When you watch counsellors and therapists portrayed in TV and films, apart from having fantastic views across Central Park, beautiful book-lined offices and a nice leather couch to recline on, the other big cliché is the question they all ask their clients: ‘And how did that make you feel?’
However, when you come to work with a counsellor who practices Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT), the kind of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy we at CCBT practice, you’ll find that’s not the case.
Your therapist might have a swanky office with a lovely view and a comfy couch, that’s for sure (or they may not!), but they definitely won’t ask you how something ‘made’ you feel. Instead, they will ask ‘how do you feel about that’.
That’s because at the heart of REBT is the concept of emotional responsibility. This means we are largely responsible for the way we think and act, rather than putting the responsibility, or blame, on someone or something else.
This can be a challenging concept, but one that is key to REBT and emotional growth, and far from being a negative idea that puts the blame on you, it actually gives you the control over how you think, feel and behave.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine someone has a boss who is rude and brusque. They might say ‘My boss is so rude, she makes me really angry!’ Now it might be true that the boss is rude, but is it true they make this person angry? If they have the power to make one person angry, then surely their behaviour makes everybody angry? But we can bet that not everyone reacts to this person with anger. Some may make a joke of it, some may avoid them, and others may be rude right back! So what’s different for all these people? Why are their reactions different? And must they always feel the same things forever, with no hope of change?
REBT says that everyone is experiencing a different reaction because the are telling themselves something different. The person getting angry has a strongly held belief that people ‘must’ be polite, or that they ‘must’ be treated with respect. So, when these demands aren’t met, it provokes their anger. Whereas the person who makes a joke of it might have less strongly held beliefs and thinks it is not worth getting upset about, and the person who avoids their boss is telling themselves that they ‘can’t stand’ people being horrible to them.
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said ‘People are not disturbed by events, but by the view they hold about them’. The REBT process is designed to encourage people to move from rigid, unhelpful views and beliefs that can lead us to becoming stuck in irrational, unhelpful negative emotional states to more flexible, rational beliefs and a more healthy and positive emotional state.
And it all starts by asking ourselves not how something ‘made us feel’, but rather ‘how we feel about it’ instead, and what belief might lie behind the emotion.
A simple change that can have a life changing affect.
CBT / REBT Therapist