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This article explains rational-emotive theory and therapy and its applications to school psychology. The theory's distinction between disturbed and nondisturbed emotions and the distinction between irrational and rational beliefs are highlighted. A history of rational-emotive therapy and its application to the emotional problems of children is presented along with a rationale for various treatment interventions. Research in RET is briefly reviewed and the results of studies of rational-emotive education are highlighted. The application of RET to preventive mental health, reducing teacher stress, organizational consulting, and child psychotherapy are then reviewed. The article concludes with a discussion of the similarity and differences between RET and other forms of cognitive-behavior therapy such as cognitive therapy, attribution theory, and social problem solving approaches.
Many school psychologists are responsible for designing and implementing intervention strategies for children's emotional and behavior problems in schools. To meet this responsibility, school psychologists require interventions, such as brief counseling or consultation strategies, which are effective and time-limited. This article, and the entire mini-series for that matter, is designed to show how rational-emotive therapy can be a valuable tool to help school psychologists deal with the emotional and behavior problems of children.
RET is one of the most popular forms of individual psychotherapy and counseling (Heesacker, Heppner, & Rogers, 1982; D. Smith, 1982). The Rational-Emotive model has been applied to numerous areas of professional psychology including the treatment of emotional disorders of adults (Ellis, 1973a; Walen, DiGiuseppe, & Wessler, 1980), and children (Bernard & Joyce, 1984; Ellis & Bernard, 1983), marital therapy (Ellis, Sichel, Yeager, DiMattia, & DiGiuseppe, 1989), substance abuse (Ellis, McInerny, DiGiuseppe, & Yeager, 1988), depression (Ellis, 1987), reducing employee absenteeism (Klarrich, DiGiuseppe, & DiMattia, 1986), reducing work related (DiMattia, 1988) and teacher stress (Bernard, 1988b). It has been used in consulting psychology (Bernard & DiGiuseppe, in press), family therapy (Huber & Baruth, 1989), and other areas (Ellis & Bernard, 1985). Despite wide acceptance in clinical and counseling psychology, RET has received little attention in the school psychology literature (Waters, 1982).
General cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which has become the dominant theoretical orientation in professional psychology, is best represented in school psychology by the work of Hughs (1988) and Kendall (Fox & Kendall, 1983; Kendall, 1986; Kendall & Braswell, 1985). While RET was one of the first major forms of CBT (Ellis, 1989a) and similar in many ways to general cognitive behavior therapy, there are significant differences between RET and other forms of CBT which have important implications for treatment (Ellis, 1980). CBT is not a unified theory. Hughs (1988) characterizes the field as "a diverse assemblage of models and strategies for assessing and treating an individual's performance" (p. 3). Hughes (1988) sees CBT as developing from Bandura's (1969; 1977) social learning theory, the study of self-control processes (Kanfer & Karoly, 1972), self-instructional training (Kendall & Braswell, 1986; Meichenbaum & Goodman, 1971), problem-solving approaches to adjustment (Spivack, Platt, & Shure, 1976), and the cognitive approaches of Beck (1976) and Ellis (1976). Mahoney (1987) has identified over 10 variations of cognitive-behavior therapy (see Dobson, 1987). All forms of CBT share the beliefs that a person's thoughts, perceptions, and images mediate emotions and behavior and that changing cognitions is an effective strategy for intervention. However, they focus on different cognitions and different targets. Some forms of CBT recommend changing cognitions to change behaviors, while others change cognitions to affect emotions. This article presents the basic theory of RET and discusses how it differs from general cognitive behavior therapy. Other articles in this mini-series present applications of RET to specific areas of school psychology practice.
RET Techniques for Change
In tackling the main emotional problems such as anger, anxiety, and depression which people create because of their disposition to disturb themselves over some failure, rejection, unfairness, or frustration, RET pays special attention to secondary disturbance--that is, irrational beliefs about emotional disturbance. People often think that they must not be upset or that they can't stand their disturbance, and they must be over it immediately. RET assumes people often get depressed about their depression, angry about their anger, and anxious about their anxiety and targets changing these secondary symptoms before dealing with the primary disturbances.
The main cognitive disputational technique in RET is philosophical disputation and involves detecting illogical unrealistic, and irrational beliefs, debating irrational beliefs, showing why they are irrational, and reformulating irrational beliefs into rational ones. Cognitive disputation of irrational beliefs may also be effected in a number of other ways. They can be replaced by rational beliefs or rational self-statements; they can be influenced by semantic methods which seek to clarify the objective meaning of events (Korzybski, 1933); they can be combatted by using referenting methods which have people focus on the advantage of giving up self-defeating habits and the disadvantages which these habits create; or they can be put out of mind through cognitive distraction and by thought-stopping methods.
RET recognizes that anti-empirical assumptions and inferences (conclusions, predictions) (e.g., "no one likes me"), which people make about reality, contribute to emotional disturbance and, as such, are targeted for change using empirical disputational and other scientific methods. However, RET considers irrational evaluations of these automatic thoughts (e.g., "I need people's approval") as the primary cause of disturbance and are the primary focus of intervention. Methods which bring about generalized changes in people's belief systems are referred to as general or elegant RET methods; the generalized changes themselves which are maintained over time are referred to in RET as elegant or general solutions (Ellis, 1980d). Methods which bring about changes in inferences, attributions, and problem-solving skills are referred to in RET as inelegant because they bring about more limited and situational specific changes.
RET practice also involves the use of emotive and behavioral methods to help people dispute their irrational beliefs. The main emotive methods include rational-emotive imagery (Maultsby, 1977), shame-attacking exercises (Ellis, 1969), role playing (Ellis & Abrahms, 1978), unconditional acceptance of people (Ellis, 1073), and other use of forceful self-statements and self-dialogues (Ellis, 1079c). Behaviorally, RET uses a variety of methods, including reinforcement, penalizing, assertiveness, and skill training (Ellis & Bernard, 1986b).
RET child-oriented practitioners (e.g., Bernard & Joyce, 1984; DiGiuseppe, 1082, 1989; Knaus, 1974; Waters, 1080a, b; 1982) have devoted considerable energies in modifying and simplifying RET assessment and treatment strategies for use with younger clients. The main disputational strategies used with children include disputation of irrational beliefs in specific situations, rational self-statements, and empirical analysis/disputing (see articles by DiGiuseppe and Bernard in this miniseries).
Reflection Exercise #6
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