Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Thinking Processes Involved in Irrational Beliefs and Their Disturbed Consequences

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Thinking Processes Involved in Irrational Beliefs and Their Disturbed Consequences

Article excerpt

The rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) view of irrational beliefs (IBs) is explained, rationality and irrationality are defined in terms of this view, specific thinking processes that are often involved in emotional disturbance are discussed, and concrete ways of actively and forcefully disputing these irrational beliefs are presented.

The rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) theory that irrational beliefs (IBs) significantly contribute to or "cause" emotional and behavioral (not to mention obsessive) disturbances has been controversial ever since I formulated it in 1955 and started what has been called the cognitive or cognitive behavioral movement in psychotherapy. It has been objected to by many post-modernist, connectionist, constructivist, radical behaviorist, and other writers (Guidano, 1993;Mahoney, 1991;Neimeyer, 1993;Norcross&Goldfried, 1992).

At the same time, many other practitioners of REBT and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) dislike the specific term irrational beliefs but agree that dysfunctional, negative, or self-defeating ideas are significantly correlated with neurotic and other disturbances and that helping clients to change these for more functional beliefs enables them to ameliorate these disturbances (Beck, 1991; Ellis, 1979; Hollon, DeRubels, & Seligman, 1992; Hollon & Beck, 1994; Lyons & Woods, 1991; McGovern & Silverman, 1984; McMullin, 1986; Silverman, McCarthy, & McGovern, 1993).

Assuming that the REBT theory about irrational beliefs is to some extent accurate and its use is to some degree effective, its various expositions by myself and others leave much to be desired, being somewhat ambiguous and even at times contradictory (Ellis, 1962, 1979, 1985; Maultsby, 1984; Rorer, 1989; Walen, DiGiuseppe, & Dryden, 1992). To help clarify this issue, let me try to answer these questions in terms of up-to-date REBT theory and practice.

1. When, exactly, are clients' ideas irrational?

2. What are the main elements of irrational, unrealistic, illogical, and selfdefeating thinking that are often included in their IBs?

3. What are some of the best ways to help clients dispute their disturbance- creating IBs and to arrive at more rational self-helping and socially constructive conclusions?


In general, people's beliefs are said to be irrational when.they are unrealistic, illogical, absolutist, and devoutly held, even when they are unprovable and unfalsifiable. But there are many definitions of the term rational and none of them is indubitably or invariantly "true." Thus, rational may mean "objective" or "unemotional" and it may also mean "subjective" or "selecting the best satisfiers" and therefore "emotional."

In REBT theory rational mainly means self-helping; but because people practically always live in social groups or communities, it also means socially helpful (Ellis, 1965) and socially interested (Adler, 1964). People act rationally when they, first, aid instead of sabotage themselves; second, adequately get along with others; and third, preferably collaborate with and help members of their social group. Always? Well, no - usually. "Always" almost always has important exceptions!

The theory of REBT also says, along with most oilier theories of human preservation and well-being, that there is a strong correlation between peoples' general IBs, as described above as being unrealistic, illogical, absolutist, and devout, and their self- and society-defeating ideas, feelings and behaviors. Not, again, always! Taylor (1990) has shown that many people with Pollyannaish, highly unrealistic and dogmatic beliefs about themselves and the world are - or at least claim to be - more self-preserving and happy than more realistic individuals. Seligman (1991) partly concurs.

REBT, nonetheless, firmly (and Hwdevoutly) holds that if people will be fairly consistently realistic, logical, nondogmatic, and undevout - especially in the practical (interpersonal and business) areas of their life - they will be significantly less neurotic and self-defeating (Ellis, 1957, 1962, 1985, 1988, 1991). …

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