Sunday, 24 June 2012

William Shakespeare and Mental Health

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education (REBE) is the application of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy principles in teaching practice across all curriculum areas. Albert Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance is tailor made to help students understand an event is not the sole determinant of their emotional and behavioural response to it. This is not a new idea, stoic philosopher Epictetus in around 100 AD observed:

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.”

Educators comment daily on the ‘culture of blame’ in schools where students claim:

‘He made me angry so I hit him.’
‘The teacher made me angry.’
‘My mum didn’t set my alarm, that’s why I’m late.’
‘Maths makes me angry.’

How do you teach the average high school student that ‘nothing or no one’ can make anyone angry?

The goal of REBE is to challenge the philosophy that A (Activating event) directly causes C (emotional and behavioural Consequences) i.e. A=C. The aim is to alert students to the idea that their thinking (Beliefs) about the event has a lot to do with it! i.e. A+B=C

Where does the ‘Bearded Bard of Stratford’ come into this preventative mental health caper? What has Shakespeare got to do with it?

I was asked to talk to a group of year 9 students about constructivism, how we construct our philosophical views about the world, others and ourselves. These internalised ‘rules’ for living to a large extent determine how we respond to daily happenings. Students were very receptive to ideas that we construct these philosophies according to how we are genetically made and how we are socialised through family and friendships.

We studied this excerpt from Hamlet, students taking turns to play each part and then we spoke about it’s meaning, what is Hamlet saying in the last statement?

Act 2, Scene 2: A room in the castle.

Hamlet: Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true.
Let me question more in particular: what have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune that she sends you to prison hither?
Guildenstern: Prison, my lord!
Hamlet: Denmark's a prison.
Rosencrantz: Then is the world one.
Hamlet: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
Rosencrantz: We think not so, my lord.
Hamlet: Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.

Students understood Hamlet’s assertion that nothing is good or bad in itself but our thinking ‘makes it so.’ As stoic, Marcus Aurelius said, it is our ‘estimation’ of an event that makes it ‘good or bad’ (see previous post) not the event itself. This is an important insight for students as they begin to explore an alternative view to the ‘blame everyone and everything’ philosophy. If they can understand this they can start to take control of their lives. As Albert Ellis said:

‘The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.’

So back to Hamlet! I took the liberty of reworking Act 2, Scene 2 from Hamlet (apologies to the Great Bard) to give it an Aussie flavour on the topic of vegetables as follows.

An Aussie take on Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2 – a dining room in a house.

Bruce: What bad luck that you are served such yucky food!
Digger: Yucky Bruce?
Bruce: Broccoli is yucky!
Leeanne: Then are all vegetables so Bruce?
Bruce: Yes all vegetables are yuck and broccoli is the yuckiest!
Leeanne: We don’t think so Bruce.
Bruce: Why then is it not true for you? Because there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is yuck!

Students were then asked to re enact the parts and a lot of fun was had by all! We replaced the word ‘broccoli’ with other words and reread the reworked Act 1 of Hamlet. We established for instance that:

‘He/she is not good or bad but thinking makes it so.’
‘The teacher is not good or bad but thinking makes it so.’
‘My mum is not good or bad but thinking makes it so’
‘Maths is not good or bad but thinking makes it so.’

This was a useful activity to acquaint high school students with the idea that nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. Thanks Mr. Shakespeare and Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus and Albert Ellis and Karen Horney and ............. Thanks!

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