Yesterday while we were at the used book store, I picked up a copy of If This Be Sexual Heresy… by Albert Ellis. I’d never heard of the author or the book before; but after flipping through it I was intrigued by his point of view and blunt, straightforward manner.
Later on, I was talking to my mom about psychological issues. I was putting into words, for the first time, the recent changes in my perspective on dealing with these issues. For many years, I subscribed fully the model of psychology which says that everything about you, every neurotic, dysfunctional behaviour and feeling, is a result of your past experiences, especially in childhood. I believed that it was necessary to painstakingly dig up those past experiences and process them in order to heal and change.
Lately, I’ve been questioning that point of view. It seems like so many people spend years and years in therapy, unearthing the ugly shit in their pasts and dealing with it over and over again, with questionable results. More and more, I am taking the view that rather than viewing myself as nothing more than a the unavoidably fucked-up end result of 25 years of loss and trauma, maybe it’s healthier to see myself as fundamentally OK. If I am believing or doing something which is hurting me, maybe I don’t need to peer into the past for the event or negative influence which caused that behaviour or belief. Maybe it’s enough that I recognize the problem, and simply stop doing whatever is causing me pain..
So this morning I’m looking up Ellis, because I’m curious about who he is. Turns out he’s one of the more prolific and influential psychologists of the last 50 years. In particular, he invented Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), which is more or less exactly the approach to therapy that I describe above. He’s written quite a few books on the subject.
The similarity between my thoughts on therapy and REBT is not completely coincidental; I had been looking at Dr. Michael Edelstein’s web site the other day. He practices REBT, and now that I look at it again, there’s a quote from Albert Ellis praising his book right on the front page. I’m just amused by the fact that I was describing REBT in a nutshell just hours after I had picked up a book by it’s founder, and I had no idea.