Helpful Thinking

Helpful Thinking

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One of my favourite psychotherapeutic approaches is Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) , founded in the 1950’s by psychologist Albert Ellis. It is an approach which we did a module on in my training and is one which I find myself returning to frequently in my work with horse riders. I can’t claim to be an absolute expert in REBT but I regularly draw on certain aspects of this approach and apply them to the people I work with.

Albert Ellis suggested that it is rarely a negative event or series of events that causes unhelpful emotions (e.g. excessive anxiety, worry, fear) and unhelpful behaviours (e.g. avoidance, confining oneself to one’s comfort zone, excessive tension) alone, rather it is the beliefs about those negative events that cause these unhealthy responses. In an article about REBT in sport published in The Psychologist in 2014 M.J. Turner says that “REBT is distinguished from other cognitive behavioural therapies by maintaining the fundamental premise that irrational beliefs lead to unhealthy emotions and maladaptive behaviours, while rational beliefs lead to healthy emotions and adaptive behaviours. In REBT ‘unhealthy emotions’ refers to emotions that are associated with pain and discomfort, lead to self-defeating behaviour, and impede the client from taking necessary actions to achieve their goals.”

Irrational thinking frequently comes from pressure arising from the demands we put upon ourselves such as:

  • I have to….., I need to….., I must…. eg “I want to succeed, therefore I MUST succeed”
  • Catastrophising – eg “If I am not in total control all the time then it will end in disaster” or “If I don’t get a clear round then everything is pointless”.
  • Low Frustration Tolerance – often known as “I can’t stand it -itis”! eg “I can’t stand the sensations of anxiety when I’m preparing for a show”.
  • Conditional Self Acceptance – defining ourselves based on one aspect of our experience eg “I didn’t get a clear round therefore I am a total failure”! Generalising an error or lack of success in one area of life to become a description of yourself and a belief about yourself.

As always, the first step to making any changes is to recognise the thoughts, and their effects, that you are experiencing now before you can start to challenge them and learn to think in a more helpful way. You may well find it necessary to recruit help to be able to effectively recognise and challenge your current ways of thinking.

The following rational ways of thinking are far more helpful than the irrational ones above:

  • Preferences eg “I would love to succeed but at the end of the day I don’t have to. I can learn from mistakes and make progress and work towards achieving my goals”
  • Anti- catastrophising – things are rarely a complete disaster. eg “If I have a bad day then I might be very disappointed but it is not a complete disaster. I can learn from it”
  • High Frustration Tolerance – learning to face difficulties and heightened emotions with resilience and courage.
  • Unconditional Self Acceptance – we are all unique, complicated and fallible individuals with our own set of strengths and challenges. As Albert Ellis says ” Be gentle with yourself while striving to do your best”

If you would like help with recognising and learning to challenge your current thinking then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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