Thursday, 15 July 2010

REBT and Constructivism

Constructivist theory says we learn to behave according to what we observe going on around us. Our models of behaviour show us how to get what we want, how to respond to situations and how we can interact with others. If these models are helpful they will teach us that we can wait for things if we have to, that we can respect others (even when we don’t wish to associate with them) and we can remain confident even when we fail at something or suffer the rejection of others. If we live amongst such role models we will internalize (construct) some very useful ‘rules for living.’

Conversely if those around us show low frustration tolerance, who may get what they want through aggression and who take failure and rejection to heart then we are likely to internalise a different set of ‘rules for living.’

Such habits of thinking and behaving (helpful or unhelpful) will determine how successful or not we may be in achieving our goals in life. According to Dr Albert Ellis we can deconstruct those unhelpful ‘habits of thinking’ with a lot of hard work.

For example a person who has learned (believes) that his or her worth is measured according to how well he/she does or how others regard him/her will often experience unhelpful, self destructive feelings such as anger and depression or feel highly anxious a lot of the time. What philosophical ideas lay behind these feelings? What would motivate a person to harm self or others in a pique of anger? Why would a person tend to defer to others in the hope of obtaining, sustaining a ‘must have’ relationship (I need to be liked)?

At my school I observe those who go along with others, who don’t seem to offer any opinion or ideas. Some will give things away to ‘buy’ friendship and others are easily ‘bought’ under the threat of exclusion or dismissal. Others would handle things differently, they don’t seem to be easily intimidated by others and accept that it’s OK when others may not regard them as friends. For these people rejection can be hurtful and disappointing but rarely is it a catastrophe or so awful that it will ‘ruin their lives!’

Dr. Albert Ellis created the ABC Theory of Emotional (and behavioural) Disturbance used by counsellors and therapists the world over. This therapy embraces the ‘wisdom of the ages’ like that of Epictetus in 100AD who observed that ‘events and people don’t make us feel and act as we do but it is the view we take of them.’ Or Buddha who said, ‘what we think we become.’ Many other learned people have made similar assertions over the millennia.

Ellis’ ABC Theory allows us to work with people who have constructed unhealthy and destructive philosophies that cause anger, anxiety and depression in their lives. In doing so he has helped millions of people learn how to better manage themselves behaviourally and emotionally, people who may believe that feelings and behaviour are ‘made’ by other people and other things. Take the case of Sofia, a 12-year-old primary school student from Africa (see the next blog).

For more information about Dr Albert Ellis and REBT visit

NEWSFLASH! Workshop titled REBT Theory and Practice to be held in Adelaide, September 24th. Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis will be co presenting. Don't miss this PD opportunity. Please visit: for more details.

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