Firstly, let’s be clear. Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT, the type of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy we practice), won’t solve all your problems. And neither will any form of therapy. In today’s economic and social climate, many, if not most of us, are facing challenges that are either new or getting worse. And most of them are beyond our immediate control. Bills are getting bigger while money is getting tighter. In fact, many of the emotional issues people face could be eliminated or reduced if society was a bit more equitable and fair. As the old joke goes, ‘I don’t need therapy, I just need money!’
Therapy can’t change the lived reality of the world, and the situations we find ourselves in. It can, however, help us find the inner resources to accept what we can’t change and change what we can. If we want to make it through the tough times, and perhaps even help deliver the change to make things a bit better, emotional and mental resilience is key.
The great philosopher Viktor Frankl said “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” This simple idea can help us when we begin to feel things are slipping out of our control. Isn’t it always true that we can’t control everything in our lives, and never have been able to? It’s just that we can sometimes start to notice it more in times of adversity.
REBT’s central philosophy is one of emotional responsibility (read more about that idea here). Simply put, this says we are largely responsible for how we feel. Yes, life’s challenges can provoke feelings of distress, but if we end up stuck in that state permanently, we are maintaining it through our unhealthy beliefs.
These unhealthy, irrational beliefs could include ideas like ‘Life should be easy, I cannot stand struggling this way’, or ‘I shouldn’t be in this situation, because I am it means I’m a failure’. For beliefs such as these, it’s helpful, if uncomfortable, to try and realise there are no rules of the universe that state anyone should not struggle, or find themselves in dire straits. The fact of the matter is, people do, and sometimes it will be you and me.
Instead, it is more helpful, and rational, to understand we would strongly prefer not to find ourselves in these situations, but we have, and it does not mean it is our fault or we are a failure. It sometimes simply is, so if we can learn to accept both the reality of our lived experience and our own worthwhile, if fallible selves, it becomes easier for us to move to healthy, if still negative emotions. These in turn allow us to better tolerate the situation and perhaps identify and take control of whatever areas we can.
But what if we are becoming distressed because we believe society and economies should be fair, and people should be supported in times of need? Clearly, it seems, these are sensible ideas that everyone can get behind? Again, we must ask, where is the rule of the universe that says society must be fair? No matter how obvious this may seem to many, there are also many whose values are different, and who have helped shaped the reality we find ourselves in today. And that reality is clearly very often unfair. And again, we might see that by accepting, but not condoning the reality of our lived experience, we can perhaps choose to do something about it. Instead of allowing depression or anxiety to be our primary responses, we can move towards sadness and concern, and look for ways to make a difference, to both ourselves and others.
Viktor Frankl, as usual, put it best when he said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
REBT / CBT therapist