Monday, 20 June 2011

RESEARCH: Acceptance of Self and Others among Children: Implications for Bullying in Schools

This soon to be published research paper by Dr. Ken Rigby and Giulio Bortolozzo explores the attitudes of 212 middle school students towards themselves and others. As hypothesised, acceptance of self was significantly correlated with low levels of victimization and acceptance of others with low levels of bullying.

The intention of this post is to explore the implications of these findings for schools and teaching practice and suggest strategies (Rational Emotive Behaviour Education) to address bullying in our schools. But before that, a cautionary note!

A study by Dr Ken Rigby (Uni SA) and Peter Smith (Goldsmith College, London) reveal that 75 per cent of reports obtained from 27 countries (between 1990 and 2009) indicate a significant drop in student reported bullying and only 11 per cent reported an increase in occasional bullying.

In a recent article (Bullying going down, not up, Adelaide Advertiser, June 10th) Rigby reminds us that whilst the public perception may be that bullying is on the rise, the evidence suggests otherwise. Rigby believes that this perception:

‘… is due to the considerable raising of alarm about bullying and its effects over the past 15 years or so, and the increase in the reporting of serious incidents."

He goes on to say that:

"Stressing the serious effects of bullying is one understandable way of getting attention to the problem. Unfortunately doing so distorts the picture and takes attention from the many positive things that can be done, and are being done around the world, to address the problem more effectively."

Habits of Thinking and Victim Behaviour

# Unconditional Self-acceptance (USA) is the belief that self worth is not given to or bestowed on us by someone or something. It is given that a person is worthwhile because she exists and not because someone deems her so! This healthy (self helpful, rational) belief enables us to deal effectively with difficult situations (emotionally and behaviourally).

Insight 1 for students: Self-acceptance is a (healthy) belief. It is deeply held and is expressed in the way we behave and feel in day-to-day life. It is not connected to how well we do at something or how others view us. The belief that when we do good/bad we are not good/bad is an important insight to have. Doing and being are different ideas! This healthy belief is a protective factor against bullying.

As Jonas Salk (creator of the polio vaccine) replied to Martin Seligman (psychologist/author) when asked what he would do if he were a young scientist today:

‘I'd do immunisation. But instead of doing it physically, I'd do it psychologically.'

Dr. Albert Ellis (creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) would say that teaching unconditional self-acceptance, ‘psychologically immunises’ students against the scourge of undue anxiety, depression and other emotional disturbance.

# Conditional Self-Acceptance is the belief that self worth is given to or bestowed on us by someone. It is a belief that a person is worthwhile only when someone deems her so! This unhealthy (self defeating, irrational) belief stops us from dealing effectively with difficult situations (emotionally and behaviourally) and may put us at risk of being bullied.

Insight 2 for students: Conditional self-acceptance is an unhealthy belief. It is a deeply held belief that gives rise to depression and anxiety because of the individuals need for the approval of others. Because we believe we are only worthwhile when others ‘tell’ us so we are at great risk because there is the reality that others we may like, may not like us.

Conditional acceptance of self is the belief that that we are only worthwhile when significant others deem us so or when we do well at something. This, Ellis reminds us, is self-esteem the ‘worst sickness known to man or woman!’ (See previous posts)

Our research says that many students who have constructed the irrational belief that their worth depends on others (Serious Approval Dependence SAD) may be prone to bullying. Why? They may believe that they deserve it and signal that they are not confident through their behaviour: e.g. withdrawn, passive. These behaviours will be accompanied by e.g. fear, anxiety, and depression.

Habits of Thinking and Bully Behaviour

# Unconditional acceptance of others equates with respect and tolerance. This is a healthy habit of thinking/behaving, which accommodates a range of qualities and characteristics observed in other people. When we hold this belief we accept that others are worthwhile irrespective of how they behave. Whilst having such an attitude we retain the right to choose whom we would like to associate with. We can for instance decide not to associate with a particular other for a disagreeable quality she may have but we do not then decide she is totally bad and treat her disrespectfully!

Insight 3 for students: Unconditional acceptance of others is a healthy habit of thinking. It means we are made up of an infinite number of qualities and characteristics and we cannot be defined according to any particular one of them e.g. if we do a ‘bad’ thing (steal a pencil) we are not totally bad. Conversely if we do something ‘good’ (feed the cat) we are not totally good. We can dislike an aspect of another’s personality or behaviour and choose not to associate with them but we respect them as fellow human beings of intrinsic worth.

# Conditional other acceptance equates with disrespect for others. This is an unhealthy habit of thinking. It drives intolerance towards others behaviours and qualities which we may find different, disagreeable, quirky etc. It allows some people in some situations to hurt others because they are ‘different’ ‘not normal’ etc who ‘deserve to be punished.’

Insight 4 for students: Conditional acceptance of others is an unhealthy habit of thinking. When we think like this we act inappropriately towards others because we tend to judge someone’s total being according to a behaviour or characteristic we may not like or approve of. It is quite ok to judge the behaviour as ‘bad’ but not the person.

A whole school approach to teaching these concepts through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education will do the following:

• Reinforce healthy attitudes and beliefs already held by resilient students
• Begin to challenge the unhealthy attitudes and beliefs held by vulnerable students and to help them build new healthy habits of thinking
• Help students understand that what they believe is connected to how they feel and behave

If students accept themselves unconditionally, they will understand that what people think of them is not as important as what they think/believe about themselves. They will tend not to depend on the approval of others and will therefore be less affected by any unfair and hurtful attention. They will be more self assured and assertive.

The research (Bortolozzo, Rigby) strongly supports the teaching of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy/Education as an effective anti bullying strategy especially in regard to helping those students who may be at risk of being bullied.

There are many REBT based resources available to teachers. I have written two resources People and Emotions for primary and secondary students and Have a Go Spaghettio! for early childhood learners. Anyone who would wish to purchase a copy can contact me via this blog site. You can visit for additional information and resources.

These are some of the latest publications by Dr. Ken Rigby, which can be sourced at

Ken Rigby (2010) Bullying Interventions: Six basic approaches. Camberwell: ACER Press
Ken Rigby (2009) Bullying in Schools: Six Methods of Intervention (the DVD): Loggerheads.
Ken Rigby (2010) Addressing School bullying: Education Queensland
Australian Government report on the Method of Shared Concern by Rigby and Griffiths
Responding to school bullying: a resource for teachers

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy- a new book by Dr. Albert Ellis and Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis

Dr Ellis’ latest work is a book called Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Co authored by his wife Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis, it is part of the Theories of Psychotherapy Series, edited by Jon Carlson and Matt Englar-Carlson and published by the American Psychological Association.

This gem comes hot on the heels of Dr Ellis' autobiography All Out! which was published in 2010, with contributions by Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis.

Ellis created REBT and developed it, promoted it and practiced it until his death in 2007. REBT is often said to be an offshoot or subsidiary of CBT but as this publication reminds us, REBT is the original cognitive therapy. Indeed Ellis is regarded as the father of REBT and the grandfather of CBT by those in the know.

Dr. Ellis’ motivation was to provide useful information to the general public on issues relating to mental health, offer a model (ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance) that could explain why people feel and behave as they do and suggest strategies that they could use and practice in their lives.

Of course the ABC model is used the world over by mental health practitioners to support people in their desire to address their behavioural and emotional disturbance and to attain positive mental health.

Ellis challenged the psychoanalytic establishment and weathered the criticism and ostracism of those who wanted to preserve the elite status of the role of therapist. Ellis in time understood that psychoanalysis was a long and drawn out process, much too focused on past events and though the client may have felt better it didn’t necessarily mean she got better in the longer term.

As Ellis said:

‘Many psychoanalysts refused to let me speak at their meetings. They were exceptionally vigorous because I had previously been an analyst and they were very angry at my flying the coop.’

Ellis met this petulance with his usual wit and intellect and forged ahead anyway! He practiced what he taught and as he unconditionally accepted himself he declared:

‘By not caring too much about what people think, I'm able to think for myself and propagate ideas, which are very often unpopular. And I succeed.’

Ellis surely put the ‘REBT cat’ amongst the ‘psychoanalytic pigeons’ and the field of psychotherapy was challenged and transformed for good and for the better!

The book contains much for the layperson and the practitioner alike and remains true to the Ellis’ philosophy of helping people to help themselves. A DVD accompanies the book, which illustrates the therapeutic application of REBT.

Drs. Albert Ellis and Debbie Joffe Ellis acknowledge early in the book those who give and have given due recognition to his influence on their work. For instance William Glasser has respectfully given Dr Ellis due regard. Unfortunately others who have benefitted greatly by his work have not been so considerate.

Drs Ellis and Debbie Joffe Ellis again reinforce the importance of teaching children in schools from a very early age the basic principles and practices of REBT. Students and teachers would benefit greatly by understanding the link between thinking, feeling and behaving. The ‘wisdom of the ages’ ring long and loud through Ellis’ work. Consider the words of Epictetus in around 100 AD:

‘Events don’t make us act and feel as we do but it is our interpretation (appraisal) of those events that cause us to do what we do and feel what we feel.’

Helping people explore and understand this philosophy and apply it in their lives through Ellis’ ABC Theory is achieved in seven clearly written and informative chapters, which cover the life and work of Dr Ellis. Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis as co author continues to help spread the 'gospel of St Albert' widely and most successfully! The book talks about:

REBT History
REBT Theory
The REBT process
Future Directions of REBT

This book is a great reference for teachers and mental health practitioners alike and will be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in their own personal development. Indeed, a book for everyone!

Well done Drs Albert Ellis and Debbie Joffe Ellis on this wonderful REBT resource!