Take this post with a grain of salt. I’m sharing something I’ve experimented with over the years.
Discipleship is a big issue.
I have tried to disciple myself first. And now, my family. And more and more, people at church. But how do I go about doing that? I have been meeting people with serious difficulties and I’ve sought a Biblical basis for discipling and counseling them.
Bob alerted me to a form of therapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) invented by Albert Ellis based on his study of ancient philosophy. I’ve been reading about REBT over the years and have tried to apply it to myself (see here).
The major thesis of REBT is that our behavior, and our emotional reactions to circumstances, depend upon our beliefs about those circumstances:
“According to REBT, it is largely our thinking about events that leads to emotional and behavioral upset. With an emphasis on the present, individuals are taught how to examine and challenge their unhelpful thinking which creates unhealthy emotions and self-defeating/self-sabotaging behaviors.”
That insight might go against the grain. Most people might think that our bad circumstances cause us to feel a certain way. But REBT denies that. The same set of circumstances can give rise to many different emotional and behavioral reactions in different people.
For example, think of Daniel in the lion’s den. If one hundred people were thrown into a den of hungry lions, what would be the range of reactions? Fear. Numbness. Anger. Hysteria. And what was Daniel’s reaction? Peace. The same circumstance, but very different reactions.
Or what about the circumstance of losing a job? Do all people react the same way when losing a job? No. Different people will experience relief, worry, excitement, depression, anger, and so on.
Hence, REBT claims that beliefs, not circumstances, determine our reactions.
I think that is Biblical. How did Paul say we are to be transformed? By changing our circumstances? No: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2b). Paul learned to be content in all circumstances: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phil 4:11). He learned to be content by renewing his mind.
So how do you change your beliefs?
That brings me to REBT’s method of therapy. It is summarized by an ABCDE scheme.
A stands for “Adversity” or “Activating Event.” This is the “trigger” or circumstance the patient thinks has caused him to feel or react in a certain way. The REBT therapist begins by identifying the triggering event.
B stands for “Beliefs.” These are the irrational beliefs the patient has about his circumstances.
C stands for “Consequences.” These are the patient’s behavioral or emotional reactions to his adversity.
Normally, a patient will blame C directly on A, but the REBT therapist attempts to help the patient see that his reactions to A really depend upon his beliefs about it (B). For example, maybe a patient has fallen into a depression at losing his job. He thinks the loss of the job is directly causing his depression. But the real reason he is depressed could be due to an irrational belief such as, “I’ll never find another job again in my life” or “Losing my job means I’m worthless” or “This is the worst thing that can ever happen to me.” Once the irrational belief or beliefs have been identified, the REBT therapist moves on to the next letter…
D stands for “Disputing.” This is the point in the therapy when you dispute your irrational beliefs and replace them with rational ones (e.g., “It is irrational to believe you’ll never find another job. The jobless rate is at 3.8%. It is extremely likely that you’ll have another job soon.”).
E stands for “Effects” or “Effective Change.” When you replace irrational beliefs with rational ones, that should effect change in your emotions and behaviors.
So that’s the REBT method of therapy—help people change, by helping them change their beliefs.
I find the REBT approach works, except for one thing.
REBT therapists tend to be atheists and relativists. Hence, when entering the “disputing” (D) phase of the therapy, I have noticed that REBT therapists often endorse moral relativism as the more “rational” system of beliefs. For example, if a patient is feeling guilty (C) about her sexual promiscuity (A), REBT therapists might diagnosis the belief (B) “Sexual promiscuity is wrong” as irrational, and try to get her to believe (D) that “There’s nothing wrong with being sexually promiscuous.” That is wrong. It is endorsing sin, i.e., an inherently destructive behavior.
So here is what I do—I dispute (D) my irrational beliefs by comparing them to the Bible. Bible doctrine, not moral relativism, is my standard of rationality. That brings us back to Rom 12:2—the Word of God transforms our mind, which then transforms our behavior.
Someone who has helped me conceptualize what that looks like in practice is R. B. Thieme, Jr. He heavily emphasized the necessity of developing a divine viewpoint on life through studying Bible doctrine. The (D) phase reminds me of Thieme’s faith-rest technique (also see here). When you are worried or anxious, according to the faith-rest technique (or “drill”), you identify a Bible promise or doctrine that relates to your adversity, claim it for your situation, and rest your mind upon it, to produce what Thieme called a “relaxed mental attitude.”
I call this method Doctrinal Emotive Behavior Therapy. As I said, I use it on myself, and with my kids, and when the occasion arises, with people who come to me with problems. Here is my version of the ABCDE method:
A=Identify the adversity or activating event
B=Identify any unbiblical beliefs about the adversity
C=Identify the carnal consequences or reactions (mental attitude sins, sins of the tongue, or sins of behavior) to the adversity
D=Dispute the unbiblical beliefs with Bible Doctrine
E=Effect transformation by exercising faith in Bible Doctrine, thereby renewing your mind, and renewing your behavior
I am not a therapist. This is not medical advice. It presupposes a level of mental stability that people struggling with mental illness may not have. This form of therapy has helped me grow in Christ, and it may help you, too. But that belief is open to dispute!