A therapeutic approach developed primarily by Albert Ellis, based on the view that emotional difficulties are due to faulty, illogical attitudes which can be altered by controlling one’s thought processes.Ellis rejects the classical analytic approach with its emphasis on unconscious biological urges. Like Alfred Adler, he holds that men are naturally helpful and loving, but in some cases adopt irrational, self-defeating thoughts.These thoughts take the form of verbalizations, or “self-talk,” which have a distorting and disturbing effect on feelings and reactions. Ellis maintains that when we are angry or afraid, we are producing some form of the sentence “This is terrible” on a surface or deeper thought level. This type of selfdialogue has the effect of confirming and reinforcing faulty beliefs which we have acquired from parents, teachers, companions, the mass media, or other contacts with our general culture. Here is an example: “It is a dire necessity for an adult to be approved or loved by almost everyone for almost everything he does. It is most important what others think of me.” A more reasonable, and less self-defeating, attitude would be: “It is pleasant, but not necessary, for an adult to be approved or loved by others. It is better to win one’s own respect than others’ approval.”According to Ellis, we are all prone to these “internalized sentences,” though we are seldom aware of them. Most of us keep them under reasonable control, but if they come to dominate our life and create disturbing emotions, we become neurotic: “Neurosis, in other words, consists of stupid behavior by a non-stupid person” (Ellis, 1958). Such a person behaves stupidly because he is constantly telling himself “It is tragic not to be highly successful,” or “You have to be self-confident and competent in every situation,” or “Other people should make things easier for me,” or “It is better to avoid than to face difficulties and responsibilities.”The task of the therapist is, first, to establish an emotional, supportive relationship with the patient; second, to unmask these unrealistic ideas and make the patient fully aware of them; third, to show him how they are producing his problems; fourth, to help him change his faulty assumptions and speak to himself in a more constructive fashion; and fifth, to encourage him to put his new approaches into action even though the process may be strenuous and painful.In carrying out his task, the therapist focuses his attention on current modes of behavior. He spends little if any time on delving into the past, for he holds that even if a “primary” difficulty can be uncovered, insight into it does not automatically remove the symptoms. Instead, Ellis makes a forceful counterattack against the irrationalities of his patient, aimed at making him understand the self-defeating character of his ideas. He then utilizes whatever methods he finds effective, from encouraging and cajoling to outright command, to induce him to rectify his warped attitudes.In essence, this is a process of relearning a more rational philosophy of life through an “internalization” of new values: “The rational therapist, then, is a frank propagandist who believes wholeheartedly in a most rigorous application of the rules of logic, of straight thinking and of scientific method to everyday life, and who ruthlessly uncovers every vestige of irrational thinking in the client’s experience and energetically urges him into more rational channels” (Ellis, 1958). The originator of this approach recognizes that it is most successful with patients who seek direction from the therapist, and who have considerable flexibility, intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to work.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "RATIONAL PSYCHOTHERAPY," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/rational-psychotherapy/ (accessed September 29, 2022).


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