1985). That is, it is not possible for all of the premises to be true when the conclusion is false. For example, from the premise that “All humans are mortal,” the conclusion that “All nonmortals are nonhuman” can he deduced. It the premise is true, then the conclusion must be true, and anyone who accepted the premise but denied the conclusion would he thinking “irrationally” as well as “contradicting’’ himself or herself.

Induction is a kind of reasoning in which the conclusion does not follow necessarily from the premise(s) hut instead follows with some degree of probability (Cohen, 1985). For example, from the premises that “My car won’t start” and " The gas gauge is on empty,” the conclusion that “My Car is out of gas” can be induced The conclusion is made more probable by the premises, but, unlike the case of deduction, it would still be possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false (e.g., if the gas gauge is malfunctioning and the fuel line is clogged). In the absence of any such additional evidence, however, it would (other things being equal) he irrational to believe the premises and deny the conclusion.

Although there are a number of varieties of deduction and induction (Cohen, 1985), all satisfy the respective descriptions provided above. Moreover, as forms of  reasoning that help in setting standards for ascribing terms such as rational and irrational to clients’ beliefs, they are all relevant to rational—emotive therapy.

The Categorical Syllogism
One form of reasoning relevant to RET is the syllogism A syllogism a deductive form of reasoning consisting of two premises and a conclusion. There are three primary kinds of syllogisms: categorical. hypothetical, and disjunctive (Copi, 1986) For brevity’s sake, I continued my discussion to the categorical form, although my main points could also he stated in terms of these other forms.

A categorical syllogism is so called because it consists entirely of categorical propositions. A categorical proposition is a statement of class inclusion or exclusion, as in “All humans are mortal,” “No humans are mortal,” "Some humans are mortal,” and ‘‘Some humans are not mortal” (Copi. 1986, pp. 169 172) (‘These examples illustrate the four primary kinds at categorical propositions; singular propositions such as “Socrates is mortal” are treated in logic as universal affirmatives, as in “All humans are mortal.”) The following is an example of a categorical syl­logism

No dogs are elephants
Some mammals are dogs
Therefore, some mammals are not elephants

The first premise (“No dogs are elephants”) is the major or Premise. It is so named because it contains the major term, which is defined as the predicate term of the conclusion in this ex ample. ‘ elephant “ The second premise is the minor premise. It is so named because it contains the minor term, which is defined as the subject of the conclusion - in this example, “mammals.”

The example above is also said to he a valid (deductive) reasoning. In this case valid means that the conclusion dues follow necessarily from the premises, which, as has been mentioned, is what conclusions of deductive reasoning are supposed to do. There are only a small number of categorical syllogisms that are actually valid. There is, however, a precise set of rules for testing the validity of these syllogisms that can be learned and easily applied (Copi, 1986).

Categorical syllogisms occur frequently in life contexts; however, they are often expressed verbally in incomplete form, That is, there is frequently some part of the syllogism omitted, either a premise or a conclusion. When this occurs, the reasoning is said to be enthymematic. In counseling sessions, I have found that it is rare for clients not to express their reasoning enthy­mematically

For example, one of my clients, who was having marital problems, maintained that although she should be able to offer her husband advice, it is her husband who should have the final say in family matters. When asked why she felt this way, she said that her husband was the man of the house. She was then asked: “So you think that the man of the house is the one who should have the final say in family matters?” Her affirmation of this question made it clear that her syllogism, fully articulated, ran something like this;

The man of the house is the one who should have the final say in family matters. (unexpressed major premise)
My husband is the man of the house. (minor premise)
So my husband is the one who should have the final say in family matters. (conclusion)

The next move was to question hen major premise. When asked why she believed that the man of the house is the one who should have the final say in family matters, she said that men are better than women at making decisions. This, in turn, generated another syllogism, which had as its conclusion the major premise of the previous syllogism. Fully articulated, it went something like this:

Those best at making decisions are the ones who should have the final say in family matters, (unexpressed major premise)
The man of the house is best at making decisions. (minor premise)
So the man of the house is the one who should have the final say in family matters. (conclusion)

Through the line of inquiry outlined above, using the mechanism of the categorical syllogism, it was possible to exhibit one very important part of this client’s belief system, in fact, she had no adequate inductive or deductive grounds for her minor premise. As the session progressed. she began to point out that she possessed knowledge and experience in some areas (e.g., real estate and investment) in which her husband was considerably less experienced. In the end, she realized that what previously passed for “fact” was simply a product of socialization not uncommon for women of her generation to receive. Employing the complementary logical concepts of enthymeme and categorical syllogism helped to expose an unjustified minor premise on which her main conclusion—that her husband should have the final say in family matters-—rested.

The Practical Syllogism
The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was the first person to study scientifically the categorical syllogism, and much of what we know about it is attributable to him. Aristotle distinguished between two kinds of categorical syllogisms; (a) theoretical syllogisms—those employed in the sciences (e.g., physics and geometry), and (b) practical syllogisms—-those employed in practical disciplines (e.g., ethics and the arts). Practical syllogisms, as indicated below, are of special significance to RET in so far as they focus on a practical sort of reasoning.

Aristotle believed that a practical syllogism was practical because it did not simply describe reality; rather, it was concerned with action. It provided an answer to the question “What should I do?” and not simply the question “What is?” According to Aristotle, the practical syllogism had as its major premise a universal statement (a statement using “all” or “no,” as in “All humans are mortal” and “No humans are mortal”) that tells people to respond (or act) in a certain way to things satisfying a certain class description (McKeon, 1941), The minor premise was a statement of particular fact to the effect that some particular thing satisfied, the class description specified in the major premise (McKeon, 1941). For Aristotle, the conclusion of the syllogism was then the actual behavioral response or action undertaken by a person who accepted both (major and minor) premises and who was not prevented from acting accordingly (McKeon, 1941).

Aristotle did not provide many examples of the practical syllogism. Here, however, is a schematization of one example he did provide:

All sweet things should be tasted. (major premise)
This is sweet. (minor premise)
So this is tasted. (the behavioral response made by the person who accepts the major and minor premises and who is not
prevented from so responding)

The major premise of the above syllogism is a universal di­rective to respond in a certain way to all things satisfying a certain class description (i.e., to taste whatever is sweet). Also, the minor premise is a statement of particular fact in which it is stated that “this” satisfies the class description specified in the major premise (i.e., that this is sweet). Thus, the conclusion drawn is the actual action of lasting the sweet thing referred to in the minor premise.

Because the practical syllogism, as shown above, is a device of practical reasoning that links premises to actions, it can be
used in RET to comprehend the relationship between the premises of clients’ reasoning ‘and the ways in which they respond (emotionally as well as behaviorally). What this application of the concept of the practical syllogism to RET suggests is that RET therapists see their clients’ undesirable emotions as linked to beliefs and activating events as conclusions to major and minor premises in a practical syllogism.

The purpose of this article has been to show that RET can gain by an improved understanding of the relationship among events, beliefs, and emotions This new understanding involves the incorporation of fundamental concepts of logic into RET prac­tice, particularly the practical syllogism.

A procedure for RET therapists also emerges from this new understanding. It can be briefly summarized as follows:

1. During a session, a client may make value judgments that constitute verbal expressions of or cues to underlying emotions or attitudes For instance, the client’s value judgment that his wife does not appreciate the value of a dollar constituted a verbal expression of art underlying negative attitude toward his wife; the other client’s belief that her husband should have the final say in family matters was a verbal cue to her own feelings of inferiority. If these emotions are troublesome (e g., they are blocking satisfying marital relations), then the therapist should try to elicit their logical basis.

2. A therapist can elicit the logical basis of such emotions by attempting to reconstruct the premises of the practical syllog­isms out of which they arise, perhaps by questioning the client about why he or she feels the way he or she does (e.g., “Why do you think your wife does not appreciate the value of a dollar? or ‘ Why should your husband have the final say in family matters?") Reconstructing the premises of the client’s reasoning may also frequently involve the therapist’s making explicit certain unexpressed. Implied premises of the client’s reasoning (e.g., “so you think that the man of the house should have the final say in family matters?”).

3. Once the premises are exposed, they should be subjected to rational inspection. The therapist can do so by questioning the client about his or her reasons for holding these premises (e g., “Why do you think wealthy people don’t appreciate the value of a dollar” or “Why do you think the man of the house should have the final say in family matters?”). By making this inquiry, the therapist can succeed in isolating premises of the client’s belief system that are irrational in the sense of lacking adequate inductive or deductive justification (e.g., one client realized that his belief that “all wealthy people never had to work hard for anything” was groundless; the other client saw that her belief that “men are best at making decisions” was groundless).

The logic-based mode of RET described above demands at­tention to inductive as well as deductive forms of logic. Frequently, inductive fallacies are responsible for irrational premises of syllogisms For example, the client may have generalized from “Some wealthy people I have known never had to work hard for anything” to “All wealthy people never had to work hard for anything.” Given the insufficient number of observed cases, the generalization about all wealthy people would then have been inductively unwarranted.

It RET therapists are to gain advantage from logic-based therapy, such as that discussed here, then the varieties of inductive and deductive logic should be mastered by these therapists. In addition, more research by RET therapists into the ways in which inductive and deductive logic affect rational-emotive therapy would probably be worthwhile.
- Cohen, Elliot; The Use of Syllogism in Rational-Emotive Therapy; Journal of Counseling & Development; Sept 1987, Vol. 66.

Personal Reflection Exercise #8
The preceding section contained information about the use of syllogism in rational-emotive therapy. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

According to Cohen, what is a syllogism? Record the letter of the correct answer the Answer Booklet.

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