A friend who got her PhD in Psychology but gave it up to be a headhunter, because it paid more and felt more fun, recently told me that Albert Ellis’s A Guide to Rational Living changed her life.


I’ve heard that from a few smart friends—that Ellis’s 1975 bestseller on depression gives some of the clearest, most practical help on improving your life. 


Ellis founded Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy; and he principally argued that depression results from holding onto false, frustrating beliefs about the world.  Therapy would help you edit those beliefs. 


A sample false belief might be “Everyone should like me”; and it could be helpfully edited to something like this: “I’d like everybody to like me, but I'll survive if they don’t.”  In this sense, Ellis encourages people to be more active in positive assessment of their selves and the world.  


His bestseller includes chapters titled the following: “Tackling Your Dire Need for Approval,” “Reducing Your Dire Fears of Failure,” and “Acquiring Self-discipline.”

That last one—about self-discipline—might sound out of place.  After all, many depressed people are depressed because they are overly self-punishing, and so we might assume that depressed people need to practice more self-soothing, not “discipline.”  But here discipline means something quite specific.


The word gains meaning in the light of work by another psychologist in the field of depression, Lynn Rehm.  Rehm, author of Depression, developed a theory of depression called the Self Control Model.  In it, he argued that depressed people lack self control or cognitive strength in the following areas:


Focusing attention away from negative content

Focusing on long-range goals

Encouraging yourself in spite environmental feedback

Replacing self-criticism with self-approval and reinforcement for progress


In Rehm’s model, depressed people have bad habits in thinking: Research indeed shows that depressed people tend to insult themselves more than others do; they offer a lower amount of positive self-feedback when moving toward their goals; they shy away from long-term goals to focus on immediate problems; and they allow themselves to think too long and frequently about bad news.  Rhem’s therapy includes exercises in reversing every one of those trends.  Like doing Kegel exercises to control urine flow, patients practice silencing their negative thoughts, to control the flow of them. 


Practice.  Strengthening exercises.  Changing habits.  Those are some key ideas behind what are called “cognitive and behavioral methods” in treating depression.  This therapy includes homework—activities to practice at home—and all this self-revision from rote can sound dry to some.  It does include a gross shift in self: accepting that negative thinking, no matter how comforting it can seem, is not as justified as it often feels.  But for all the self-erasure and “discipline,” this stuff often works.  It can pump joy back into a life, I’ve heard.


Have any of you read Ellis?  Rehm?  Have these methods ever been of any use to you?


Ilana Simons is a therapist, literature professor, and author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Visit her website here.


by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎01-21-2011 06:04 PM

I have, under slightly different forms, and they work. Absolutely work. There's a huge link between CBT methods and Buddhist psychology--see the work of Dr Joe Loizzo at Columbia, as well as Dr. Miles Neale and Jonathan Kaplan. ACT therapy works similarly, too


Specific meditation practices actually "help us reverse every one of those trends." It's all about remessaging our brain, replacing delusion, or how we think the world is, with much more useful ideas about how the world is. Perhaps, eventually, we get to see how the world actually is, but that takes a lot of practice, with psychological work or meditation!


My biggest recommend here on the self-disciple would be Zen teacher and psychologist Cheri Huber's most recent book: Making a Change for Good: A Guide to Compassionate Self-Discipline.


It's that good; I linked it.


Thanks for another great piece, Ilana.

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎01-21-2011 07:48 PM

thanks so much, ellen.

you linked it--and I'm gonna check it out.  compassionate self-discipline here i come.

by on ‎01-23-2011 03:33 PM

In looking at this subject of CBT, I ran across this particular philosophy of Stoicism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism

I'm not a student of the philosophies, but find them interesting, as they pertain to the therapies.  I did order these books you mentioned, here, to see what they have to say about this subject of joy, and therapy.  Here is just a section from this subject.


Spiritual exercise

Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic emperor

Philosophy for a Stoic is not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, it is a way of life involving constant practice and training (or askesis, see asceticism). Stoic philosophical and spiritual practices included logic, Socratic dialogue and self-dialogue, contemplation of death, training attention to remain in the present moment (similar to some forms of Eastern meditation), daily reflection on everyday problems and possible solutions, hypomnemata, and so on. Philosophy for a Stoic is an active process of constant practice and self-reminder.

In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius defines several such practices. For example, in Book II, part 1:

Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together...

The practices of spiritual exercises have been described as influencing those of reflective practice by Seamus Mac Suibhne.

Parallels between Stoic spiritual exercises and modern cognitive-behavioural therapy have been detailed at length in Robertson's The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy.

by on ‎01-23-2011 08:27 PM

What I've had to say in the past, or what I've contributed to this blog, is nothing that anyone can't retrieve for themselves, from the internet.  I hold no PhD, I'm not a peer. So, in essence, my contribution is null and void, and can offer no opinion worth the effort.  Here ends my stay. 

by on ‎01-25-2011 01:31 PM

I'm forcing the effort to speak on this subject, this morning. 


My last post was an example of how my brain functions/thinks, at times, when uncontrolled negative feelings take over.  But, the bare facts are, my rational thinking goes haywire for at least three days, when words I read don't agree with my present state of mind.  Reading books on this subject does help me, but, and here is another but, I think it is a must to put some of these positive thoughts into a daily routine. 


There is more than just taking a happy pill each day.  In all honesty, it doesn't prevent my depressions, or my thoughts during those times, it only holds my physical being in check.  It does feel like multi layers of forces at work, and it's my choice as to which one I pick....the hard part.


I had been asked to participate in a men's golf tournament, yesterday, as a scorer of a fivesome.  I had never done this before.  These men were from several different golf courses/residences. 


I worked hard at keeping my thoughts level this week.  At these times, it takes a lot of work on my part to not show that part of me, and at those times, I am generally reclusive, or quiet in public, or go in the opposite direction and become the life of the party, just to counter those depressive feelings. 


One of the men rode with me in my golf cart.  I was told that when a golfer got a birdie, they would expect a hug from me.  I thought to myself, I don't know any of these men, personally, and it felt almost offensive for them to expect this from me.  But, I was to do what was expected of me.


I found that while having one man riding with me, I got to know him.  He talked about himself, which was fine, we chatted back and forth, and it made for a comfortable 18 holes of golf.  On one hole, he asked for a hug, before he drove the ball.  I obliged.  And he got a birdie on that hole!  The other guys told him to hug me, and he said he had already got his hug, the benefits of riding with the score keeper!....But he then came over to me and gave me another hug!  Everyone of these guys were good sports, and very nice to me.  We kidded a lot, had a lot of laughs, and by the time the day was done, I gave everyone a hug, and I, personally, felt a lot better. 


They never knew how I was feeling, going into this game, but when it was over, we all shared how much fun we had, together. 


For me, I know how important it is to listen to yourself, listen to your body's actions, and reactions.  Negative thoughts are the most invasive, destructive part of me.  I, intellectually, know this, but it's darn hard to counter, and climb out of it, at times.  I'm glad for yesterday:  I'm glad I got to know these guys:  and even though some had really bad scores, I'm glad to know they had as good a time as I did.   The sun was shining in a blue sky, the weather couldn't have been more perfect....a beautiful day all around.  Positive reinforcement, is a good thing.


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by on ‎01-27-2011 03:03 PM

I received A Guide To Rational Living, today.  After reading the Forward, I'm anxious to read on.  A lot of claims were made - I enter with an open mind, to see where they lead me.

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎01-28-2011 11:54 AM

Hey Kathy,

I am interested to know if you like A Guide to Rational Living.  I have not read it myself, but have read bits and pieces by Ellis, and I imagine there's useful stuff in there.

by on ‎01-28-2011 12:34 PM

Hey, back...I'll let you know.  I read through chapter one last night, before turning out my light. I woke this morning, after nine hours of deep sleep, and the worst real-time nightmare I've ever had in my life!  I knew what it said to me, and I sobbed.  I suppose I'm going into this with trepidation..Expectation....and caution, and probably some fear. 

by on ‎01-29-2011 01:33 PM

As I continue to read this book, A Guide to Rational Living, I realize from the dialogue which is written in it (to prove their points about how our own words in our minds have an effect on our thought processes, such as the ones I used to convey my feelings about reading this book) that words  can be changed to make life a little more livable, without having thoughts that stymie a good and comfortable life.  Of course, this is nothing I hadn't already known, or something a psychologist doesn't know.


The idea of this book is not to give an impression of it being a self help book, but a book that will help you with self.  Personality changes can happen.... If that makes sense.  I would do better to quote these authors, then to summarize in my own words, because one of their points is, we all change what we read, hear, or see, within ourselves, and interpret these words into an internal dialogue that may sometimes put you or others into an emotional situation that shouldn't happen. Changes in our relationships with others, or simply within ourselves, is possible.


These authors don't discount the routine of therapy, this appears to be a book for lay people to help with self analysis.  It reminds me of being in therapy, with a routine of questioning and answering my own thought processes.  I learned to figure out the right thoughts to help me make good judgments.  Unless someone has sever emotional problems, therapy shouldn't continue on beyond a certain point. 


But, as with a car, tune ups are necessary.  Over the years I'd forgotten to use some of the gears in this car of mine, and then what happened was, they began to get stiff.  I think, possibly with books like these, it reminds the brain what it had once learned, but forgotten.  We do need to lubricate those gears to keep them functioning, or they start to freeze up, or with thoughts, reverting back to past history.  And for those that have never used those gears/thoughts at all, it should give some window into their existence.


As much as I probably will have a lot to say about this book, as I read along, I will wait until I finish reading to give my final thoughts.  And as much as I would like to give a complete, objective, open minded account on all of this, I'm sure I will internalize and make this my own personal journey.



by on ‎02-03-2011 04:13 PM

Ilana, maybe you might get something out of this book, but I struggled through four chapters...it was like fingernails on a chalk board for me to read the incessant back and forth dialogue it contained...I wanted to ask these authors if they thought their readers were imbeciles.  Redundancies, redundancies, redundancies....And the exclamation marks with every reply, just about drove me nuts!  I can't finish this book, no way, Jose`. 


by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎02-04-2011 08:04 AM

good for you, Kathy--put it down.  Yay for the freedom of not finishing a book.

by on ‎02-04-2011 01:14 PM

I thought about what I'd said, and felt a little guilty that I couldn't finish reading this book, and give a final review.  If it's just me and my interpretations, I would be doing people a disservice to say this book is of no value to them.


I think this book definitely has good points.  Their philosophies are valid.  I've read other self-help books, but in this one, I just felt they were trying to "over-sell" to their readers.  I don't need that, in my stage of my life.   I know the routine.....I go through it daily.


The main reason I wanted to read this book, was to see if it could give me some pointers on how to avoid intense feelings when reading certain styles of writing, and it seems to have backfired.  Ten years, or so, of being on B&N, I've gone through a lot, with both reading material, authors, and participants.  I know what can, and does, cause some of these emotions I have. I wanted to see if I could temper them.  But, to avoid reading, is not a reality.


Recently, I've been reminded of just what brings joy and happiness into our lives.  Giving of ourselves.  I've tried to spend more of my time to doing things for other people. I also go into the looking-glass, and have great fun, but spending too much time there is a singularly unhealthy activity.


My nephew came to visit me last weekend. He's a Colonel in the USAF, and over the years has dealt with an enormous amount of stress.  For the first time the two of us were able to talk about his feelings.   We also talked about his meds, and therapies....There are people in his job, over him, who have full-blown TSD.  This book was sitting in front of him, on the table in my living room.  He picked it up and started to read.  I gave him the premise.  He was interested, so I ordered the book and had it sent to him.  I'm also interested to see what he may get from reading this book.  He doesn't know I've not finished reading, or the reasons behind it.  My issues, or concerns about reading, are mine.  And I may, still, pick this book up, again, in the future.





by on ‎02-06-2011 04:47 PM

Ilana, I do agree, about putting a book down, and having the freedom to not finish it.  I enjoy that freedom.  I'm not afraid to say this, as I have put many books down.  It's like telling yourself, who needs to be friends with people who treat you badly!  Who needs the abuse that some writers give you, when reading their offensive writing.  There are a million reasons we have for finishing a book, or not finishing it.  Guilt, I can tell you, is one of them!  Over the years, I've heard them all!

by on ‎02-10-2011 03:13 PM

Last night I got eight pages from the end of a novel I've been reading, and stopped reading.  I've never come that close, before.  There is no guilt, this time, only extreme sadness from my expectations, from something I couldn't have.  Something I wished for was not in this author's wishes.  I do realize, none of us write alike, think alike, or read alike.  I'm sad that I couldn't see what others saw in this novel.  But, what I did see was a horror I couldn't even imagine in real life, let alone in a story.  It made me physically ill, and  to think about reading to the end, was not an option. These are the feelings I wish I sometimes didn't have when I read. 

by on ‎02-14-2011 12:44 PM

A book I was drawn to, compelled to read, and finished last night...Kafka on the Shore.  I retract my statement:  These are the feelings I wish I sometimes didn't have when I read.  I'm glad I have these feelings I have.  I'm no longer sad.  I am who I am.  I don't wish to change.

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