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Healthy Rational Thinking: Q&A with Psychologist Dr. Debbie


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The NAPW eChapter features several of our NAPW members as hosts in our bi-weekly meetings to discuss their area of expertise.

February is Heart Health Month on the NAPW Foundation calendar and we were fortunate enough to have NAPW VIP member Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis, Psychologist, Author, Presenter and Adjunct Professor at Columbia University answer some questions on how we can use Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) to improve and live a more holistic life.

According to Dr. Debbie Joffee Ellis:

“It is not the adversities in life that create our emotional disturbances such as anxiety, panic, depression, rage, shame, guilt, jealousy, but our thoughts about those events that create such emotions.

When we think in irrational, unhealthy ways, we create the unhealthy and often debilitating emotions mentioned above; when we think in rational healthy ways, we create appropriate emotions in response to adversity – and they include sadness and healthy grief, concern, motivating and healthy anger, disappointment and regret. 

The healthy emotions do not debilitate us, and can motivate us to seek to think and act in constructive ways to better the situation. This includes accepting that which we cannot change, and focusing on what still is good.”

Q&A with Dr. Debbie

1. What are the main components of healthy rational thinking?

  • Preferring what we want, but not demanding we MUST have it
  • Keeping healthy perspective about events
  • Maintaining a sense of humor
  • Thinking in realistic and non-rigid ways
  • High frustration tolerance
  • Practicing unconditional acceptance of ourselves, others and life
  • Daily gratitude and appreciation of the good in our lives
  • Helping others
  • Including absorbing interests in one’s life

2. What is The ABC Self-Help approach of REBT and the clear framework that can be applied by people who want to replace unhealthy emotions with healthy emotions?

A. Identify the Activating event

B. Write down the irrational Beliefs held about the Activating event. Look for shoulds, musts, damning and the other components written above

C. Clarify the unhealthy Consequences or the destructive emotions

D. Dispute each one of the irrational Beliefs, ZAP them using clear and logical thinking such as, “Where is the evidence for this belief?” . . . “Is it helping me or hurting me to maintain this belief? . . . etc.

E. Come up with effective new beliefs that are healthy, realistically optimistic and encouraging – (eg. “I CAN stand what I don’t like, I just don’t like it.”)

F. Assign yourself homework for at least 30 days – daily activities (e.g. reading your effective new beliefs often each day, or applying other techniques described in the Ellis literature and videos below) – and DO THEM. Just reading about them is not enough!

3. What are the main components of irrational thinking?

  • Demanding that things should / must / ought to be the way we want them to be
  • Blowing things out of proportion
  • Catastrophizing, awfulizing and taking life TOO seriously
  • Overgeneralizing and absolutistic thinking
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Damning oneself, others and life

The three core irrational beliefs from which an infinite variety of others stem are:

  • I must do well and be loved and approved of by others
  • You must treat me well and act the way I think you should
  • Life should be fair and just

Recommended Reading:

  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy by Albert Ellis and Debbie Joffe Ellis. Published by American Psychological Association, 2011. (Available through Amazon, or the APA website, and elsewhere).
  • The Myth of Self Esteem by Albert Ellis. Prometheus Books, 2005.
  • Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis and Robert Harper.
  • Any books by Albert Ellis.

For more, click links below and see Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis interviewed by Jeffrey Mishlove, Ph.D.:

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Megan Bozzuto

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