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A Guide to Rational Living
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on March 14, 2016
I had never heard of REBT but I came across its concepts in a psych article and thought it was enlightening: The idea that the key to improvement isn't to be more positive, but rather to be more RATIONAL, and more broadly that by controlling our beliefs we can alter our moods. This basic premise is brilliant and at the time of the original publishing date, it was revolutionary and controversial.

In fact, the first 5 chapters (which you can arguably skip) go into the science behind this theory and takes a lot of time to refute or respond to rebuttals from other doctors and researchers who questioned Ellis and Harper's theories. While I see the value in these chapters that aim to explain and set up the theory behind their methods, I found them a bit redundant and dry.

The really helpful part is in the description of the most common irrational beliefs and how to alter your thinking so they don't depress or enrage you. I saw this list online and it is what inspired me to buy this book, so I will put it here for you:

1. The idea that you must have love or approval from all the significant people in your life (101).
2. The idea that you absolutely must be thoroughly competent, adequate, and achieving or The idea that you must be competent or talented in some important area (115).
3. The idea that other people absolutely must not act obnoxiously and unfairly, and, that when they do, you should blame and damn them, and see them as bad, wicked, or rotten individuals (127).
4. The idea that you have to see things as being awful, terrible, and catastrophic when you are seriously frustrated or treated unfairly (139).
5. The idea that you must be miserable when you have pressures and difficult experiences; and that you have little ability to control, and cannot change, your disturbed feelings (155).
6. The idea that if something is dangerous or fearsome, you must obsess about it and frantically try to escape from it (163).
7. The idea that you can easily avoid facing many difficulties and self-responsibilities and still lead a highly fulfilling existence (177).
8. The idea that your past remains all-important and because something once strongly influenced your life, it has to keep determining your feelings and behavior today (187).
9. The idea that people and things absolutely must be better than they are and that it is awful and horrible if you cannot change life’s grim facts to suit you (197).
10. The idea that you can achieve maximum happiness by inertia and inaction or by passively and uncommittedly enjoying yourself (207).

I thought going into this that #1 was going to be the chapter that best applied to my life, but as I read I realized how much of my stress actually stems from #3. I didn't realize how much judgment I was spewing based on this irrational belief, and it also explained fights I've had with others when I've been on the receiving end of that irrationality.This book gives advice based on both sides of the fence, and has some nice sections on fostering more rational self-talk as a way to alleviate crippling feelings.

The other thing that was helpful for me was realizing that I was already practicing a lot of this, and it made me thankful for my father who always challenged my perspectives whenever I got worked up about "nothing." I also recently had a friend who was telling me that I am too calm and I should be more upset about things (my dysfunctional childhood, the loss of a loved one) and I got kind of worked up and wondered if I was "in denial" or "too cold." Reading this made me realize that I was actually responding in a really healthy way--letting myself feel deep emotions but snapping out of it, and approaching my life from the "big picture," and thinking rationally as a way to stave off long-term depression, resentment, and anxiety.

I didn't give this 5 stars because of the writing style and awkward client conversations that are used as the primary examples for each irrational belief.

This was first published in 1961, and it shows. It is rather dated and the diction and conversations reveal its age. I found it amusing, but I could see how a modern reader might be alienated by it, and I wonder if an updated version might be helpful.

Additionally, the writers come of as glib, arrogant, and insensitive. They're almost mocking the clients, at times, and think of their approach to psychoanalysis as "tough love." They were speaking very nonchalantly about topics like death and suicide. They kind of encourage people to "just get over a death" by realizing that "it isn't a DISASTER" and "YOU're not the one who is dead." It was pretty awkward, and I felt myself cringing. I do understand that they talk about "healthy grieving" and encourage people to have deep feelings; rather they are aiming to discuss neuroses, and use an example of a man who was still grieving 7 years later over his mother's death as intensely as the day after (to exemplify irrational belief #5).

Also in their defense, I appreciated (at times) their levity, which highlights the absurdity in some of the clients' beliefs (it is also helpful to laugh at yourself when you are thinking so crazily), but it was often strange and even uncomfortable to read their fairly impersonal recount of their clients' issues and to make light of grave topics. Saying things like, "if you're children die it isn't the end of the world," or "if this is so upsetting, then you can commit suicide" really detracts from their credibility.

I also recognize, in defense of the authors, that the conversations are excerpted and probably taken out of context, being used to highlight the irrationality of the beliefs (which is what this book is about, after all) rather than to highlight their bedside manner, But I can see this turning off readers. Personally, I think that some combination of empathy and reasoning may be the ideal, and I would NOT recommend speaking to friends like this.

As a whole, I would recommend this book and think it has the potential to change the way you think, and in turn the way you feel. I know a few people with depression and anxiety issues, and this has also helped me understand them (what they're thinking and why it is so detrimental to their mental health). I am aiming to change the way I communicate with both myself and with these friends.
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on January 20, 2015
I bought this book after reading about half of David Burns Feeling Good and seeing recommendations for this book in those reviews. Personally, I am glad that I read Feeling Good before I read this book, as Feeling Good was a fantastic introduction to the power of my own mind over my feelings. Personally, I suffer from depression, and I've been using both of these books as tools to try to work on recovering from my illness.

Concerning A Guide to Rational Living, yes I would recommend this book. It's not nearly as easy to digest as Feeling Good, so I do think it's important to start there, but there are some very helpful things in this guide that I didn't take from Feeling Good. I believe Feeling Good is the better place to start because it has a stronger emphasis on recording your automatic thoughts (described here as Irrational Beliefs by Ellis). Since Feeling Good taught me how important it was to write distorted thoughts, I was able to use the tools from that book as I went through Ellis and Harper's book.

Particular things in this book that were keys to my personal well being were the chapters, "Overcoming the Influences of the Past," and "Conquering Anxiety and Panic." Influences of the past was an integral chapter for me, because after I read through that chapter, I was able to reflect on my feelings towards my parents and forgive them for the things I still blamed them for. There was a very particular passage explaining that people create rules for themselves that allow them to continually revive the pains they felt when they were younger. I was able to address this rule within myself and find a new token of peace.

I haven't finished the book, I'll admit. I only just finished the chapter, "Conquering Anxiety and Panic." I feel this chapter too helped me to consider what it is that's bothering me with a particular issue I have been struggling with for years. No, I don't think this feeling is completely removed from me, but I have had the luxury of beginning to chip away at it with the tools in this chapter.

The book does suffer from one thing--constant redundancy. It seems that Ellis and Harper stumbled upon one cognitive rule and then tried to find 150+ different opportunities to rephrase it. They really enjoy the words, "terrible," "horrible," "awful," and "must." Though the book does occasionally become repetitive, it's message is no less powerful. You are acceptable, with flaws, with goods, with bads, and the way you view the world is bringing you more pain than you deserve. Through it's repetition, the book hopes to drill in your mind a new way of considering reality that allows you to treat yourself with more dignity and respect.

Much of the content is beautiful for the freedom it offers the reader once s/he digests and accepts the philosophy. I believe this book can be a powerful tool for you in overcoming the issues that have tortured you for years. It's not perfect (which you'll learn is a fantasy anyway), but it teaches you something useful, which is the most you could ask for.
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on November 21, 2017
This is a great book. I found the behavioral model he describes to be pretty simple, easy to understand and pretty accurate. It's not the event that upsets us but what we think about it that determines if it is bad or not. I am applying much of what Dr. Ellis says to several areas of my life and have found them to be very accurate and helpful. I'm able to cope with being unemployed at the moment, my childhood, and a breakup of a friendship that I valued.

The only problem I have with the book is that some of the phrasing in it is pretty awkward or difficult to understand without having to read it several times. I am on the second read of this book and am highlighting areas that have helped me cope with some stressful situations. I highly recommend it to anyone who is having a problem coping with some difficult areas in his/her life.
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on November 26, 2014
Excellent resource for those individuals who have autism or related disabilities where it is hard to take the perspective of other people. People with autism and related disabilities often have trouble understanding why others do not see the world from their own perspective. This book will help the socially confused person (said with the utmost of respect, as "socially confused" coined by Dr. Steven Gutstein of Relationship Development Intervention, is a very accurate way to describe individuals with autism and related social-emotional disabilities) I am an adult who is probably on the autism spectrum but was never diagnosed as a child. This book has helped me with my irrational beliefs as it relates to how other people conduct they are behavior. It has help me to change my belief system so I react differently when other people frustrate or disappoint me. And excellent resource. I only gave it four stars because I felt that it went into greater detail them was necessary to explain each theory presented.
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on June 23, 2016
 “Thus, you may reduce your depression by using drugs or relaxation techniques. But unless you begin to think more clearly and surrender some of your Irrational Beliefs, you will tend to depress yourself again when you stop the drugs and exercises. To effect permanent and deep-seated improvements, philosophic changes seem to be best.

Again, we often encourage our clients to use medication, relaxation techniques, movement therapy, yoga exercises, or other physical approaches. We believe that these techniques may help. And we teach, as we shall show later, many emotive, dramatic, fantasy, self-management, and behavior modification methods. More than most other schools of therapy, REBT [Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy] employs a comprehensive, integrative approach to treatment.

We still hold, however, that if you would most thoroughly and permanently change your disturbed feelings, you’d better use considerable reasoning. Because a large element (though not the whole) of destructive emotion stems from unrealistic, illogical, and self-sabotaging thinking.”

~ Albert Ellis & Robert A. Harper from A Guide to Rational Living

Well, that’s officially the longest intro quote I think we’ve had in these Notes and this is #114. But it captures the essence of A Guide to Rational Living quite well so we’ll stick with it. :)

Albert Ellis, the co-author of this straight-talking book all about getting our thoughts in order so we can live happier, more fulfilled lives, was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. In fact, he’s been ranked as the #2 top psychologist ever—right behind Carl Rogers (see Notes on On Becoming a Person) and ahead of Sigmund Freud.

He’s essentially the founder of the modern cognitive behavioral therapy movement that’s been scientifically proven to be one of the most powerful ways to help people get out of a funk and this book is a no-nonsense, kinda old-school guide to rockin’ it.

Let’s explore some of my favorite Big Ideas:

1. The Roots of Neurosis - Distorted thinking.
2. The ABC’s of Suffering - Action -> Belief -> Consequences.
3. A Frantic Search - For perfection is not a good idea.
4. Negative Emotions - Healthy vs. unhealthy.
5. Think AND Act - Pretty, please.

As you get your mind right and practice the ABC’s of life, how can you show up more and more fully and give your greatest gifts in greatest service to your family, your community and your world?!
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on April 11, 2014
While I don't agree with everything Ellis has to say here (particularly about philosophy), this is among the best self-help books I've read (and I've read a fair number).

In this book, Ellis argues that we've set up a lot of arbitrary rules for ourselves and that these cause a lot of our psychological distress. For example, we might take a preference like "I don't like it when it rains on weekends in summer because it messes up my golf game" and change that to something more along the lines of "it MUST NOT rain on weekends [inflexible rule]; it would be awful if it did [catastrophizing] and I couldn't stand it [low frustration tolerance]." ("Awful" being a code word for "much worse than it actually is," "total end of the world," "100% bad" or something along those lines). OK, maybe a bit of a contrived example, but you get the picture... If we held the preference that it didn't rain on weekends, we'd naturally be disappointed if it rained (perfectly normal reaction to something we dislike); if we held the rule that it MUST NOT happen (especially if we held it strongly), we'd be horrified and filled with anger at the injustice of the situation.

This illustrates another thing I like about his mode of therapy - his basic realism. Stress happens, we just need to learn to respond to it without shooting ourselves in the foot. Similarly, it's not that we feel nothing in response to negative events (in the example above, we'd be genuinely disappointed that the weather prevented us from playing golf), it's just that we try to avoid overreacting.

He makes the point (quite effectively, actually) that we actually make quite a lot of these rules without even realizing it; some of them may be pretty harmless but a lot of them can actually cause significant distress, psychological inflexibility, and behavioral issues, and may contribute in a significant way to various mental illnesses like depression, eating disorders, addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (to name a few). For those who do struggle with compulsive behaviors, by the way, Jack Trimpey (of Rational Recovery) has several books applying the ideas in this book to addictive & compulsive behaviors and Tom Horvath (of SMART Recovery) has an excellent workbook on this - I'd encourage you to read this book as well as theirs and see if you'd be helped by them (both provide excellent alternatives to AA and other 12-step programs in my opinion).

He does a great job of helping identify the thought patterns underlying distress in general as well as covering specific problems and problem behaviors (e.g. low frustration tolerance, indiscipline, etc.).

People are often surprised by the lack of emphasis on "depth psychology" or examining the past. The authors' argument is that psychoanalysis failed because, regardless of how you got to your present situation, you still need to deal with your philosophy as it actually is today.

My one criticism of this book is his implicit endorsement of existentialism. For example, I agree with the concept of Unconditional Self-Acceptance (see the book for details on this); however, I don't think he has a particularly good philosophical basis for this. His basic approach to self-worth is "well, you can always make it up and pretend it's true, even if you can't actually prove it." (I kid you not; in this case, this is evidently a guide to not-so-rational living). Because of his endorsement of existentialism, he's completely unable to provide an objective basis for people's intrinsic value as humans. He also seems to support moral relativism in places (which, in spite of its widespread cultural acceptance, is philosophically incoherent in my opinion). Overall, these don't detract too much from the book (except for his discussion of anger, which I think is flawed); there are definitely rational ways you can come up with an objective basis for intrinsic human worth. (In my case, I just substituted my Christian beliefs in my worth before God for his command to "make it up").

Whether you're recovering from a psychological issue or not, this is a wonderful book to read. Everyone has some issues to work on whether they think so or not. We all have times where we disturb ourselves unnecessarily, as the authors would say, and this book can help you change. Maybe not be perfect but certainly much better. I for one wish I had read this when I was much younger; it could have saved me quite a bit of unnecessary pain.
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on April 22, 2014
Ellis and Harper give several alternatives to self-damning thought patterns throughout the book. Instead of a person telling themself that they are unsuccessful at something, one should tell themself that humans make mistakes, and come up with a resolution or prevention for the same occurrence to happen in the future. Ellis and Harper write that this positive mind-set to oneself and others can be achieved with lots of work and practice. Even if you do not normally read self-help books, this book is a classic book that should not be missed. I read it for a counseling class, and ended up loving it. The concepts are universal and relevant to most people. If you are buying it for self-help, get ready to change your thought patterns! As a practitioner, it is just as important and historical of a read.
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on April 2, 2007
Step One: getting past your ego defenses at least enough to see that your problem is you. Step Two: understanding when, where and how you went wrong (cognitive behavior theory recommended). Step Three: figuring out what to do about it ... how to dump your unhappy, self-destructive behaviors so you can move on into a happier, more self-fulfilling future.

Albert Ellis suggests that "bibliotherapy" (self-help through reading) can be markedly effective for all but the most seriously upset, as opposed to the time and expense of conventional counseling or therapy. His book "A Guide to Rational Living" isn't new, but it's still one of the best guides for anyone ready for "Step Three". This isn't a clinical treatise abounding with "shrink-speak", but something more akin to a very erudite grandfatherly talk ... a conversation that contains a lot more common sense than nebulous theory, with wisdom that you'll find immediately useful. When it comes to "bibliotherapy", there are hundreds of books you could add to your library, with more being published every month. Don't mistake this one as being outdated. Make it one of your first reads.
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on December 26, 2016
I personally prefer Dr. Burn's Feeling Good Guidebook for my bibliotherapy but it's to nice have a copy of this great book by one of the inventors of CBT.
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on July 19, 2017
Very helpful book to help you understand the sometimes absurd assumptions we make when making decisions and judgments. Highly recommend to anyone, particularly those with self-esteem issues, highly stressful lives, or have suffered loss.
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