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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent REBT Therapy for Neurosis and Depression, February 27, 2005
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This review is from: What Would Aristotle Do? Self-Control Through the Power of Reason (Paperback)
The field of psychology is in disarray. What began in the late nineteenth-century as an exploration into the dynamics of the mind (i.e., psyche) and human behavior has been torn asunder by the variant "schools" of psycho-dynamics. After years of psychoanalysis, more people found "relief" in Wayne Dyer's "Your Erogenous Zones" than benefitted from twenty years of Freudian or Jungian psychoanalysis. With the advent of TCAs and SSRIs, even more people found relief in a little pill than in two centuries of talk therapy. What we know or don't know about psychiatry and psychology is more baffling now than ever will. For whatever it is worth, the human psyche is more evasive than tangible, and I'm not sure more damage than good has been done under its various mentors.

I have come to believe that three aspects of human behavior are unquestionable: (1) What we learned as children plays a more significant role in human dynamics than we'll ever know; (2) no matter what era one lives in, there's always a degree of alienation, anger, and angst; and (3) that certain chemical imbalances in the brain play an important, if not vital, role in how we adapt to life in general, and to change in particular. Treatment of neurosis and affective disorders usually requires that we adapt better than we have, and "traditional" psychoanalysis has been found seriously wanting. That having been said, I want to evaluate two books outside that domain and within the domain of "self help" that appear to be of enormous benefit. They are: (i) Albert Ellis' and Robert Harper's "A Guide to Rational Living, and (ii) Elliot Cohen's "What Would Aristotle Do?"

Both books are in the domain of Cognitive, or Rational-Emotive, Behavioral Therapy. The more I've studied the historical, intellectual, and hermeneutic influences from the Hellenistic Period, the more I am convinced that the cognitive "therapy of desire" and the cognitive "treatment of upheavals of thought" play a significant role in how we adapt to our daily lives than anything approaching Freud or Jung will ever do. Simply by changing our attitudes, reactions, and plights against our most basic emotions, the more we are adept at, and adapt to, leading more successful, healthy, and balanced lives. Both "A Guide to Rational Living" and "What Would Aristotle Do?" are in this latter venue. Both books are invaluable in teaching the reader how to overcome obstacles in one's life in a way that is both realistic and therapeutic.

The first misconception to get over is that the passions (i.e., emotions) are somehow separate and distinct from our ratiocinative faculties of the mind. Both cognitive and evolutionary psychology have demonstrated, without argument, that the two function occur within the same mental framework (cf., Daniel Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence," which locates all emotions in the amygdala). The second misconception to overcome is that emotions, qua emotions, are generally unhealthy, e.g., the Stoics. Take one example: The fright/flight response is an evolutionary response to fear that all of us animals, including human ones, have for self-preservation. This emotion, like many others, are key to our survival. As Martha Nussbaum argues cogently, even love and compassion are survival-oriented emotions (see her "Upheavals of Thought.").

Most debilitating emotions arise because we have not taught ourselves how to think/emote rationally. Both books argue and attempt to treat this. The difference between the two is that "A Guide to Rational Living" is less adept at how to change our rational control over our emotions, while "What Would Aristotle Do?" explicates the process in considerable detail. Either book is better than nothing, but clearly the later gives explicit directions on how to overcome irrational thinking. Aristotle (yes, him) distinguished between theoretical and practical reasoning over two millennia ago, and his assessment has not been devalued over time. In practical reasoning - the reasoning that determines how we act either ethically or emotionally, one begins with a universal premise, then supplying a particular premise, and then coming up with a conclusion or action. For example: "Do good, avoid evil" is a universal premise; than add the particular premise: "If I am good to John, he'll be good to me." In this case the universal premise is probably correct, but the particular premise is fallacious. Just because I love John does not mean he'll love me. When John fails to be good to you, the usual response is something like, "he hates me," "because he hates me, I am no good," "you idiot, I did my best, and you didn't reciprocate," etc. Sometimes, it's because of a faulty universal premise: "If I'm good, others should be good."In either case, both universal and particular premises are irrational. First, no one is wholly good, and secondly, even if one believes himself good, doesn't mean someone else is.

Both books illustrate the fallacies of such arguments. And, once one sees the fallacy of this kind of argument, the more one feels anger, frustration, and depression dissipate. I personally think, "What Would Aristotle Do?" brings out these fallacies more clearly, but both books touch on the same irrational beliefs that lead to the same irrational emotions. Whether it is the universal premise or the particular premise, or both, that cause our fallacies and lead us into emotional grief, it is, after all, our faulty thinking that leads us to disappointment, anger, frustration, depression, etc.. Learning how to detect and correct such premises is what both books are about. "What Would Aristotle Do?" tends to be more attractive to those who are more "rational" about their thinking process, whereas "A Guide to Rational Living" tends to more attractive to those who are more emotive. Both books will get you to the desired end. And either book will "get you there" for less than one-fifth the price of a single psychoanalysis. And, for those seriously depressed, another book worth considering is "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy," which also uses CBT to alleviate much distress. I wasn't impressed with it as I was the other two. But whatever you do, invest in at least one of these books; unhealthy emotions and depression are not necessary, as each shows.
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