REBT as A Philosophy of Life
REBT is a philosophically based psychotherapy. In my view, it is more than an evidence-based approach to psychotherapy. It is an outlook on life. Said another way, REBT is a philosophy of life aimed at facilitating psychological health, resilience, happiness, and meaning in life. As a philosophy of life, it suggests that you integrate these healthy elements into your approach to life:
1. Self-interest – A healthy approach to life is to put oneself first, guiltlessly and shamelessly, while holding others a close second (not a distant second). Doing so does not mean that one must always put themselves first. It merely means they can do so when the matter is of sufficient importance to them and then proceeds with due ethical regard for others. This is enlightened self-interest not selfishness.
2. Social interest – A healthy approach to life is to consider the impact of your behavior on others. Because we live in a social world, it is in your long-term best interest to consider others’ feelings, goals, and rights while not holding yourself responsible for managing others’ emotions or their lives. Instead, strive to model emotional responsibility for others to witness so that they, too, learn how to take care of themselves and be responsible for and manage their emotional reactions in a challenging world.
3. Self-direction, independent thought, and personal responsibility – A healthy approach to life is to consider the advice and teaching of informed others, but in the end, dare to engage in independent thinking, make your own decisions, and remain fully responsible for the consequences of these decisions. Remember, no one has as much invested in your well-being and happiness as you. Take full responsibility for creating the life you wish to have.
4. High frustration tolerance / high discomfort tolerance – A healthy approach to life is cultivating patience for frustrating circumstances, internal states of discomfort, and inconvenience to achieve long-term goals and maximize your overall happiness and meaning. It is healthy to accept that work and practice are how skills are acquired and mastered, even if the process is slow and frustrating.
5. Flexibility – A healthy approach to life is to hold flexible and non-extreme attitudes leading to flexible and adaptive behavior. Avoid making rigid rules for yourself and others. Psychological flexibility enables you to adapt to people and living conditions that you find challenging and to remain broad-minded in your views.
6. Acceptance of uncertainty – A healthy approach to life is to recognize you live in a world of probability where absolute certainty and guarantees do not exist. Teach yourself to tolerate basing decisions and actions on estimations of probability. Remain open to the unknown and new discovery.
7. Commitment to creative, vitally absorbing pursuits – A healthy approach to searching for personal happiness and meaning is to have self-selected goals that interest you and then actively pursue them. This creative involvement stems from a healthy sense of curiosity. Strive to maintain this creative involvement over the course of your entire life.
8. Scientific thinking – A healthy approach to life is to strive to think logically, reason correctly, and use scientific reasoning to falsify hypotheses to understand how life itself works. Scientific thought is a tool for problem-solving and achieving one’s goals.
9. Unconditional Self-Acceptance – A healthy approach to life is to strive to accept yourself unconditionally while appreciating that you are a fallible human. Discipline your mind to evaluate your many parts, especially your behavior in the context of your goals. Avoid attempting to measure your human value or downing or condemning yourself when your actions fall short of your standards. Strive to abolish your ego. Stick to rating aspects of you which you wish to improve upon.
10. Unconditional Other-Acceptance – A healthy approach to life aims to unconditionally accept other people while viewing all people as fallible humans or born mistake-makers. REBT philosophy acknowledges that it is often helpful to rate and value other people’s behaviors. It recognizes that the individual is responsible for their actions but avoids a global judgment of the other person’s human value, whose conduct is the evaluation’s focus. REBT philosophy holds that all standards for rating people as people are arbitrary, and therefore human worth cannot be objectively defined and determined. REBT philosophy views all people as highly complex beings and continuously evolving ones, making rating people invalid.
11. Unconditional Life-Acceptance – A healthy approach to life is to avoid overgeneralizations about the whole of life. View life as having both good times and bad times. Accept both ends of this continuum, avoid the attitude that life should always be comfortable and without difficulty, and strive to enjoy life as fully as possible despite the inevitable hassles, sorrows, losses, and burdens of the human condition.
12. Calculated risk-taking – A healthy approach to life is accepting life’s uncertainty. Cultivate the capacity to take calculated risks to maximize your pleasure in life and achieve self-selected goals. Take these risks with the appreciation of the possible benefits and potential losses that may ensue. When risking taking fails to achieve the desired outcome, rely upon your unconditional self-acceptance, unconditional life-acceptance, and your ability to manage your emotional reactions and tolerate the consequences of your failed actions.
13. Long-range hedonism – A healthy approach to life is to view it as an opportunity to enjoy oneself rather than as a test to prove oneself. Therefore, it is crucial to maximizing pleasure by living for both the short and the long run and cultivating the ability to delay immediate gratification and exercise sufficiently high frustration and discomfort tolerance to achieve self-selected long-term hedonistic goals.
14. Nonutopianism and nonperfectionism – A healthy approach to life is accepting utopias and perfect conditions, and things do not exist. It is good to choose not to disturb yourself over the imperfection you encounter while striving to improve things to maximize enjoyment. It is essential to accept that it is impossible to achieve a state of perfection and far better to make improvements where possible. Perfect happiness and meaning in life may be unattainable, but greater life satisfaction may very well be achievable with reflection and effort.
15. Self-responsibility for your emotional disturbance – A healthy approach to life involves acknowledging that life’s adversities and other people’s misbehavior contribute to your feelings but do not determine your emotional upsetness. It is beneficial to appreciate that your rigid and extreme attitudes, which you construct and choose to hold about life’s adversities, lie at the base of emotional disturbance. As a result of this acceptance of emotional responsibility, it is healthy to strive to develop adaptive, flexible, and realistic attitudes that enable you to function in a challenging, imperfect world full of fallible humans.
16. Healthy sense of humor – A healthy approach to life is to maintain a healthy sense of humor by not taking yourself, others, the world, or life itself too seriously nor without sufficient concern. It is best to feel concerned, not anxious, and not cross the line into over-seriousness associated with emotional disturbance.
17. Semantic precision – A healthy approach to life involves striving to think in a semantically precise way. Instead of engaging in overgeneralized thinking such as “I always fail” or “Everything is bad,” it is better to acknowledge that you have failed in a particular endeavor or that conditions are bad but avoid an overstated description of reality. Likewise, other examples of semantic precision are thoughts and statements like “You have misbehaved this time, but you are not a bad person” and “life has many difficulties, but it is not always difficult.” Semantic precision in thought and language allows for more accurate internal representations of reality and greater emotional well-being. It is healthy to monitor your thinking and correct any instances of sloppy, imprecise thinking in the face of adversity to re-establish healthier emotional and behavioral reactions. It is good to strive to discipline your thinking to be precise and scientific, which will help your effort to adapt to challenging conditions.
18. Efficient use of time – A healthy approach to life appreciates the precious resource of time. Healthy living involves having priorities, accepting that time is limited, and committing to efficiently using this resource to maximize life satisfaction and meaning.
19. Maintenance of physical health – A healthy approach to life involves appreciating your physical limitations and the importance of maintaining your body as well as your mind. Avoid all work and no play. Make time for maintaining your physical health through a healthy eating regimen, sufficient exercise and sleep.
20. Acceptance of death and the process of dying – A healthy approach to life is to accept the prospect of your death, the death of loved ones, and the process of dying. Appreciate that death is always a distinct possibility, with its hour being the unknown. Strive to lead a meaningful and satisfying life free of unhealthy negative emotions towards life’s finiteness and the process of dying.
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Dryden, W. (2009). Rational Emotive Therapy: Distinctive Features. London and New York: Routledge.