Me, myself and REBT, by Leon Outar
For as I long as I could remember, I have possessed the philosophy that one’s thoughts are the most pertinent influence of all that is negative or positive in one’s life. Therefore, when introduced to Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), it felt like the penny had finally dropped.
REBT’s theory is developed around the notion that “People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them”. On this premise it is not the event (A) that causes emotional disturbances (C) but rather one’s judgement of it (B). Furthermore, Dr Albert Ellis proposed that humans have a propensity to be irrational, and to me this assertion could not more true.
My journey with REBT began through self-application. Being a trainee sports and exercise psychologist, you find yourself ruminating in an abundance of irrational beliefs such as “I need to do this right” “I need to prove myself” “I must help this individual”, “I must know everything about everything”. At one time, I believed that such beliefs were crucial to my development of excellence as they kept me focussed, however this could not have been further from the truth. Through analysis of my beliefs I discovered that they were in fact the sole reason for any emotional and behavioural dysfunction in my life. Such beliefs manifested themselves as what could be described as a lingering fog of anxiety surrounding all important conquests in life which at the time I perceived as functional.
REBT provided me with a tangible solution for dealing with such irrationalities which helped clear the menacing fog of anxiety, which had been around since before I could remember. With its demise the passage became clearer allowing for a greater me as not only a sports and exercise psychologist, but as a functional human being.
It was at this point I could see how transferable REBT could be to athletes/exercisers where their sport or body is held with great importance. I could see how irrational beliefs, could tarnish their ability to perform to the greatest of their ability, or could drive them to engage in unhealthy exercise practices.
How I have utilised REBT?
My practice experience with REBT is within an exercise setting, in particular helping individuals with exercise dependence. Being an avid exerciser, and possessing friendship circles who share similar interests, I find myself discussing exercise through a great deal of my day. Once educated in REBT, it became apparent how prevalent irrational beliefs were within exercise settings. It began with me detecting a high prevalence of irrational language i.e. “I need to exercise” from individuals, often motivated through body dissatisfaction or cathartic purposes. I then realised that the majority of what the internet refers to as “inspiration gym videos” advocated a somewhat unhealthy ideology towards exercise and often promoted obsession or addiction to exercise as vital for results. Most disturbingly it appeared that many exercisers I talk to are invested in such beliefs, with little awareness of the repercussions that they could place upon their lives. Now exercisers may question the problem with exercise dependence, that surely dependence to exercise is beneficial. However, exercise dependence as with other forms of dependency (e.g. substance), can be highly detrimental to both psychological and physical health and is exhibited by constellation of psychological dysfunctions, including withdrawal symptoms, reduction in other activities due to exercise, and most disturbingly continuing to exercise despite physical problems. Furthermore, taking into account extant literature demonstrating exercise dependence rates amongst exercisers as high as 46%, and the increase of 24hr gymnasiums over the last decade, a remedy to this problem was required before it was allowed to flourish.
Therefore, experiences with others, and the awareness of my own exercise-related thoughts and behaviours led to my decision to embark on an exploration of the role of irrational beliefs within exercise dependence. My exploration highlighted the positive relationship between high irrational beliefs and greater exercise dependence. Therefore, through the reduction of irrational beliefs one can expect exercise dependence symptom to follow. In my experience this has always occurred.
So why REBT?
For me it’s simple. REBT, due to its active-directive approach, allows the practitioner to conduct sessions in a systematic and controlled manner, yet allows for flexibility with how the material is delivered. Furthermore, REBT utilises everyday vernacular rather than psychological jargon, which I believe in sport and exercise settings to be fundamental. Confronted with a plethora of psychological terms and concepts, the idea of “Therapy” may deter the athletes/exercisers even more from REBT. However, REBT allows me to take a subtle approach towards detecting and reducing emotional and behavioural dysfunction that does not require any mention of therapy. In other words, REBT can be applied with, and understood by, exercisers very simply, applying the complex theory of REBT in a user-friendly manner.
So what next?
Exercise psychology provides a fruitful endeavour for REBT, I believe that I have merely revealed the tip of the iceberg of its application and therefore I encourage other practitioners to explore other facets such as body dysmorphia, social physique anxiety, and of course exercise adherence. Together we can help exercisers to adopt more rational and therefore healthier beliefs regarding their exercise behaviour.