Using RET to Reduce Psychological Dysfunction Associated with Supernatural Belief Systems
Robb, Harold B., III, Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy
This paper provides a general approach to using Rational-Emotive Therapy with any person experiencing psychological dysfunction in relation to their supernatural belief system. It shows how the principles of RET are used when supernaturalism is: (1) used metaphorically, (2) conceptualized as origin, (3) in concert with RET and (4) in conflict with RET.
A number of authors have attempted to show a compatibility of Rational- Emotive Therapy (RET) with Judeo-Christian philosophy (DiGiuseppe, Robin, & Dryden, 1990; Hauck & Grau, 1968; Johnson, 1992; Lawrence, 1987; Powell, 1976; Robb, 1988; Young, 1984), and at least one author has argued that it is incompatible (Wessler, 1984). This paper outlines general strategic conceptualizations for using RET, not only with Judeo-Christian believers, but with any person using a supernatural belief system to justify his or her general approach to life, and who is experiencing emotional and or behavioral dysfunction in relation to it.
I have intentionally chosen the word, "supernatural" rather than religious or theistic. Many people use the word "religion" to mean nothing more than their guiding life principles, regardless of whether the basis for these principles is natural or supernatural, with the consequence that the meaning of "religion" is often unclear. Other belief systems, e.g. Confucianism and some forms of Buddhism, contain no notion of a god or gods, rendering "theistic" too restrictive. By supernatural, I mean the notion of beings or worlds which are beyond the realm of the natural, empirical universe, and natural, empirical ways of experiencing and knowing the universe.
DiGiuseppe et al. (1990) note that the writings of Albert Ellis on RET not only contain his own personal philosophy of living, but also contain (1) a general RET philosophy of living; (2) a theory of psychopathology; and (3) a theory of psychotherapy and behavior change. In all three of these aspects, RET aims at being both scientific and humanistic (Ellis & Dryden, 1987, pp. 2-3). As such, it contains criteria, which space limitations prevent me from detailing, for how beliefs are to be justified. Nevertheless, despite a recent statement that, "Rational-Emotive Psychology (REP) does not 'advocate' atheism," (Ellis, 1992), it is clear that RET does not offer any criteria for the justification of belief based on supernaturalism.
Instead, RET adopts the kind of natural, empirically grounded epistemology which we generally call "scientific," and holds that claims of fact must be falsifiable, at least in principle (Popper, 1959,1963). Since claims about the supernatural, such as the existence of a god or gods who issue rules by which people are to live, are notoriously incapable of either demonstration or falsification (Russell, 1984), RET rejects the supernatural as a basis for justifying conclusions. This rejection of supernaturalism remains even if one also rejects Logical Positivism as the epistemic base for one's natural, empirical approach as Ellis (1989,1992) has explicitly done. The simultaneously scientific and humanistic views articulated by Dewey (1938,1960) and other American Pragmatists, as well by several British trained philosophers such as Steven Toulman, offer empirically grounded, humanistically oriented alternatives to Logical Positivism, and RET is highly compatible with them.
RET also hypothesizes that when people are emotionally disturbed they are typically engaging certain types of belief: (1) absolutistic demandingness, (2) person rating, (3) over-rating or catastrophizing, and (4) low frustration tolerance; and it enumerates three tests to distinguish this typically disturbance-causing or "nonsensical" thinking from typically nondisturbance-causing or "sensible" thinking: (1) logical consistency, (2) consistency with empirical fact and (3) consistency with long-term personal enjoyment (Ellis, 1987).
How nonsupernaturally oriented RET is adapted to people who are both adhering to a supernatural belief system and experiencing psychological dysfunction in relation to it depends on how those people think about the supernatural. …