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Away from reflective case-study approaches, there have been a handful of studies that focus on changes in relevant dependent variables through the application of REBT. Elko and Ostrow applied REBT with six gymnasts and found reduced anxiety in five and enhanced performance in three of the participants. The lack of performance gain in three of the gymnasts is feasibly attributed to circumstantial events, but may indicate that the promotion of rational beliefs does not necessarily improve athletic performance.

In another study, five lecture-based REBT sessions were provided to youth soft-tennis players, with results indicating that cognitive-anxiety was significantly reduced Yamauchi and Murakoshi, However, this study is written in Japanese, has not been translated, and therefore the author has been unable to discern the precise details of the study. One study examined the efficacy of REBT for managing trait and state anxiety direction, and ten-pin bowling performance, compared to an imagery and relaxation intervention, and a placebo intervention Larner et al.

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The relaxation and imagery intervention comprised rehearsal of alternate physiological and mental states during competition, and the placebo intervention emphasized general attention and reflective counseling. The REBT intervention reduced irrational thinking significantly more than the comparison interventions, which is to be expected. However, REBT also significantly moderated negative directional interpretations of trait and state anxiety symptoms, and improved performance to a greater extent than the comparison interventions.

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Using coach and teammate evaluation and video analysis, results showed a reduction in behaviors related to LFT, and performance enhancement in competitions. More recent research has emerged that has adopted single-case designs to assess the effectiveness of REBT with athletes. In a study by Turner and Barker , four elite youth cricketers received three one-to-one REBT counseling sessions regarding their performance anxiety.

Results showed a significant reduction in irrational beliefs and cognitive anxiety when REBT was applied, but no objective performance markers were collected and therefore the impact of REBT on performance was not evidenced.

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Two further studies Turner et al. However, when REBT education was applied in a single session, reductions in irrational beliefs were short-term, returning to baseline levels at a follow-up timepoint Turner et al. Whereas REBT education applied in three sessions yielded longer-term reductions in irrational beliefs, lending support to the idea that REBT is not a quick fix. Again, although in both studies subjectively athletes felt that the REBT helped them improve emotional control and performance, no objective markers of performance were sought.

More recently Cunningham and Turner, , REBT was used with three semi-professional Mixed Martial Arts athletes on a one-to-one basis, to reduce irrational beliefs, in particular self-depreciation, and increase unconditional self-acceptance. Results showed that two of the three athletes reported decreases in self-depreciation, and all three showed increases in unconditional self-acceptance USA. Also, in a detailed case-study paper REBT was applied with a country-level archer across seven sessions Wood et al.

Further, the research that exists has focused on the application of REBT with athletes in the field, and not on testing and validating the theoretical proponents of REBT in sport settings, or with athletes. The number of empirical research papers and practitioner reflections are growing in the sport and REBT literature, but most articles focus on how the application of REBT reduces irrational beliefs in athletes, with the use of social validation data to explore broader changes at an emotional and behavioral level.

With the research in sport in its infancy, there are a number of areas in which future research should be directed. In this article the author presents three key areas in which further research should be invested in order to advance the understanding of irrational and rational beliefs and REBT in sport. First, the influence of irrational and rational beliefs and REBT on the mental health of athletes should be more fully investigated. Although extant sport research has reported shifts in irrational and rational beliefs and emotional outcomes e.

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Second, given that sport is a performance-driven industry, the influence of irrational and rational beliefs and REBT on performance should be more fully empirically tested. While the extant research provides growing support for the applicability of REBT for sport performance e. Further, the potential mechanisms for sport performance effects stemming from irrational and rational beliefs have not been suitably investigated.

Third, the development of irrational beliefs in athletes should be investigated to provide a clear picture of how and when irrational beliefs emerge in athletes. This can open the door for early-years development of rational beliefs in order to avoid mental health issues stemming from irrational beliefs as the athlete progresses in their career.

This article addresses each of these three areas in detail and in turn.

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Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy did not stem from performance literature, and like many other cognitive-behavioral approaches, REBT has been adopted by sport and exercise psychologists for use in performance settings. The origins of REBT are within clinical psychotherapeutic settings, where the chief goal is mental health. Therefore the preponderance of extant research examines mental health outcomes, and indicates that irrational beliefs lead to, and are associated with, a vast range of emotional and behavioral outcomes that undermine mental health.

In this section of the current article, the author provides a review of the literature examining irrational beliefs as a risk factor for mental illness, and rational beliefs as a protective factor for mental illness. Given the dearth of research investigating irrational and rational beliefs and the mental health of athletes, the aim here is to detail the ways in which irrational and rational beliefs are associated with a broad range mental health issues that clearly could affect an athlete throughout their careers.

A greater understanding of how irrational and rational beliefs contribute to mental illness is sought, with a view to proposing how future research could begin to understand this issue in sport. Although athletes have not been at the center of this research, many of the outcomes associated with and stemming from irrational beliefs could clearly hinder short-term and long-term athletic achievement, and impact upon the mental health of athletes. To present REBT as a potentially effective approach to promoting athlete mental health, it is first important to consider the wider evidence linking irrational and rational beliefs to mental health.

A vast amount of research has been dedicated to exploring the associates of irrational beliefs in general, and the associates of the four core irrational beliefs.


Bringing this large literature base together, it is possible to appreciate the expansive influence of irrational beliefs on a range of unhealthy emotional and behavioral outcomes. The theoretical structure of rational and irrational beliefs within REBT is appealing due to its symmetry and relative simplicity. But apart from their aesthetic structural appeal, rational and irrational beliefs are valuable constructs because they determine numerous cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes, important for mental health.

Research has concentrated more on irrational beliefs than rational beliefs, perhaps reflecting a problem-focused bias, rather than a benefit-focused, in the literature concerning REBT. A review by Browne et al. Across the research that demonstrates relationships between irrational beliefs and dysfunctional emotions, the strength of the associations varies across studies e. Also, associations between increased irrational beliefs and a consequent increase in emotional or inferential dysfunction are often small MacInnes, However, it maybe that the hypothesis that irrational beliefs cause dysfunctional emotions might be true, but that the 18 studies that met the analysis criteria provide weak evidence.

In a recent meta-analysis Visla et al. Eighty-three studies were included in the analyses, with a total of 16, participants in total across different samples. Overall, the authors comment that the study evidenced a moderate but robust relationship between irrational beliefs and psychological distress, corroborating and extending past research e. Many studies show that irrational beliefs are positively associated with depression and depressive symptoms e. An early study Nelson, revealed that the strongest relationships with depression emerged for irrational beliefs that reflected a need to excel in all endeavors, that it is terrible when things are not the way one would like them to be, obsessive worry about future misfortunes, and the impossibility of overcoming the influences of past history.

These four beliefs are of course salient in sport, where excellence is desirable, frequent barriers emerge that can impact success, and athletes are often judged on previous success or failure. The extant literature also indicates that irrational beliefs are positively related to various forms of anxiety such as trait, state, speech, social, evaluation, test anxiety in clinical and non-clinical samples Himle et al.

At a physiological level irrational beliefs have been associated with greater galvanic skin response Master and Gershman, , and systolic blood pressure Harris et al. Harris et al. Examining more complex physiological parameters, Papageorgiou et al. This study suggests that irrational beliefs maybe a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Indeed, irrational beliefs are also positively related to type-A coronary-prone behavior, where individuals are highly motivated and competitive, but feel near constant time pressure, and have high hostility and anger Friedman, This has been shown to be a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.

Demandingness in REBT is the primary irrational belief and research see Szentagotai and Jones, , for a review indicates that demandingness is positively related to a vast array of dysfunctional emotional and behavioral outcomes.

Specifically, and non-exhaustively, demandingness is associated with disordered eating Harrington, a ; Pearson and Gleaves, , reduced anger control Addis and Bernard, , relationship problems, social avoidance and isolation Watson et al. It is reasonable to suggest that none of these outcomes are conducive to short or long-term athletic goal achievement. Awfulizing in REBT is a secondary irrational belief and has been positively related to a submissive interpersonal style Goldberg, , social isolation Watson et al.

An area highly relevant to the mental health and performance of athletes is the research surrounding pain catastrophizing a term often used instead of awfulizing , which leads to greater pain e. It is thought that the anxiety provoked by awfulizing increases perceptions of pain through inflated expectations of high pain, and can lead to negative mental states activated in anticipation and during painful experiences Sullivan et al.

Also, catastrophizing mediates the relationship between depression and pain such that higher catastrophizing promotes depressive responses to pain Gatchel et al. The link between irrational beliefs and injury outcomes associated with pain is highly salient to athletes, given that the vast majority if not all of athletes will experience injury during their careers to a greater or lesser severity and frequency.

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Low frustration tolerance is a secondary irrational belief, and research indicates that it is positively associated with aggressive expression of anger Martin and Dahlen, , reduced anger control Moller and Van der Merwe, , poor social adjustment Watson et al. The link between LFT and procrastination has received much research attention, with Ellis and Knaus , p.

Individuals that find it difficult to tolerate difficulty and who experience procrastination are less likely to fulfill their achievement potential Wilde, Literature suggests that depreciation beliefs are a strong predictor of depression Solomon et al. Depreciation reflects the notion that on the basis of one occurrence, the individual generalizes and values the self in line with the result.

For example, an athlete might conclude that because they have failed in a tennis match, then they are a complete failure. REBT is unique in that it encourages the valuation of behaviors, and the unconditional acceptance of people and the self as a whole.

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Research concerning rational beliefs is less voluminous compared to research investigating irrational beliefs. Indeed, unlike research concerning irrational beliefs, the four core rational beliefs have not been examined to the same extent. This indicates a problem-orientated focus within the literature, which may reflect a more general negativity bias Kanouse and Hanson, , which refers to the tendency for things of a more negative nature e.

There is no reason to suppose that this tendency has not permeated the academic research concerning REBT. This issue notwithstanding, research concerning rational beliefs see Caserta et al. It has also been found that the use of rational self-statements during pressured tasks leads to less self-reported anxiety Rosin and Nelson, and emotional distress Cramer and Kupshik, than irrational self-statements, which may have implications for athletes in terms of how they structure and frame their self-talk.

Unconditional self acceptance is a specific rational belief that reflects unconditional regard for oneself despite undesirable behaviors and adverse events e. So where irrational self-depreciation beliefs involve assigning low self-value and self-worth on the basis of an event, USA involves accepting oneself regardless of the adversity Hill et al.

Davies a found that USA was most strongly negatively related to self-depreciation, need for achievement, and need for approval. Further, participants primed with irrational self-statements showed reduced USA, and those primed with rational self-statements showed increased USA Davies, b. These studies show that USA is a rational belief that contrasts with irrational beliefs. USA is negatively related to depression and anxiety Chamberlain and Haaga, ; Scott, , and low USA can lead to self-blame and self-criticism cf.

Hill et al. Research also shows that USA is negatively related to self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed perfectionism Flett et al. Further, Flett et al. This is important because perfectionism has been found to lead to a range of dysfunctional emotions Flett et al. Furthermore, Flett et al. The authors note that adolescents with high levels of self-oriented perfectionism acknowledged that their self-worth is based on how they are evaluated by themselves and by other people and whether approval and recognition are forthcoming from others.

This is salient in sport where self and other evaluation is part and parcel of the context within which athletes are performing.