Those individuals who wish to escape an addiction are faced with many potential recovery options. There is no single approach that has proved to be effective for everyone, but there is almost certain to be an option out there that will suit each individual. For some this may take the form of a recovery fellowship such as Alcoholics Anonymous while for others it may be some type of therapy. One of the paths that people can take away from addiction is rational emotive behavior therapy.
Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT pronounced rebbit) is a therapeutic intervention and it can also be described as a philosophy for living. It was developed by an American psychologist called Albert Ellis in 1955. One of the underlying principles in this approach is that it isn’t the external events that lead to emotional upset but instead it is the beliefs the individual holds about these events. In other words, people get to choose how they react to unfortunate occurrences – they can act in ways that are healthy or in ways that are unhealthy.
The goal of REBT is develop an acceptance of reality and to learn how to react to events in healthy ways. Some have suggested that REBT shares a similar view about suffering, and the causes of suffering, as Buddhism. In fact Ellis was writing a book on the similarities between these two approaches at the time of his death.
Rational emotive behavior therapy makes the claim that it is irrational beliefs that are the cause of negative feelings. The ABC formula is used to describe why this happens and it involves:
* There is an activating experience (adversity). This could be anything that happens to an individual in life – these events could be considered neutral until the individual gives them meaning.
* The individual develops beliefs about the experience. In many instances these beliefs will be irrational and unhealthy and lead to suffering.
* The fact that the individual has developed such beliefs about the event means that they are faced with consequences.
The reason why people develop irrational beliefs in regards to the events that happen to them is due to some underlying assumptions they hold. These assumptions are wrong and REBT refers to the unhealthiest of these as the 3 musts which are:
* I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good. This belief can easily lead to shame, guilt, and depression.
* Other people must do “the right thing” or else they are no good and deserve to be punished. This type of thinking can cause people to act violently or become filled with rage.
* Life must be easy, without discomfort or inconvenience. If the individual believes this they become full of self-pity.
Albert Ellis claimed that it is possible for people to escape their suffering due to illogical beliefs by developing certain insights including:
* People suffer discomfort because they develop unhealthy and inflexible beliefs.
* The reason why people continue to suffer is that they cling onto irrational beliefs. Ellis referred to this as a core “musturbatory” philosophy.
* The individual escapes suffering by working hard to change their irrational beliefs. This will take time and practice.
The individual can change their irrational beliefs by developing 3 types of acceptance:
* They accept themselves unconditionally.
* They accept other people for who they are.
* They develop acceptance of life and the ups and downs that come with it.
The REBT view on addiction is that people engage in such unhealthy behaviors because of their irrational beliefs. The initial reason for why the individual turns to substance abuse may be guilt, shame, or depression. Once the individual is able to eliminate the irrational beliefs that are driving the alcohol or drug abuse, by developing insight and learning acceptance, it becomes easier for them to give up their dependence so that they can build healthier and more fulfilling lives. The aim of REBT then is not just to get the individual to stop the destructive behavior, but to eliminate the beliefs that led them to such behaviors in the first place.
Albert Ellis did not belief that Alcoholics Anonymous (or indeed any of the 12 Step programs) was the perfect solution for this type of self-destructive behavior. He did not believe that such an approach could work for everyone – particularly those individuals who are not spiritually inclined. His main concern was that such approaches encouraged the individual to feel powerless. In his book When AA Doesn’t Work For You: Rational Steps to Quitting Alcohol he offers suggests for how the individual can delve deep so they can find the irrational beliefs that are driving the behavior. His approach is an underlying foundation principle of the Self Management and Recovery Training (SMART) approach to addiction recovery.
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