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A Review of

Albert Ellis, Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better, Impact Publishers, 2001

By Aftershock, March 30, 2002
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"The key is not will but will power" -- Albert Ellis

Introduction
People far too often find themselves caught in bouts of rage, depression, guilt, and anxiety. The American society that we have all become accustomed to is one whose values have shifted more towards comfort and luxury rather than hard work and determination. When we encounter adversities or difficult times, we often seek the easiest and quickest ways to mediate the problem at hand. Many people seek refuge through short term “feel better” methods. For instance, according to Albert Ellis, methods like meditation, exercise or simply keeping busy are often over utilized and inefficient in dealing with the adversity. As author of Feeling Better, Getting Better, and Staying Better and renowned psychologist, he states that the first step towards a healthier lifestyle is to recognize irrational and dogmatic beliefs through his much respected Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). This method will not only help you feel better but also to get better and stay that way.


How Does He Do It?
Ellis introduces a great deal of terms and concepts, many of which stem from the evolution of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Although readers who are not familiar with Ellis may have difficulty understanding some of his key concepts at first, repetition and thorough explanations through the use of constructive and functional examples hastens the understanding. For instance, when describing the term “catastrophizing,” one could easily relate the term to daily occurrences such as worrying about an exam. Ellis makes a point to ascertain that the reader does not confuse the term with worrying. He does this through repetition and useful examples that are based on real world situations. He states that worrying about an exam but taking the necessary precautions to prevent failure is not catastrophizing. Worrying about an exam to the point that you are not able to function normally and do not prepare yourself properly because of your “musting” to do well is a form of catastrophizing. Found below are a few of the terms discussed throughout the book:

•U.S.A. (Unconditional Self-Acceptance)
•C.S.A. (Conditional Self-Acceptance)
•Irrational Beliefs/ Rational Beliefs (IB’s and RB’s)
•High Frustration/Low Frustration Tolerance
•Irrational Beliefs/Rational Beliefs
•ABC’s of REBT
•Catastrophizing/Awfulizing


Exercises, Exercises, and More Exercises!
Exercises and activities for the reader are important components of the book. In chapter 8, Dr. Ellis discusses methods of dealing with catastrophizing thoughts and provides eleven strategies on how to cope with them. For instance, if you find yourself constantly catastrophizing about being in a plane that is destined to crash, he suggests that you think of the worst case scenario and calculate the small chance of it happening beforehand. In another exercise, Ellis suggests coping with awfulizing by way of humor through song. By singing the following song, we are in fact challenging our irrational beliefs by saying “so what if” rather than simply “what if.” I found this method to be the most convenient and helpful in regards to lowering stress levels. I now find myself singing along to tunes while in my car, changing the lyrics to fit my situation, and feeling better as well as getting better in the end.

Other exercises provided by Dr. Ellis that is found in the book include imagining, flooding, and being optimistic rather than pessimistic. Being optimistic simply means to think positively, rather than negatively about events to come in the future. Flooding involves immersing the individual with the unwanted action or behavior. I tried these three exercises on my own, trying to deal with the irritation that I meet when my room is a mess. First, I tried imagining my room getting messier and messier. This technique seemed to work but as I started to imagine my room being filled to the top with mess, feelings of anxiety begin to arise. For the second exercise, flooding, I actually called for the help of my younger sibling. I provided her with my belongings and asked her to spread them around in my room, in effect, causing a considerable amount of untidiness, clutter, and chaos. This exercise did not seem to be beneficial in the beginning, but as I spent the day in my cluttered room, my rational thinking took over. I came to understand that the mess would not harm me in any way. I found that by simply cleaning my room I could rid my self of my self-defeating irrational beliefs.


Health and Stress
Feeling Better, Staying Better, Getting Better is a book that is centered on improving an individuals health through the relief of stress. It deals with negative feelings and how to minimize them. Because this book emphasis the individuals ability to rethink and create new philosophies or emotions, it assumes a more humanistic approach to dealing with stress. Having said that, the book contains many techniques other than REBT that is related to relieving stress and improving health. For instance, Dr. Ellis discusses proper breathing techniques as well as Jacobson’s Progressive Relaxation Technique early on in the book. Throughout the book, Ellis cites a plethora of therapists, self-help gurus, and authors.

Certain methods of stress relief, such as meditation and yoga, only provide short-term stress relief and do not allow the individual to change their way of thinking or philosophizing. In dealing with stressful situations, Dr. Ellis suggests that we deal with them in an “elegant manner”. In other words, we should dispute our irrational beliefs in a realistic, pragmatic, and logical fashion. Disputing must be done in these three different ways, if not, the individual may fail to notice other aspects of the irrational belief that is congesting their conscience.


Societal Relevance and Benefits
Depression, guilt, and anger among individuals are problems that are rapidly growing across the United States and the world. Countless encounters of road rage, an increase in teen related violence, and lack of parent sportsmanship at children’s sporting events are all examples of situations that allow certain emotions to overwhelm us, affecting the way that we think and act. Yet ironically, we are the controllers of our thoughts. According to Ellis, we are able to adjust our thoughts through logical reasoning or rationalizing. Of course, media does in fact influence the way many of us manage our emotions. Although this book will not solve all of our social problems, it does provide an interesting solution to dealing with them. The following is an excerpt from an article entitled “Media and Catastrophe” that was written by Henry Jenkins and Shari Goldin and can be found at the following link:

http://web.mit.edu/cms/reconstructions/interpretations/catastrophe.html

"The catastrophe creates a context where ordinary judgment breaks down, when emotions push us forward, and where we arrived at decisions that we might otherwise reject. We hold off panic in such a situation by returning to familiar terms, comfortable values, normal ways of thinking, but this may make it hard to think through the problem from a fresh perspective or arrive at new truths about a changing situation."


As the excerpt states, catastrophes can cause the cessation of rational cognitive functioning and can lead to irrational thinking. Comfort is sought through familiarity but does not help to solve the problem, rather, it provides short-term relief. Through the advice of Dr. Ellis, one can realize that it is not the event that causes the breakdown; rather, it is their irrational thinking. For instance, lets take a look at the recent trial regarding the hockey father who was sentenced to life because of killing another man over a hockey game their sons were playing. The glorification of hockey fights through the likes of ESPN’s sports center and in motion pictures may have played a key role in this incident. This was a tragic situation in which a man’s emotions spun out of control and whose irrational thinking led to the destructive behavior that warranted a life sentence. Could this incident have been prevented? We will never know. Yet, what if the angry hockey father had incorporated the ideas of REBT during the time of the altercation? Could he have seen that there was no need to be upset over such a petty thing? If he had incorporated Dr. Ellis’ ideas on getting and feeling better, then maybe he would have been able to dispute the situation in a pragmatic, realistic, and logical manner as discussed in Feeling Better, Getting Better, and Staying Better.

Many people have become accustomed to the luxury of short-cuts and thus tend to resolve their negative thinking by way of short-term remedies. According to Ellis, this is not a solution to the problem but rather a way of prolonging it. In the book, Ellis discusses the logic behind REBT and compares it with other methods of psychotherapy and self-help techniques. He discusses how we utilize temporary techniques that can often become so routine that they simply mask our problems instead of resolving them. Furthermore, Ellis breaks down our thinking into either irrational or rational thoughts. He presents coping strategies that focus on changing the way the individual views the problem, often allowing the individual to have a more logical perspective. Some of the problems he discusses include our bouts with irrational beliefs, catastrophizing and awfulizing.


"But insight and knowledge is still not action, just prelude to action. To change, you still have to PYA -- push your ass." -- Albert Ellis

Personal Relevance
Having read Dr. Ellis’ book I feel that I am a more competent individual in regards to the way that I handle my emotions. I have incorporated many of Dr. Ellis’ ideas and concepts into my everyday living and have in return seen improvements in my personal self-awareness and in the way that I think about things. For instance, I no longer catastrophize over forgetting to do class forum postings. I used think that it was imperative for me to participate in the sessions everyday. If I did not, then I would forget to do the forum postings the next day, causing me to loose points and do poorly in the class overall. By incorporating Dr. Ellis’ ideas regarding catastrophizing I found that:

• I can make up missed forum sessions.

• There are other requirements in the class other than the forum sessions so if I lose points on the forum sessions then I have other assignments to compensate for the loss.

• I have not missed a forum posting yet. I have done the required two postings every week so I should not worry about it.

As an aspiring clinical psychologist, I feel that this book has been very useful in helping me to understand human behavior. Ellis provides details for producing a healthy emotional well-being. This knowledge about the self is the type of knowledge that I can use throughout my lifetime to deal with my career, family, and social life.


Strengths and Weaknesses
REBT is grounded on principles that allow people to seek rational thought through contemplation and rationalization, that in effect, allow for logical solutions. From this book, a layperson is able to understand and apply the basic ideas of Ellis’ theory. The authors choice of words is also simple enough so that people of all ages and education backgrounds can understand and comprehend the ideas and concepts found in this book. A bibliography and index is also included, making it easier to navigate to certain areas of interests. The exercises that the author provides is also an added bonus that adds to the books appeal.

The casual reader will find Dr. Ellis very repetitive, but this is not without reason. According to Ellis, we are able to gain a better mental representation through repetition that serves to enhance ourselves cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. One point that I would like to mention would be the cultural aspect of stress relief. Would REBT be successful in non-westernized cultures? For instance, would Ellis’ therapy be successful in the Muslim community where woman are under extreme stress?


Conclusion
In the past, I held the understanding that all negative feelings will bring about negative consequences. Having read Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better, I have come to learn that contrary to my belief, not all negative feelings entail negative consequences. I have learned that there are certain negative feelings that can be healthy (i.e. sorrow, regret, disappointment) and can actually prepare you for future events that may be negative so that you can deal with them in a constructive manner.

Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better is a very worthwhile reading that is useful and beneficial for people of all ages. If you are hurting emotionally and want to get better or you would simply like to learn how to maintain your emotional well-being, then this book is definitely for you. The information found in the book can also be used by professionals in the field of psychology as supplemental text that can be incorporated into their therapy or as readings for their patients. Adolescents and even college students can use Ellis’ wisdom to cope with their sometimes catastrophizing thoughts. Dr. Ellis’ book provides a worthwhile reading that is understandable, useful and sometimes humorous to read.


Other Reviews on the Web

amazon.com
Here you will find an editorial review of Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better and also many other reviews. You can also write and post your own review of the book. Although the editor of the book review thought that the target audience was too broad, he does go on to say that the approach taken by Dr. Ellis has been scientifically tested and shown to work.

“Unfortunately, this particular title doesn't deliver the goods, the main problem being that it is extremely repetitive. The three sections, "Feeling Better," "Getting Better," and "Staying Better," are essentially repetitions, reiterating the message that other approaches (e.g., meditation, religious faith, the quest for achievement) are palliatives, while RET will lead to lasting improvements. Perhaps the problem is that this book is aimed at too general an audience anyone with any kind of disturbing emotions.”

http://www.menstuff.org/books/byissue/therapy-general.html
Menstuff.org provides yet another review of Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better. This review is more positive and provides more praise for the book than the previous book review. The reviewer emphasis the enormous amounts of exercises found within the text.

“Long acclaimed for his development of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), he encourages a proactive approach to life's setbacks. In this book is offered detailed examples, practical exercises, and warm wisdom for gaining and maintaining emotional well-being.”

http://www.midnet.sc.edu/scpa/Fbwntr01.htm#book
Robert V. Heckel, Ph.D. provides an interesting and insightful review of Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better.

“His chapters follow a clear and logical sequence in which he details and describes techniques and methods for feeling better (three chapters), six chapters on how to get better, and then three chapters on how to remain healthy rather than slipping back into dysfunctional ways of thinking and behaving. His final chapter stressed the importance of individuality, the uniqueness of each person and the necessity for finding those answers which work for you in the sequence of feeling better, getting better and staying better.”

 

 

 

 

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Last Modified: April 1, 2002