Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

A Comparison of Rational Emotive Therapy and Tibetan Buddhism: Albert Ellis and the Dalai Lama

Academic journal article The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy

A Comparison of Rational Emotive Therapy and Tibetan Buddhism: Albert Ellis and the Dalai Lama

Article excerpt

What do Albert Ellis and the Dalai Lama have in common? This article examines some of the values and the concepts that they share. It will illustrate that Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Tibetan Buddhism (TB) have similarities in a number of areas such as how and what they study, their philosophical underpinnings, their concepts of what causes psychopathology, techniques to bring about change, and outcome expectancies and goals.

In the way of background, psychotherapists became more aware and interested in the commonalities between Eastern Buddhism and Western psychotherapy in the 1960s. Two pivotal works fostered these realizations. In his book, Psychotherapy East and West, Watts (1961) compared concepts and methods of Eastern Buddhism with Western psychotherapy and demonstrated how both possess deep human wisdom. In his book, The Relaxation Response, Harvard physician Herbert Benson (2000, 1975) defined the relaxation response as a physical state which invokes deep physical relaxation, and is the opposite of the fight-flight response. He used a staunchly scientific approach to show that meditation, as well as prayer, hypnosis, and yoga were diverse forms of the relaxation response. Benson demonstrated that the Tibetan Buddhist's meditative practice produced beneficial effects to the mind and body. Since the 1960s, publications comparing Eastern and Western ways of thinking have dramatically increased (Tweed & Lehman, 2002) as a new era has been ushered into Western mainstream literature with increased attention to mind-body interconnectedness and attention to similarities between Buddhist constructs and REBT (Thompson and Waltz, 2007).

Gaining greater recognition now is Tibetan Buddhism, promoted by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhists and exiled previous political head of Tibet. Scientists have collaborated with Tibetan practitioners, resulting in an increasing belief, both scientific and popular, that Tibetan Buddhism is more than a religion but a form of inner mental science that can enhance the quality of life (Dalai Lama, 1991; Goleman, 2003). Most recently, the Dali Lama has participated in a number of mind-body conferences with a wide variety of world renowned neuroscientists. They explored how to focus and control concentration and attention, activities Buddhists have practiced for thousands of years (Mind-Life Institute, 2008).

At a surface level, Buddhist philosophies and Western psychotherapy seem to be worlds apart. However, if we strip away dissimilar vocabulary and attend to the conceptual meanings, it becomes readily apparent that some forms of psychotherapy have much common with particular forms of Buddhism. For example, conceptual concurrences between Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Tibetan Buddhism (TB) exist. Albert Ellis himself, in his last few years of life, saw the similarities between REBT and TB and wrote about them. He pointed out how both systems help people to consistently work at forgiving self, others, and tolerating an often times harsh world (Ellis, 2005).

As this article compares these two systems, and this exploration will contribute to hopefully, this exploration will the development of a comprehensive "inner science" (Dalai Lama, 1991) or science of the mind to help humans to live more fulfilling lives. We will compare REBT and TB, specifically, on their methods of study, philosophical underpinnings, theory of pathology, goals of treatment, theory of change, methods of change and the role of therapist.

* Method of Study

Both REBT and TB encourage people to think critically and to pursue truth. The scientific method is encouraged, and thought to be necessary. According to REBT people might strive to learn to "train themselves through rigorous thinking about and working against some of their strongest inborn and environmental tendencies" (Ellis 2005, p 64.). People can acquire skills allowing them to debate their irrational thoughts and acquire a realistic view of the world. …

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