Return of the Counselling Blog...
by Dr Jim
Byrne, Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2013
I decided to restore this counselling and psychotherapy blog after thinking about the need for a direct
line of communication with the readers of this website.
I had stopped producing my blog
because it took up so much of my time every week.
So, in future, it will be briefer, and leaner,
and have less emphasis on visual images.
Today I have been thinking about ‘wisdom'.
What is it, and how can be it sought? Can it be achieved?
It seems to me that we live
in times of low or non-existent wisdom, as more and more individuals chase the god of money and material ‘success'.
Alcoholism and drug abuse are at all time highs, as are relationship disintegration and reports of emotional misery.
Here's a little video log that I made this morning, on the philosophy of counselling
and psychotherapy. I think it contains some useful ideas for counsellors, psychologists and psychotherapists everywhere:
To watch this video, please click THIS LINK, or
click the screen that follows:
The Stoics taught that we should not seek fame or fortune, because those things were beyond our control.
They would argue that we should seek to be good people, good citizens, good neighbours, good family members, and that we might
reap some reward from those good efforts. However, we are transitory beings, in a world of inevitable suffering.
Therefore, we should expect frustration and difficulty.
When all of the unavoidable misery has
been allowed for, you will most likely find that there are some things for which you can feel grateful. And if you focus
your mind on those things for which you can be grateful - your ability to stand, and walk, and converse; your dinner; the
fact that there is no civil war being fought in the streets around your home - then happiness will be yours!
I hope this helps to begin to distinguish the realism of wisdom from the escapism of ignorance.
That's all for now.
Dr Jim Byrne
Doctor of Counselling
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services
44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)
01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)
In the previous couple
of posts, I was writing about the need to reform REBT, to eliminate the weaknesses at its heart. To understand those weaknesses,
please see my book on the childhood of Albert Ellis: A Wounded Psychotherapist.***
Since that time, I have actually produced a range of Professional Development
certificates ranging from Classical REBT to Reformed REBT. Click this link to read about The Continuing Professional Development
Certificate in REBT/CBT/CENT***
There is also a new newsletter available. Click this link for the ABC Counselling Newsletter, November
The Counselling Blog: A counsellor writes about:
Reforming REBT and the question of morality...
Dr Jim Byrne
Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2013
Wednesday 14th August 2013
It's two weeks since the previous post to this blog. During that time, I have been very busy. One of the things
I have been working on is a new informational/ learning/ training program on Reformed REBT for a post-Ellis world.***
I now think I have explored the relationship between Albert Ellis and the Karen Horney
school of psychotherapeutic thoroughly. So today, I intend to move on.
Why does REBT need to be reformed?
Since 2009, I have been writing papers which explore the strengths and weaknesses of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy
(REBT).*** I have advocated that current REBT theorists should seriously consider my critique, and make various urgent
changes to the theory and practice of REBT. Some of the criticisms that I have raised include:
Getting rid of the "unconditionality" clause in Unconditional Self Acceptance (USA) and Unconditional Acceptance
of Others (UOA). This is important because unconditional acceptance is unrealistic in the real world, as people need
to be held to account for their immoral actions. Albert Ellis did not agree with this. He thought nobody should
ever be blamed for anything, and guilt and shame should be negated. This would be a recipe for the disintegration of
any community or society which adopted such a crazy ideology.
(b) Getting rid of the embargo on
the use of "demanding" language, on the basis that we need to use words like ‘should' and ‘ought', in
order to make moral prescriptions and proscriptions. Albert Ellis eschewed all such language, but still insisted, when
challenged, that he always thought that REBT therapists obeyed the moral codes of their communities. This makes no sense,
since all moral codes are expressed in the language of demands - You must do this...; You must not do that...; You ought to
avoid harming others...; etc.
(c) We must take the client's demand for fairness seriously, within
the context of their accepting the things they cannot change and changing the things they can.
We must refrain from ‘arguing' with clients, which is an unhelpful way of educating them regarding any weaknesses in
their philosophy of life.
Since I have not seen any evidence that this is likely to happen anytime
soon, I have gone ahead and begun the process of writing a reformed philosophy of REBT.***
The question of morality
In my book on the childhood of Albert Ellis***, I inferred, from parts of his autobiography (All Out, Ellis, 2010) that his fundamental stance in
life was ‘amoral'. This is what I wrote:
"(Albert) Ellis does not suspect for
a moment that his ‘super-ego', or conscience, was badly affected - underdeveloped - because of his parent's lack of
presence, which resulted in their inability to set a system of boundaries and social/moral rules for him to follow and abide
"(I'm not saying he got no moral education from his parents. He did. His mother
was, after all, a practicing Jew, and he was very likely to have learned a lot of social rules from her, by osmosis.
It's just that, because she was not around enough, he was able to break lots of social and moral rules with impunity, which
would have weakened his character in certain respects, rather than turning him into a totally evil person).
"He also tends to excuse his own bad behaviours (which most likely occurred because of his weak conscience -
including his sexual misconduct on the New York underground train system - [See Appendix A below]); and reveals that, though
he attended an orthodox synagogue's religious school at the weekends for many years, from the age of four years onwards,
during his childhood in New York City, he only acted upon their moral teach-ings when he knew he was being observed,
and that otherwise he did whatever he pleased (Ellis, 2010, page 74). (This is the opposite of morality. Morality involves
doing the right thing whether or not we are observed, just because it is the right thing to do. [Comte-Sponville, 2004, pages
"So there is, in my view, a fundamental individualistic
amoralismat the root of Albert Ellis's philosophy of life; and that is very dangerous. This seems to me to
be the root of (1) his unrealistic and unacceptable principles of "unconditional acceptance
of yourself and other people"; and (2) his view that "nobody should ever be blamed for anything", and that
we "should not" (sic) have shoulds and musts about their behaviour; and (3) his view that therapists should help
clients to get rid of their guilt and shame, because all guilt and shame (in his distorted view) only serve to make people
I wrestled long and hard with my analysis of this part of Albert
Ellis's life. I try to be a moral person, and to avoid harming others. It was an anguished experience wrestling
with this part of my book about Al, with little to go on apart from my inferences from his own descriptions of his behaviours
from his autobiography.
Imagine my relief, a few days after completing the book, and Renata and
I arriving in Scarborough for a holiday, to find some corroboration of my interpretation. For my holiday reading, I
brought a book by Dr Daniel Wiener, entitled, Albert Ellis: Passionate Skeptic, (New York, Praeger, 1988).
This book contains a Foreword by Dr Paul Meehl, Regents' Professor of Psychology, University of Minnesota, and Past
President of the American Psychological Association. Professor Meehl describes the author, Daniel Wiener, as very much
on the side of Dr Ellis, but not a ‘solid gold convert'. And the book shows, in parts, that Dr Wiener bent over
backwards to make the book as reasonable as possible a representation of Dr Ellis. It turns out that Meehl and Wiener
belonged to the same university which was already using cognitive approaches before Albert Ellis developed his Rational Therapy.
Anyway, Prof Meehl had one reservation about how Wiener conducted his research for the book: "...I still have
a little complaint that he didn't push Ellis harder on the matter of ethics. The only ‘justification' that I have
come across in Ellis's writings, correspondence, or conversation that permits any underlying semantic legitimacy to moral
words is one familiar to moral philosophers but today rejected by them: If I persist in breaking certain moral rules,
it will redound to my disadvantage. First, people will not trust me. Second, in the long run, I will
find myself living in a world in which people do not rely on others. Neither of these arguments is considered by
most contemporary moral philosophers to be a sound reason why, where obeying the moral law is of considerable disadvantage
to my interests, I should do so". ((Pages xi-xii, Wiener 1988).
What this means is that Albert Ellis substituted ‘prudence' for ‘morality'.
Prudence means acting with and taking thought for the future, in terms of your own self interest. Morality means following
principles related to right and wrong. It is wrong to harm another person, no matter how prudent it might be to do so!
The bottom line is this: Professor Meehl, using his own analysis of Ellis's writings, speeches and correspondence,
arrived at the same conclusion as me: Ellis was not an advocate of any morality; he was an advocate of prudent behaviour,
which is different, and not quite good enough.
To read more on this subject, please see my book,
A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis's childhood, and the strengths and limitations
And if you want to study a reformed system of REBT, which eliminates the weaknesses,
including the moral weaknesses, and builds upon its strengths, then please take a look at my Reformed REBT for a post-Ellis world.***
That's all for this week.
Dr Jim Byrne
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services***
Telephone: 01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)
44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)
About Dr Jim Byrne
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According to my (rather old) dictionary, ‘amoral' means: "Unconcerned with or outside morals; non-moral".
It does not mean "actively immoral"! (Source: Sykes, 1979. See References, above). I also have a later dictionary
(Soanes, 2002), which gives a different definition, as follows: "Without morals; not concerned about right or wrong".
Do these definitions clearly fit the case of Albert Ellis's philosophy? The idea that people should never be blamed
seems to preclude a concern about the moral rightness of their behaviour. The idea that nobody should ever feel guilty
about anything they do also seems to me to be not concerned with right and wrong. The idea that, even if you kill a
few people, you will not be a bad person seems to me to put Albert Ellis outside of all moral discourse; to show a lack of
concern for morals; and a lack of concern about right and wrong. (Of course, in his defence, Ellis is likely to say:
"But I am distinguishing between the ‘person' and his ‘behaviour'. The behaviour may be bad, but the
person never is". That is no defence here, in this context; because (1) duty ethics (Kantian deontology) says that
a person must do their moral duty, and when they don't they are blameworthy. And (2) virtue ethics (from Aristotle onwards)
says that, in order to be a virtuous (or good) person, you must adopt and live by a set of socially agreed virtues.
And (3) rule utilitarianism says that, to be a moral person, you logically must act on those socially agreed rules which are
likely to promote the greatest good of the greatest number of individuals. Thus, when Albert Ellis says, "But I
am using a different definition", we need to note that, yes, he is indeed using a different definition; an amoral one!
One that does not line up with any of the major schools of moral philosophy.
Byrne, J. (2010b) Self-acceptance and other-acceptance in relation to competence and morality. CENT Paper No.2(c).
Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id206.html
 Wiener, D.N. (1988) Albert Ellis: Passionate Skeptic. New York: Praeger.