Thursday, 21 January 2016

Philosophy Based Behaviour Education in Schools

This is a summary of what we are doing at a school where I work, Para Hills School P-7 in South Australia.

We have established a system of behaviour education that challenges the philosophical view that ‘IT’ makes me/you/us angry/sad/anxious. IT is anything and everything that occurs or exists that we are challenged to deal with in general e.g. coming to school, doing hard stuff, challenging behaviour of others etc.

Through REBE (Rational Emotive Behaviour education) we want students (us) to understand that:
  • We don’t/can’t always achieve our wants, goals and desires and when we don’t we are not failures. We may review, reset our goals or indeed discard them. It is rational (self-helpful) to pursue healthy (socially responsible/acceptable) goals and not give up on our dreams and desires to be happy/successful maintaining hope and optimism
  • We may desire, prefer and want all significant others to like/admire/respect us but they don’t have to. We may want this but in the main we don’t absolutely need it to survive (as long as we have our basic needs met by family, friends). When we are not accepted by significant others (as difficult as this may be) it never diminishes our worth/value (unless we believe it does) i.e. we are not rejects ourselves when we are rejected by others.
  • We may desire, prefer and want the world to deliver all we need that will make our lives comfortable but we accept that there will be challenges when indeed things don’t go our way. We expect challenges and disappointment because that is how things are. We continue however to meet challenges optimistically and realistically. We don’t give in too easily to such challenges and misfortune.
When challenged we can put things into some kind of perspective so that we are healthily concerned about day to day happenings but we won’t catastrophise over things which may be significant but not so ‘bad’ that we ‘can’t stand it!’

We (and everyone else) are worthwhile and worthy of respect (we don’t have to like those who have qualities we don’t like but we don’t damn them totally for it).

Teachers continue their good work in many schools in South Australia making a significant difference to student well being.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Parenting and Language - an REBT perspective

'I cant stand it when people don't acknowledge me when I wave to them!' says the TV celebrity. 'I can't stand rude people. They make me so angry!' So exclaimed well known celebrity X on a popular morning show. What is she declaring when speaking so? What shoulds oughts and musts are implied in this statement?

Rational Emotive Behaviour Counsellors would, as Albert Ellis put it, 'cherchez le shoulds' in the counselling discourse. What 'thinking rules' underscore her tendency to judge another's personhood (they are rude!) based on a particular disagreeable act? Why would such a behaviour be so disagreeable that she couldn't stand it? What is making her so mad?

Irrational Perspective

1. A person can act badly but does this make her totally bad? If someone acts rudely is she a rude person? Thinking rule: She should acknowledge me! (No she shouldn't)

2. Why can't she tolerate what is a relatively minor inconvenience. Surely there are many more problems that carry more weight in terms of their 'badness.' Thinking rule: 'I can't stand it when I don't get my way. I should get what I want. This is a catastrophe!' (no you shouldn't and no it's not)

3. How does another person make her mad? Wouldn't annoyed be more commensurate with what could be perceived as a minor inconvenience? Thinking rule: 'Other people are responsible for how I feel and behave. They should not do what they they do!' (no they're not and why shouldn't they?)

Rational Perspective

1. People can not notice me for a myriad of reasons either intentionally or unintentionally. They are not bad people for doing this. Thinking rule: 'I prefer people to act courteously and respectfully but they don't have to.'

2. In the scheme of things someone not waving back to me is at worst a minor inconvenience and hardly catastrophic. Thinking rule: 'I can stand (tolerate) small problems. There are worse things that can happen.'

3. How I feel about situations is linked to how I think about them. Thinking rule: 'I can control how I feel and act if I think about my thinking.'

These two perspectives on the same event will generate two different behavioural and emotional responses, one healthy and the other unhealthy and self defeating.

These principles are taught to students from early childhood onwards in a growing number of schools in South Australia through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education.

Celebrity X above will be teaching her children that:

1. People who do bad are bad.
2. When people don't behave as they should do it can't be tolerated and is a big deal. (This shouldn't happen)
3. Other people and events are responsible for how they feel and behave. (they're not getting what they should get and it's a catastrophe when they don't)

Children learn form their significant other mentors. They are always watching us closely!

Powerful parenting

Friday, 8 January 2016

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy - schools are copping on!

Have you heard a child, colleague (yourself!) use expressions such as she made me angry, if only the weather were better, I can’t stand it when things don’t go my way? These kind of self-talk statements indicate an underlying belief system which precipitates feelings and behaviours that are not self-helpful and may also be harmful to others. For those of us who believe that the way we feel and behave is dictated by factors external to ourselves this will challenge that view and hopefully provide some food for thought!

A long time ago (100 AD) a person called Epictetus developed his philosophy about life. The legacy of his wisdom sits at the core of personal development programs for students, teachers and parents being implemented in school communities across the land. His message across the ages to us is this,

“We are troubled not by things, but by the view we take of them.”

Epictetus was one of many wise folk, collectively called the stoic philosophers. Their advice and good counsel have not fallen on deaf ears however. Early last century a young 16 year old began a life long journey of learning about and personal application of “stoic philosophy’ in his life. He has since incorporated this into his now famous and planet wide approach to psychotherapy called Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. I am of course talking about the eminent psychotherapist Dr. Albert Ellis, considered to be the grandfather of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. He formulated his ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance and began applying it in practice in 1955.
Albert Ellis
Our biological inheritance and our early learning combine and influence the formulation of our core beliefs (our assumptions, rules for living, our values). REBT asserts that when we think, we feel and behave; when we feel there is a thought and behaviour linked to that feeling and so on. It follows then that if what we believe (think) drives our feelings and behaviours then we have the potential to control (self-regulate) how we feel and behave! If this is so we can choose to feel and act self-helpfully, so, as Ellis says, we can achieve the goals we set ourselves. We do this by having (cultivating, learning) a ‘mindset’, (automatic habits of thinking) which helps us to live a satisfactory and rewarding life.

The ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance

A = Activating event i.e. what happened
B = Beliefs i.e. my constructed ‘thinking rules’
C = Consequences of A and B i.e. how I feel and behave

Beware of the following automatic thought categories! If you believe these to be true, you will act and behave self-defeatingly!

  1.     Awfulising: using words like 'awful’, 'terrible’, 'horrible’,'catastrophic’ to describe something - e.g. 'It would be terrible if …’, 'It’s the worst thing that could happen’, 'That would be the end of the world’.
       2.  Cant-stand-it-itis: viewing an event or experience as unbearable e.g. 'I can’t stand it’, 'It’s absolutely unbearable’, I’ll die if I get rejected’.
       3.  Demanding: using 'shoulds’ (moralising) or 'musts’ (musturbating) e.g. 'You should not have done that, 'I must not fail’, 'I need to be loved’, 'I have to have a drink’.
       4. People-rating: labelling or rating your total self (or someone else’s) e.g. 'I’m/you’re stupid /hopeless /useless /worthless.’

Some of us are more resilient than others; we seem to cope better with the slings and arrows that come our way. Others are predisposed to feeling (and therefore acting) in ways that are self-defeating. REBT offers us the tools with which to boost the ‘psychological immune system’ of the individual as a protective mechanism against unhealthy negative emotions. Jonas Salk talked about the possibility of psychologically immunising young people. Ellis, Seligman and others would argue that this is possible through programs based on sound psycho therapeutic principles.
This is what a growing number of schools are doing through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education in South Australia.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Doormat Syndrome – the need to be needed and self hatred!

People will sometimes present with the ‘people treat me like a doormat’ syndrome. Doormats are used to wipe dirt from the soles of shoes. Not a very attractive analogy but this image of self, engenders strong feelings of anger and sadness in the sufferer.

The client will talk of feeling angry towards the other (s), of extreme sadness because of feeling ‘not wanted.’ Why is this the case? What can she do?

Talking to a trusted other is always a good start as she acknowledges that she doesn’t feel OK and wants to feel better but this is only the beginning of her journey of healing.

As counsellor I am interested in her story her. What are the significant events in her life and what hurdles have been placed before her and how did she deal with those challenges?

It will become evident as her story unfolds that she has developed some destructive, self-defeating personal philosophies (habits of believing) that she is not aware of at this point. My job is to help her become aware of these beliefs and how they drive her intense destructive feelings and behaviours. 

I will explain Albert Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance and use it to:
  •           Identify what her constructed beliefs are
  •           Explain  how they have been constructed
  •           Parse out significant self-defeating and irrational beliefs she holds and maintains are true
  •           Help challenge and change those errant beliefs
  •           Set goals and teach tools that will help her onwards

It will not be easy to change habits of thinking feeling and behaving that have been practised over a lifetime and deeply embedded in the subconscious but it is possible; with hard work and application!

Albert Ellis said the job of therapist was to ‘cherchez le should,’ look for the implied or articulated should in counselling discourse. Our client has developed a few should beliefs that need urgent attention.

We agree that she has a firm conviction that she should always minister to others (I need to be needed) that she is a good person in doing good and that others should recognise that she is a good person for doing good. When she doesn’t get her just rewards she feels bad (they should acknowledge me!)

In a nutshell Ellis would say in his inimitable way that she is a love slob where the need to be needed reigns supreme over rational thought.
And so the work begins:
  •      Challenge her ‘need to be needed’ philosophy (where’s the evidence that supports this? Do you need an ambulance if someone takes umbrage if you assert want you want/prefer/say no?)
  •      Work on unconditionally accepting herself (I affirm of myself). Don’t give others consent to diminish you!
  •      Practise, practise, practise thinking rational self (and other) helpful thinking until they become automatic habits, characteristic of her new and confident self.
I am always aware that my interactions with others help me to hone my own counselling skills and I am grateful for these opportunities. It takes courage to reach out to another for assistance and I value that privilege. My clients are my teachers and they gift me the chance to become better at what I do. I’m getting closer to where Einstein says I can be, explaining in simple terms what I know!

 Isn’t that what teaching’s all about?