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Rational-emotive therapy (RET) has a long history of use in the treatment of a variety of childhood problems commonly dealt with by school psychologists. This article presents the RET conceptualization of childhood disorders, discussing the interaction of child temperament and parenting styles. RET child treatment goals, which involve the modification of negative and inappropriate childhood emotions, are discussed. The particular RET cognitive change methods (philosophical disputation; disputation of irrational beliefs in specific situations; disputing of inferences; rational self-statements are illustrated. Specific suggestions for using RET with parents, for using RET effectively, and for using RET with different combinations of child, parents, and teachers conclude the article.
When a school psychologist finishes an assessment of a referred student and concludes that the student is experiencing an emotional problem (e.g., high anxiety, depression, extreme anger) as distinct from a behavioral, practical, or vocational problem, then rational-emotive therapy (RET) is an extremely viable treatment approach. AS described in the opening article in this series, RET has a long history of application with school-age children and to the treatment of a variety of childhood problems typically encountered by school psychologists including conduct disorders (e.g., DiGiuseppe, 1988), low frustration tolerance (e.g., Knaus, 1983), impulsivity (e.g., Kendler & Fischler, 1983), academic underachievement (e.g., Bard & Fisher, 1983), anxieties, fears, and phobias (e.g., Grieger & Boyd, 1983), social isolation (e.g., Halford, 1983); obesity (e.g., Foreyt & Kondo, 1983), and childhood sexuality (e.g., Walen & Vanderhorst, 1983). Waters (1982) briefly illustrated the use of RET for school psychologists in The Handbook of School Psychology (Reynolds & Gutkin, 1982).
RET Treatment Perspectives
RET incorporates the findings of Chess and Thomas (1985) and other researchers who have found that children are born with reliable and consistent patterns of behavior which they label temperament (activity level, regularity, adaptability, approach/withdrawal, physical sensitivity, intensity of reaction, distractibility, positive/negative mood, persistence). RET theorists (e.g., DiGiuseppe,1988) have argued that all children are born with NFT or no frustration tolerance.
Additionally, RET theorists have for many years (e.g., Ellis, Moseley, & Wolfe, 1966) described differences in parenting styles and how parenting style along with parent emotions influence the development of children. For example, Hauck (1967) identified the "unkind and firm" pattern ("unquestioning obedience to authority combined with a kick in the ego") as contributing in certain children to low self-esteem, insecurity, and guilt as well as avoidant, overly dependent, and submissive behavior. "Not firm" patterns of parenting which involve parents setting few rules and limits has been linked in the RET literature with children who manifest low frustration tolerance and an inability to delay gratification. Bernard and Joyce (1984) argued that child psychopathology results from an interaction of child temperament with parenting style and, in particular, that adaptive development occurs because of a good match between parent child-raising approach and child temperament. Clinically, the RET practitioner is "on the look out" for children with age-inappropriate low frustration tolerance and who have "egorelated" problems and, in particular, "self-downing" thinking tendencies (e.g., Knaus, 1985).
Treatment Goals: Modify Negative and Inappropriate Emotions
Take the example of Andrew in Grade 7 who has been referred to his school's psychologist because of being very scared and depressed about the amount of teasing he receives. From a RET assessment perspective, Andrew might be assessed as experiencing a high level of depression and anxiety surrounding being teased. (He may as well have a deficit in social skills or an inhibition of his social skills due to his anxiety as well as experience other emotions like extreme anger.) The RET treatment goal for Andrew would be to reduce the intensity of his depression and anxiety so that not only would he be happier with his friends at school, but also through greater emotional self-control, be more effective behaviorally to decrease the frequency of teasing. Once Andrew's depression and anxiety is reduced, his high level of anger may also be targeted for change.
In RET, the modification of emotional problems is primarily accomplished via the modification of the young person's assumptions, inferences, evaluations, expectations, and beliefs which are either anti-empirical or irrational. "Errors" of inference refers to faulty conclusions (e.g., "Everyone is teasing me.") and predictions (e.g., "Everyone will always tease me.") a student makes about past, present, or future external events as well as misattributions of cause-effect relationships (e.g., "The reason my classmates tease me is because they hate me."). Irrational evaluations refer to the manner in which the student appraises the significance of the initial interpretation or inference of reality and typically are manifested in "absolutistic statements" (e.g., "I need my classmates' approval."), "awfulizing" statements (e.g., "It's terrible to be teased."), "I can't stand-it-itis" statements (e.g., "I can't put up with teasing any longer.") and "global rating" statements (e.g., "I'm hopeless.").
Said another way, when a student is assessed as having an emotional problem, according to RET theory, one can anticipate a number of different cognitions which are causing and/or concurrent with emotional problems. Erroneous and irrational cognitions are seen as exacerbating bad external circumstances. In the case of Andrew, Andrew's ideas that "No one likes me," "Ill never have any friends," "Everyone is teasing me," "I can't stand being teased," and "I'm hopeless" are seen as leading to inappropriately strong negative emotions. A student with a more rational attitude towards teasing would feel appropriately negative (disappointed, irritated, concerned), but would not be as upset as Andrew. To reduce Andrew's depression and anxiety, RET would employ a number of different techniques to modify Andrew's way of thinking about being teased.
The Impact of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy on Teacher Efficacy and Student Achievement
- Warren, Jeffrey. Dissertation. The Impact of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy on Teacher Efficacy and Student Acheivement
Reflection Exercise #2
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
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