Is Mindfulness-Vipassana Medication Compatible with REBT?
REBT and Meditation
Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive Therapy,
Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring 2006
“Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Training of Jon Kabat-Zinn —
Thanks to Paolo Rotella on the REBT facebook group for sharing the AE quote and starting the discussion. https://bit.ly/3Rh28BJ]
Dr. Ellis was not well-informed about mindfulness-vipassana meditation nor what Kabat-Zinn and other teachers were getting at. Several times in the passage, he equates mindfulness-vipassana meditation with relaxation. He makes the same false comparison in other statements he has made about the subject elsewhere. Moreover, his wife and colleague, Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis describes a form of “meditation” that Dr. Ellis sometimes practiced which clearly was about relaxation. In fact, it would more properly be described as something along the lines of progressive relaxation rather than meditation. However, the word “meditation” does cover a lot of ground so we don’t want to be too pedantic about it here.
FACT 1: Mindfulness-vipassana Is not and never was about relaxation. While it is true that some people find it relaxing, that is not the goal, and it is definitely not everyone’s experience. This is a common myth and misunderstanding. Moreover, a practiced teacher would caution students about becoming too attached to relaxation and other pleasant feelings, or any other phenomenon experienced in meditation for that matter.
Anxious-stressed individuals benefit from mindfulness meditation not because it teaches them to relax, rather because it teaches them to become aware of, open to and accepting the experience of their anxious feelings. This paradoxically may help to reduce or eliminate those feelings, but it is not the objective or the point. This “paradoxical cure ” is a well-known, well-documented phenomenon in modern behaviorism, as well as both CBT and REBT.
Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Granted that definition may not be immediately very satisfying or clarifying, but I think Kabat-Zinn crafted the wording carefully, and there’s nothing there even remotely about “relaxation.”
FACT 2: Mindfulness-vipassana Is not and never was about “thought stoppage,” making one’s mind blank, nor any other form of thought control as Dr. Ellis seems to think. Just the opposite in fact. It involves allowing the thought stream to flow uninhibitedly. The confusion here may be that, at least in the beginning, mindfulness involves attention and focus on a single point–usually the breath–and teaches students to notice when this attention has lapsed and has become preoccupied, once again, with the stream of thought. The advice then, is to gently and non-judgmentally return to the breath, over and over again if necessary, as probably will be the case. This is not about thought stoppage. However, the distinction may be a little elusive, and it’s easy to see how some might confuse it with thought stoppage-thought control.
For the vast, vast numbers of people who will ever practice or attempt to practice mindfulness meditation, they will only invest a few minutes a day, or a maximum of 30 to 60 minutes per day of attending to and returning to the breath. Not an enormous sacrifice, and that leaves plenty of time during the day to tend to and to become involved in one’s thinking. Someone with more knowledge about the subject than I have please correct me. However I believe that only those meditators with many years and thousands of hours of practice will spend any appreciable time “in the moment” in any literal sense.
To sum up, Dr. Ellis makes mindfulness-vipassana into a straw dog which he then attempts to dismiss as generally undesirable.
I am hardly an expert in this matter. In any event, it is beyond the scope of this little article to provide a more thorough presentation of meditative practices. If you would like to know more, I have included some additional resources that I am personally familiar with and have benefitted from.
Would love to know your thoughts and opinions. Thanks to Paolo Rotella on the REBT facebook group for sharing the AE quote and starting the discussion.
Various translations: The beginning of wisdom is learning to call a thing by its right name.Confucius Social philosopher and politician, 551-479 B.C., whose teachings deeply influenced East Asian thought and life.… (next quote)
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