The rate of mental health and conduct problems among children and youth has dramatically accelerated over the past 30 years. Any responsible adult knows that we need to take action now to reverse this downward trend in children's mental health by teaching kids psychological skills that stick and that are associated with improved school learning and grades. What can be done?

I'll share a free mental-health development program with you that I donated to the public. It's called rational emotive education. This is not your ordinary positive, prevention, mental health program. It enjoys strong research support. Anyone with a computer and Internet can access it. To access this free emotional development program, click the link at the tail end of this article.

The program helps kids develop coping skills that can last a lifetime, such as critical thinking skills, emotional resilience, and perspective.

If each of us does our part in executing the ideas and exercises from this program, each part that we play may be like a drop in the bucket. However, many drops fill the bucket.

Realistically, we'll never eliminate all preventable mental health problems that disrupt the lives of millions of children. We can definitely do better and that is not hard to do.  

Professional counselors and therapists, who are versed in the use of this positive prevention program, may find that that they can adapt the system for use as an intervention. After I describe the program, I'll give you an example of it's use as an intervention with a young girl whose father sexually abused her when she was three-years-old. She was able to benefit from the program and make magnificent changes.

Setting Priorities 

A failure to execute positive, preventive, mental health programs to help youth build coping skills and self-confidence, has costly consequencesilure.  For example, childhood obesity is rising. Early adolescent and adulthood depression is at an epidemic level, and rising. A World Health Organization survey of children and mental-illness suggests that by the year 2020, childhood disorders will rise internationally by 50% to become one of the five major causes of disability among children. As many as 56% of all US adults will suffer with a major mental illness sometime during their lives. This number is roughly the same for most other civilized nations. A significant number will have ongoing problems with drugs, alcohol, and disabling emotional conditions. Too many people with mental health\drug\alcohol problems are behind prison bars. Most of this costly waste of human potential is preventable. 

We can do far better to help kids avoid becoming part of these troublesome statistics. Most can reach adulthood psychologically equipped to contribute to their communities while enjoying their lives in relative freedom from needless, negative, emotional burdens and destructive problem habits. 

Teaching Confident Composure

I once did a workshop for an audience of counselors, teachers, and parents who wanted to learn how to use a rational-emotive education (REE) mental health program to help kids grow to healthy and happy adults. I started by citing 15 critical mental health skills. These included building perspective, a solid self-concept, and emotional resilience. I asked who learned these skills as children. Two raised their hands. Each picked up one or two these mental health concepts in school. I asked the group who would have wanted to learn these skills early on in life. All hands went up.

This omission is noteworthy. Fortunately, this situation is correctable. Let's consider a way to teach psychological concepts that foster confident composure. First, what is confident composure?

With confident composure you recognize that you can directly command only yourself, and you choose to do so. You don't demand that the world change for you, and you don't need it to. Your productive actions are driven by positive motivation. This is a belief that you can better influence the controllable events that take place around you. Your psychological resources are more available to defuse, finesse, or directly manage conflicts.  You feel freer to empathize, socialize, and act ethically even when others take a different path.

Kids and teens can learn confident composure. However, the ingredients that go into this positive psychological don't come out of the blue. The skills are earned and honed through learning and practice. Rational emotive education (REE) lights a path to this end.

Rational Emotive Education

I've contributed a school-tested rational emotive education program (REE) that is based on the premise that children can learn and profit from positive psychological concepts and achieve higher levels of mental health.  This positive mental health program is supported by more than 40 research studies and enjoys two literature reviews that affirm its effectiveness. It has been used with groups ranging from learning disabled kindergarten children to elderly adults. Preliminary research shows a correlation between learning REE and higher school grades.

 I designed the program to (1) support student learning and psychological development and to prevent needless future miseries; (2) serve as a simple to use program for classroom teachers and parents who want to help their children develop confident composure (although applying the program can be done without training, some training is helpful); (3) be used by research scientists to test the concepts and their applications. This three-pronged approach is necessary for the evolution of any school positive mental health program.

Practically any child or young teen can follow the series of REE lessons like they might follow a good recipe in a cookbook.  The Mr. Head Game, for example, describes a step-by-step approach to help children develop meta-cognitive skill by tuning into how their thinking can affect their feelings and actions, and then how to substitute clear for harmful thinking.

The program helps kids to develop reflective skills, develop perspective, build a strong self-concept, and pause and think when it is in their interest--and in the interest of others--to exercise self-control.

 Kathy's Story

I originally created the REE program for normal kids in the regular classroom. The program is now used by parents. It is also used as an intervention by professional counselors.

Kathy's case is relevant to the work of mental health specialists who want an effective intervention approach to help kids who are already affected by mental-health challenges. Her story additionally shows the importance of the content acquisition-application principle that is a central part of the REE program.

This child's early life circumstances were bizarre. Her parents were alcohol abusers and poly-drug users. She was subjected to unthinkable abuses.

When she was three, Kathy's Dad brought her to a child pornography studio where he had sex with her before the cameras. I understand that the film was distributed to pedophiles.  (Her parents used the money to buy alcohol and drugs.) The authorities eventually caught onto what was happening, dealt with the parents, and placed the child into a warm and loving foster home.

I first saw Kathy when she was five. She presented as hyperactive and disturbed. During two-years of therapy Kathy steadily progressed in her ability to apply positive mental-health principles from the REE program. In that time, she increasingly did well in school. She had friends. Her foster home parents adopted her.

There came a time when Kathy was ready to talk about the sexual abuse incident. She had a detailed movie-like recollection that fit with the State's description. Kathy felt guilt. She blamed herself.

Once you know the REE system, you can be innovative in applying useful and positive mental-health concepts. In this instance I used a concept of controllability to help Kathy stop blaming herself for something she couldn't control; perhaps to bring resolution to this tragic time in her life. 

To teach controllability, I asked Kathy if she could stop the tides, have the sun rise in the west, and bring rain to a desert? She laughed and said I was silly. I asked if she could stay up late. She said, sometimes. I asked her if she could say what she wanted for dinner, pick her friends, and daydream. She thought that she could. Clearly, there were some events that she could never control, some she could occasionally control, and some that she would normally control. 

Once Kathy understood the concept of controllability, we got to the application phase. I asked her if she could stop her father quicker than she could stop the ocean tide from rushing in. She wept but understood that a three-year-old could not have controlled a large adult man who was high on drugs. 

Over the next few months we fleshed out the sexual abuse issue until Kathy's misplaced sense of responsibility and guilt no longer burdened her. The concept of controllability was a key to her considerable process. 

If you are interested in the REE program, here are three links: 1. The Rational Emotive Education Manual; 2. Rational Emotive Education: Past, Present & Future; 3. International Committee for the Advancement of REE 

This is an Albert Ellis Tribute Series blog. For more on this series, click on: Psychology Today Albert Ellis Tribute Blog Series 

Special to this blog, Reflections PhotoArt by Dale Jarvis, AreaOne Art & Design, Fayetteville NC.

 (c) Dr. Bill Knaus

 All rights reserved


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