Albert Ellis, the Founder of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), had a strong interest in Stoic philosophy. REBT is rooted in Stoicism and focuses on the irrational thinking people hold on to. The premise is that people are controlled by their thoughts. That is, the way we think about situations or, specifically, the view we take of them, will impact how we feel about the situation and ourselves, and will lead us to behave in a manner consistent with our thinking. As a result of faulty thinking we often end up feeling worthless, hopeless, anxious, guilty or depressed.
The problem is we aren’t aware of our thinking because it happens at an unconscious level. Therefore, we need to become aware of our thinking to determine if we are focusing on the negative, or the positive, aspects of a situation. In therapy, a significant amount of time is dedicated to increasing awareness around thinking. It’s difficult to change your thinking if you don’t know what you’re thinking to begin with! That’s why there’s so much emphasis on enhancing this one skill, and once it’s mastered, freedom from crippling anxiety, depression, grief, or anger is “around the corner.” A real world example is the technique “5 Red Things,” which is used to interrupt anxious and ruminating thoughts. The idea is that when someone is in the midst of an anxiety attack, the negative thoughts are coming so rapidly, and with such extreme intensity, that it becomes difficult for them to talk themselves out of it. Asking someone to locate and name “5 Red Things” in a room forces them to ignore the negative anxiety producing thoughts and attend to accomplishing a specific task. It’s amazing how that interruption can decrease the anxiety and allow for further intervention to continue to reduce the anxiety that existed.
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