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Cherche le should: The primacy of the demand

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

I have a young male client, John Smith, who says 'I failed today' and 'I am a failure' and 'I am so depressed and have given up'. How can I help him? I can help him question the evidence that he has failed, or even if he has, that he is the not the cause of his failing. That is the Beckian CBT approach. Would that help? Probably not much.

In REBT we would have another approach. I might ask: 'How does it follow, that you are a failure as a whole person, because you failed at this task?' Or in our ABC model, A event = I failed, B belief = I am a failure, C = consequent depression and giving up. He might reply, "Yes I see, it does not make sense, that just because I failed at this task i am a complete failure. But that is what it feels like.' Something is missing - another belief deep in John's mind but out of his awareness. He is haunted by a demand, a rule of living he is failing to meet: 'To be worthwhile, I must not fail'. If that was true, then it would make sense "I failed means I am a failure'.

So we gently bring out the must, and once he sees it, then he can challenge it: "Where is the evidence I must not fail?" He will only find evidence he strongly does not want to fail, but that's ok, because now we have: A I failed, B I don't want to fail. It proves I'm fallible, C sad but still motivated to try again.


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