Dr. Mike Abrams of NYU and Dr. Richard Seides of Seton Hall University found that a 10 item version of the five factor personality inventory can predict peoples’ adherence to dietary and lifestyle regimens in diabetes. It has often been a mystery why intelligent and educated people often allow their health to deteriorate by making relatively minor changes to their lifestyle. It was discovered that personality traits like conscientiousness, openness to new experiences, and extroversion correlate strongly with diligence in self restraint.
This week a psychologist won the Nobel prize for medicine. He and the two physiologists with who he shared his prize made discoveries about the fundamental nature of spatial memory. This memory and processing is nonconscious and takes place in the area of the brain responsible for emotional processing. The underscores the need for psychologists to be scientists — even if they are primarily clinicians.
The somewhat over-rated genius Sigmund Freud proposed that anxiety is the result of sexual thoughts, that you unknowingly are keeping out of awareness. He proposed that your unconscious mind decides what memories you can or can not handle. If your unconscious decides that letting some memories or desires into consciousness would be too hard for you to manage it represses the memories. That is, without any input from you, your unconscious contains independent censors that laboriously work to keep offensive material from airing in your minds viewing screen. This censoring process, according to Freud, drains your life energy or libido. When it gets overburdened in the process of protecting your from your own impulses you will feel the weakening of the censoring mechanism as anxiety. Suppose your darkest wish is to make incestuous love to your mother – this maternal example, incidentally, is a key tenet of Freud’s theory. Suppose further that your incestuous impulse begins to grow increasingly strong. According to Freud the unconscious repression mechanisms will begin to strain under the pressure and this will be experienced in the conscious mind as increasingly intrusive anxiety.
In contrast, the more research based view of anxiety is quite different. In short, areas of the brain that regulate fear are exposed to thoughts, images, or other sensations that provoke feelings of dread. These largely originate in a brain region called the amygdala that is part of an evolutionary old brain region called the limbic system. It is responsible for most survival behaviors and emotions — including fear and anxiety. Indeed, anxiety can be triggered by a range of feared objects that might escape overt notice. Or it can result from irrational thinking that is so habitual that is goes unnoticed until pointed out.
It is conscious reasoning largely in the prefrontal cortex that can consciously attenuate anxiety arising from the more phylogenetically primitive limbic system. Albert Ellis proposed that many people are genetically prone to developing emotional vulnerabilities. He said:
I am still haunted by the reality, however, that humans . . . have a strong biological tendency to needlessly and severely disturb themselves, and that, to make matters much worse, they also are powerfully predisposed to unconsciously and habitually prolong their mental dysfunctioning and to fight like hell against giving it up.
Thus, anxiety may have unconscious causes but they are freely accessible and open to challenge if one’s attention is directed there. And the anxiety can be greatly lessened or eliminated by conscious effort.
ABSTRACT Rational emotive behavior therapists view stress-related disorders as originating in irrational beliefs (iB’s), philosophies and attitudes, as opposed to the stressor. People who suffer from stress differ from people who suffer from emotional or neurotic problems mainly in that the stressed people have iB’s about specific, short-term or more readily identifiable events, as opposed to the more mundane and diffuse difficulties suffered by the neurotic individual. Both the conscious and unconscious antecedents to stress difficulties and how they relate to distorted thinking and psychophysiological disorders are discussed from an information-processing perspective. Rational emotive behaviour treatments for stress-related disorders are detailed and explained.
When mental health professionals examine stress as an object of treatment, we are really talking about the distress, both physical and emotional, that ensues from a series of interpersonal and environmental irritants, or a particularly compelling one. The term `stress’ is a broad or generic term applying to many different states and situations that act on the psyche and body to reduce homeostasis (Elliot & Einsdorfer, 1982). The lack of a consistent definition of stress makes any discussion of treatment difficult. After all, stress is not always bad. Yerkes & Dodson demonstrated this over a generation ago. Stress-related arousal frequently serves to enhance performance. In clinical work we typically use the term to apply to those pressures and strains of living that reduce the quality of life, and require changes in the individual to restore homeostasis. We shall also use the term to represent the result of several kinds of dysfunctional or irrational thinking.
REBT is based on the assumption that what we label our “emotional” reactions are largely caused by our conscious and unconscious evaluations, interpretations, and philosophies. Thus, we feel anxious or depressed because we strongly convince ourselves that it is terrible when we fail at something or that we can’t stand the pain of being rejected. We feel hostile because we vigorously believe that people who behave unfairly to us absolutely should not act the way they indubitably do, and that it is utterly insufferable when they frustrate us.
Like stoicism, a school of philosophy that existed some two thousand years ago, rational emotive behavior therapy holds that there are virtually no good reasons why human beings have to make themselves very neurotic, no matter what kind of negative stimuli impinge on them. It gives them full leeway to feel strong negative emotions, such as sorrow, regret, displeasure, annoyance, rebellion, and determination to change social conditions. It believes, however, that when they experience certain self-defeating and unhealthy emotions (such as panic, depression, worthlessness, or rage), they are usually adding an unrealistic and illogical hypothesis to their empirically-based view that their own acts or those of others are reprehensible or inefficient and that something would better be done about changing them.
Rational emotive behavior therapists — often within the first session or two of seeing a client — can almost always put their finger on a few central irrational philosophies of life which this client vehemently believes. They can show clients how these ideas inevitably lead to emotional problems and hence to presenting clinical symptoms, can demonstrate ex actly how they forthrightly question and challenge these ideas, and can often induce them to work to uproot them and to replace them with scientifically testable hypotheses about themselves and the world which are not likely to get them into future neurotic difficulties.