Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

General Semantics and Rational-Emotive Therapy: 1991 Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

General Semantics and Rational-Emotive Therapy: 1991 Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture

Article excerpt

I NEVER WOULD HAVE originated rational-emotive therapy (RET) had I not been strongly influenced by philosophers rather than psychotherapists. For when 1 founded RET in 1955, the field of therapy was almost completely run by clinicians, ranging from psychoanalysts to behaviorists, who firmly, and rather dogmatically, believed that people's early experiences, especially with their sacred parents, made them or conditioned them to become emotionally disturbed.

This theory, of course, has some degree of validity because all humans live in an environment. As Korzybski (1951) put it, a person is "an organism-as-a-whole-in-an-environment." People seem to be born teachable and self-teachable and therefore partly acquire their feelings from their experiences with others and with the objects and things they encounter in their early and later life. Also, because they are more gullible or influenceable when they are young, they may well--though not necessarily always--be more disturbable in their childhood and adolescence than when they are older.

Fortunately, however, as philosophers have shown for many centuries, a crucial aspect of people's disturbance stems from the part they play in their interactions with the environment--from what they think about and tell themselves about the unfortunate events that occur in their lives. As Epictetus, a Greek-Roman stoic, said 2,000 years ago, "People are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them." Other Asian philosophers, such as Confucius and Gautama Buddha, said something similar; Marcus Aurelius echoed Epictetus' view, and many Western philosophers--especially Spinoza, Kant, Dewey, Russell, Heidegger, Sartre, and Popper--all seem to agree that what people feel and do largely, though not completely, stems from the way they actively and creatively construct and reconstruct reality rather than from their passively reacting to it.

Some early psychotherapists, such as Janet (1898), Dubois (1907), Munsterberg (1919), and Adler (1927, 1931), were also cognitive and believed that their clients' ideas about their experiences, rather than only the experiences themselves, made them neurotic. Even Sigmund Freud temporarily espoused this view and in his first book said that neurosis is ideogenic (Breuer & Freud, 1965). Unfortunately, he later largely retracted this view and insisted that it almost completely stemmed from childhood experiences, especially sex experiences. Although modem psychoanalysts of the object-relations school have repudiated Freud's sex theories, they have replaced them with the view that the early love or interpersonal relationships of children make them neurotic and borderline if they do not receive sufficient nurturing from their parents and other early love objects. (Guntrip, 1971; Kemberg, 1975; Klein, [Klein & Riviere, 1964], Kohut, 1977)

Largely believing in psychoanalysis in the 1940's, especially in the neo-analytic views of Homey (1945), Fromm (1950), and Sullivan (1953), I got analyzed, was supervised by a training analyst of the Homey Institute, and practiced psychoanalysis for six years. Although my clients liked analysis and usually felt better as a result of it, I was not impressed and became quite disillusioned with all forms of psychoanalysis, except that of Alfred Adler (1927, 1931), who really opposed its main tenets and called his system "individual psychology". I also was influenced by Alexander & French (1946) and by Sullivan (1953) who considerably modified psychoanalytic technique. I saw that most of my clients felt better as a result of my psychoanalytic sessions with them, but virtually none of them got better. Why? Because they still strongly believed the same basic, largely self-created philosophies that originally made them and now kept them neurotic.

Looking for a better model of human disturbance and for a distinctly more efficient method of helping people become less neurotic, I abandoned psychoanalysis in 1953, did eclectic psychotherapy for a while, and founded rational-emotive therapy at the beginning of 1955. …

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