‘If something is irrational, that means it won’t work; it’s usually unrealistic!’
Albert Ellis laid the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy in the 1950’s. REBT, as it is often called, is meant to act on the beliefs of individuals, and help them understand that the way they think about certain events and phenomena greatly determines how the consequence pans out. The ABC framework, posits that A, or the Activating Event, is something that doesn’t affect the way a certain consequence pans out. It is B, or our belief that shapes this consequence (C).
REBT can be applied to a plethora of contexts, and this is what makes it such a viable therapeutic technique. The Workplace is no exception. When we believe that failing at a work commitment has extreme consequences, these thoughts often determine how we end up performing the task.
I conducted an interview with Dr. K. M.Phadke, a close associate of Albert Ellis who is renowned for the developments and alterations he made to REBT in the Indian context. Dr. Phadke is one of the few accredited practitioners of REBT, and shed quite a bit of light into the viability of the method in the Indian context.
Q: REBT is one of the most vast and grounded techniques. There is a basic process that any counselor would go through to mediate beliefs. But what is a rational belief in the first place?
You would like to know how to change beliefs? Well, we, as therapists, we teach the client to dispute his beliefs. This is the first technique. The techniques, as the therapy states, are based in rationality, emotions, and behavior. The first step is to show that we can dispute a belief and that it has no basis. Rational beliefs are based on facts, they take you towards a goal, and they eliminate unwanted mental conflicts. They also get rid of the conflicts with others. Helping clients slowly realize whether their beliefs fit these criteria is the first step.
Q: In cases of workplace stress, can REBT make us look at other people in a clear, rational manner?
Let me tell you the objective of REBT. Suppose a boy comes to me and tells me, ‘I’m really poor at mathematics.’ Well, I can’t tell him that I would teach him to be better at math, because I’m no math whiz. But I can help him get rid of any negative feelings and thoughts that he feels with respect to his mathematical abilities.
So, through REBT, someone can be helped to try to be better at something they believe they will fail at. A client must get rid of irrational emotions based on a problem or predicament. This will allow an individual to approach something with a clear head. The same applies to the workplace. Individuals may form evaluations about people, or the tasks they are given, and helping clear these, and shaping them to be rational, is what the goal of REBT is.
Q: What are the ways in which we can dispel irrational beliefs? It might be easy to say that we can alter the way people think, but the process has to be mediated well.Can you shed some light on this?
There are three methods. First, you dispute the belief. If a man comes to me saying that he isn’t being allowed to eat rice, and feels terrible about it, I won’t help him follow a diet, or say whether the doctor who has given this advice is wrong. He will tell me things like ‘I’m addicted to rice, I can’t live without it!’
To this, I’ll ask him, ‘Will you DIE if you don’t eat rice?’ He will answer, obviously denying this irrational possibility. I’ll go on and ask, ‘Is the feeling you have when you avoid rice INTOLERABLE?’ He’ll say ‘no, it’s actually not that unbearable.’ Thus, we first dispute the belief the client has directly, then probe them to see whether they are aware of the facts associated with them. Once they realize that they need to align their thoughts with rationality, it becomes easier for them to let go of their grievances.
Q: People say that the events that occur around us act upon us to produce consequences. They thus feel that they are passive individuals being acted upon by life’s forces. What do you think about this?
Ellis says that it isn’t the events around us that disturb us. I agree with this too. The event is going to happen anyway. It is the evaluation that we make of an event that affects us. If I believe that whatever has happened is ‘horrible’, or ‘terrible’, I will be disturbed. We teach clients to look at events more objectively.
This whole framework of looking at beliefs comes from the tenets posited by the Greek philosopher, Epictetus. He has often quoted Shakespeare, saying that ‘nothing is good or bad, but thoughts make it so!’ We think something and that evaluation makes it seem good or bad. That’s where the portal to irrational thoughts opens up. From the evaluations we make.
Just because we make an attribution about a possibility, should we rule out the possibilities of what can occur? Is it incorrect to even think about what the end result is?
Of course! You can think about the consequences, but these evaluations about what could possibly arise from an event need to be rational. They need to be based on facts. We can’t use our own perceptions to understand what could come out of something. We need to base our evaluations on concrete, rational beliefs.
With the passage of time, certain irrational beliefs may re-surface. How can we explain this and repair it?
When anyone is given REBT, their irrational beliefs need to be disputed strongly. To do this, therapists often give the client some homework.It helps clients go through the same material like a revision. They revise and know what mistakes they make with respect to the evaluations they make. Suppose someone doesn’t do the homework and shows up to a session. I won’t get angry at them. What propels the man to give the homework a miss? It’s probably that he finds it boring, or that he thinks he has time for better things. On the contrast, what makes him do it? The belief that it will help him, and that it will be pretty embarrassing if he shows up without doing it are probably thoughts that will propel him to complete it.
In the whole Indian context, the response to something like REBT from corporates, has it picked up today? Does it need a little more of a push?
I’ve conducted REBT for around 140 primary industrial units, and I found that many people really benefitted from it. Those who didn’t understand often came back, and I taught them all of it again. When you do something like this with people, and some don’t understand, they start to feel ‘Why can’t I get it? I’m so daft!’
Self-blame is something that makes them feel dejected, and return to have a better understanding. This propels me to tell them, that self-blame is probably the reason they feel terrible about not understanding what is taught to them, or rather, it is the reason they weren’t able to grasp it. This often improves the perspective they have towards REBT. I definitely feel that the response to something as vast and down-to-Earth as REBT is picking up in the contemporary context, and will continue to until it is applied to an array of contexts across the country. It definitely has a bright future, especially with the emergence of young people who are willing to reclaim and accept their cognitive states,and desire betterment.