Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

On the Compatibility of Rational-Emotive Therapy and Judeo-Christian Philosophy: A Focus on Clinical Strategies

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

On the Compatibility of Rational-Emotive Therapy and Judeo-Christian Philosophy: A Focus on Clinical Strategies

Article excerpt

Because of the personal religious and philosophical beliefs of Albert Ellis, Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET) is often perceived as inappropriate for clients with strong religious beliefs. Three of the major irrational thought processes hypothesized by RET to be at the core of psychopathology are shown to also be inconsistent with Judeo-Christian philosophy. Therefore, it is postulated that disputing irrational beliefs and establishing more rational philosophies is also consistent with Judeo-Christian philosophy. Specific clinical strategies are suggested for working with religious clients in changing these three irrational beliefs.

RET AND RELIGION

Since the inception of the "talking cure," psychotherapists have had to walk the fine line between helping to free clients from their overdeveloped superegos or the "tyranny of the shoulds" (Horney, 1939) and not discrediting the clients' religious beliefs. Beginning with Freud (1975) there has been a conflict between theories of psychotherapy and religion. Hauck (1985) has suggested that most forms of psychotherapy omit discussions of values, ethical positions and moral issues from their theories of behavior and behavior change. (Also see Lawrence & Huber, 1982; Miller, 1977.) These issues are precisely the subject matter important to people with spiritual beliefs. While we believe that conflict between religion and psychotherapy is not inevitable, therapeutic strategies which attempt to be amoral and avoid value, moral, and ethical issues run the risk of obscuring therapists' social values and allowing them to remain unaware of how their own personal values may operate with regard to a specific case. Since religious belief systems include positions on specific philosophical issues (ontology, epistemology, ethics, etc.), it is best for psychotherapy theorists to state clearly their stance on these issues so that practitioners will be aware of possible conflicts. Rational-emotive theory more clearly delineates positions on pertinent philosophical issues than any other system of psychotherapy (Marzillier, 1987; and Woolfolk & Sass, 1989).

The writings of Albert Ellis (1962; 1973; 1977; 1985; 1989) include 1) a personal philosophy; 2) a philosophy of living based upon stoic and existential philosophies; 3) a theory of psychopathology; and 4) a theory of psychotherapy and behavior change. The fact that Ellis' personality has been sc closely associated with rational-emotive theory and therapy often leads professionals to conclude that the rational-emotive theories of psychopathology and psychotherapy must also include all of Ellis' personal beliefs. Rational-emotive theory is very much influenced by Ellis' stoic, existential philosophy of life. However, there are many elements of Ellis personnel philosophy (i.e., his views on sexual morality and atheism) which are not necessarily part of the a rational emotive philosophy of life, theory of psychopathology or a theory of behavior change.

The debate concerning RET's utility with disturbed clients who strongly hold Judeo-Christian beliefs (Wessler, 1983) is obfuscated by focusing on Ellis' personal philosophy. After all, many pastoral counselors have been trained in psychoanalytic therapy despite Freud's atheism. The issue, rather, is what clinical strategies would rational-emotive theory propose for religious clients and, are these strategies helpful to or in conflict with Judeo-Christian philosophy. In this article, we propose that rational-emotive therapy is an excellent treatment modality for clients with a belief in the Judeo-Christian tradition, precisely because it does clearly take a stand on philosophical issues such as morality, ethics and values. Several religious practitioners of RET have noted that the central positions of rational-emotive theory are compatible with the fundamental principles of the Judeo-Christian tradition (Grau, 1977; Hauck, 1985; Hauck & Grau 1968; Young, 1984). …

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