Friday, 4 January 2013

The ABC of Psychological Immunisation

‘You can’t teach young students the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance and it should only be used by a trained psychologist in the counselling setting.’ Albert Ellis railed against this kind of misinformation put forth to preserve the status of the psychologist as ‘expert.’ Ellis of course wanted his ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance to be accessible to all, especially to teachers and students. Far better that young children learn why they feel and act as they do and to develop insights and skills preventatively and educatively in the school setting.

Jonas Salk who created the polio vaccine hypothesised that if we could ‘psychologically immunise’ students they would be less prone to mental health issues and would probably be physically better off too.

Bat Fink, the cartoon character said to his enemies ‘your bullets cannot harm me, my wings are like shields of steel?’ He would wrap his wings around himself deflecting any harmful bullets from hitting him, thwarting those who would have him undone.  

Teaching students how to deflect psychological harm as part of daily curricula activities would be a useful thing. Rational Emotive Behaviour Education does just that by using some basic but essential counselling tools and ideas. To those who may think ‘I am not a psychologist and I have enough to teach’ consider the following and reap the benefits.

1.     Kids actions are determined largely by their constructed views (beliefs) about themselves, others and the world (as indeed our own are).
2.     These beliefs can be largely helpful (rational) or unhelpful (irrational).
3.     Strength of emotion is also linked to these constructed views – ‘I want something and I must have it and I didn’t get it.’= anger. ‘I want something and I prefer to have it but I can wait.’ = disappointment.
4.     Thinking, feeling and behaving are connected – ‘Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so!’ Hamlet.


1.     Teach how broccoli is only good or bad depending on what you think about it (replace broccoli with ‘maths’ ‘chores’ etc)
2.     Teach the Emotional Thermometer – words for varying strength of feeling.
3.     Teach the Catastrophe Scale – how to put the severity of problems into reasonable perspective (is a sore toe as bad as your favourite pet gerbil being eaten by a cat)
4.     Provide behaviour specific feedback to students not person specific (you did that well/badly not you are a lazy klutz!)
5.     You can do dumb but not be dumb, a very important distinction (you ARE NOT what you DO. You ARE NOT what others THINK of you). You can fail at something but never can you BE a failure (unless you believe you are – irrational)

Use the idea of Bat Fink deflecting harmful bullets and encourage students to consider information and evidence to draw their own conclusions about their self worth and rejecting (deflecting) errant incoming data. Can a person be bad? No. A person can act badly which does not cancel out the positive qualities that remain.  Failure also doesn’t define a person nor does rejection i.e. we are worthwhile because we are here! (Albert Ellis – Unconditional Self-Acceptance).

Your bullets cannot harm me!


  1. Very nice post. It has lots of positive information about psychology.
    I enjoyed your post...
    Psychologist Australia

  2. Thank you for your kind and encouraging words Elieasa. I am thankful you enjoyed my article and found it useful. All the best. Giulio