REBT: Clear, Concise, Flexible

In every consultation, whether using REBT or not, my aim is to react flexibly to the different needs of each client, where they are the expert about their own experiences and become the source of behaviour change and wellbeing. In order to achieve this, I deliver my work eclectically, employing a variety of approaches in consultations that are underpinned by a humanistic standpoint, emphasising athlete wellbeing through meaningful interaction and a strong working alliance.

I started researching REBT two years ago, reading as many papers on it as possible. The ABCDE model stood out to me immediately, as I thought it was clear and concise, but more importantly, I felt that it was flexible. Clients are strongly involved in the therapy process; therefore the interactive nature of the model fits well within my philosophy. Research also showed that REBT is not only beneficial for problems in the short-term, but also long-term emotional health. Furthermore, there has been support that REBT is at its most effective on a one-to-one basis (Wood, Barker, & Turner, 2017), and can be done in as little as five sessions for clearly defined issues (DiGiuseppe et al., 2014). This made REBT an appealing method, because at that time I was mostly working in a one-to-one setting with student-athletes with busy schedules.

The opportunity came for me to put REBT into practice when I was invited to deliver a sport psychology workshop at a local archery club. I gave a short presentation followed by short one-to-one sessions with each archer. I felt that REBT was suitable for some of the one-to-one sessions, and Wood et al.’s (2017) study on archery served as a useful guide during my preparations. In Wood et al’s paper, the archer encountered exaggerated bouts of anxiety prior and during competition, and her performance suffered when her expectation of success increased. These particular issues were common themes throughout the psychology workshop I delivered. The study also described in length the entire process of the consultation, including some transcription of how the conversations played out, which was very insightful. I received positive feedback for my workshop. The archers found REBT interesting and straightforward. They also enjoyed the interactive nature of the disputation stage, which was in line with my own reflections that they were very engaged and open. This left a good impression on the archers and coaches, who have since invited me back to work with them again.

Since then, I have received further positive feedback from coaches and athletes on REBT sessions, which has been confidence boosting. In one of my most effective REBT consultations to date, a male basketball player was very enthusiastic during the education phase and showed great commitment to homework assignments (self-help worksheets, bibliotherapy, and badness scale). He enjoyed the opportunity to disclose his beliefs during the disputation phase, and we were able to identify and dispute the irrational beliefs and come up with rational alternatives. I used Rational Reverse Role-play (RRR; Kassinove & Digiuseppe, 1975) with the athletes in which our roles reversed, and he became the practitioner and I the athlete. I used real life examples of situations I had encountered in past tennis matches as I thought this provided an authentic and honest touch, and the athlete attempted to recognise and dispute my beliefs that we acknowledged as irrational, and subsequently created rational alternatives. The athlete performed the exercise with great conviction and ability, highlighting the effectiveness of the consultation.

This was a text message I received from the athlete at the end of the consultation:

“Thank you for all your help throughout this year, I really appreciate it. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself, the root of my issues and have a lot better grasp of how to change my mentality; so I’m feeling a lot happier about myself and the future.”

As with every approach to sport psychology provision, there are challenges. From my experiences, it is key that athletes are willing to put in the effort, as REBT often requires homework. Athletes with low frustration tolerance could also struggle because the disputation stage in particular could be stressful and unpleasant for clients, due to the increased salience of negative experiences, and clients may find it difficult to tolerate the potential difficulty of identifying and disputing irrational beliefs. This is ironic considering frustration intolerance is one of the secondary irrational beliefs (Dryden, 2009) that REBT seeks to address. Therefore, I have put considerable effort and thought into how to increase clients’ motivation and open-mindedness prior to REBT interventions. Methods I have employed include self-disclosure and creative homework exercises. When self-disclosing, I draw upon my own experiences of thinking irrationally, how I challenged and disputed those beliefs and eventually turned them into more rational alternatives. The aim is to show clients that it is achievable, if they are committed and are guided through the process.

Creative homework exercises that are specific to each client can increase clients’ enjoyment as well as motivation. I also make a conscious effort to include as much humour as possible into each and every session, in an attempt to develop a strong therapeutic alliance with clients and to help them perceive their irrational beliefs as less stressful and daunting.

Lastly, I believe that REBT practitioners should have alternative approaches that they are well versed in (e.g. mindfulness-acceptance-commitment approach), for when they encounter cases where amplified negative emotions, as a result of REBT, cause distraction and hindrance to athletes’ performance (Wegner, 1994).

James Lau

James LauI am a HCPC registered and Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist. I currently work at various sports clubs, as well as with private clients as a self-employed sport psychologist. The sports I work in include tennis, football, basketball, volleyball, squash, golf, gymnastics, archery, and rowing. My main areas of interest in sport psychology include home advantage in sport, anxiety in sport, resilience, and team cohesion. I am an avid sports fan, and am a competitive club tennis player.

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