What I Wish the Police Knew About REBT

Could REBT have prevented Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Dallas?

Posted Jul 08, 2016

Purchased from Deposit Photos/Photorezekne
Source: Purchased from Deposit Photos/Photorezekne

Most of my blogs aren't written in the first person.  But, as President Obama so astutely said yesterday, this is an American issue, and it hurts.  He also said that Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.  As a psychologist, a life coach, and a fellow human who happens to practice in Dallas, Texas, I not only agree with the President, but I feel compelled to write upon the topic of this ongoing violence that has recently landed so close to home.

This week, there were two cases, which are still being investigated, of possible police brutality.  In two separate incidents, two men were killed (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile), both leaving behind children.  In question is whether racial bias might have been a factor in the decision making of the police officers who were involved.  We are still awaiting the facts.  However, due to the videos in each case, there has been a widespread outcry, including rallies in major cities yesterday designed to raise awareness about racially based police brutality.

The reactions of the children involved were particularly moving.  If you watched the video of Alton Sterling's son sobbing as his mother spoke, did you sob too?  Did you feel sad and concerned about what you saw?

If you watched Philando Castile's fiance video the aftermath of the shooting by police yesterday, did you admire Diamond Reynold's courage and mourn with her as she prayed and realized her fiance had died?  Maybe you also hurt for her four-year-old child in the back seat of the car, as the child reassured her sobbing and traumatized mother, "Mommy, it's going to be alright, I'm here."

If you felt this way, this was your natural human ability to feel empathy.  We are wired to try to understand, to feel for others who are hurting, and sometimes to deeply identify with them and hurt with them.

It was most unfortunate that following these shootings (the details of which are still being investigated), an initially peaceful rally to raise awareness on the topic of police bad-shots ended with a destructive sniper attack killing 5 officers, injuring 7 officers, and injuring civilians in Dallas yesterday. These officers were supporting the safety of the civilians who were rallying against police brutality.  These officers were innocently doing their jobs, and they did not deserve to be murdered for the crimes of other officers.

What I wish the police knew (to prevent cases of police brutality) and what I wish the sniper of yesterday knew (to prevent his violence toward police) from Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), is the following:

1.  Your thinking very often leads you to feel and act as you do.  Since we are estimated to have around 60-80,000 thoughts a day, it is pretty likely that some of them are going to be mistaken.  It is worth taking the time to really question and think about the validity of your thinking, especially if your thinking would lead you to kill another person.

2.  Low Frustration Tolerance leads to bad decisions.  Low frustration tolerance, also known as short range hedonism, emerges when people opt to gratify their unpleasant feelings of frustration and discomfort in the moment.  Short-term thinking leads to reactive decision making.  

3. Long-range hedonism may be a way out of this vicious cyle.  High frustration tolerance, also known as long range hedonism, emerges when people think about the long term results they want to create.  Focusing on the long-term leads people to thoughtful decisions, including increasing self-control in situations which call for wise responses.  

4.  Anger often results from a demand-based philosophy.  Understanding the "shoulds" that lead to anger may help people prone to the type of response in #2.  Those who are prone to "shoulding" on others can learn to re-think this! Changing shoulds to preferences can result in feelings that allow for the actions specified in #3.

5.  Unconditional other acceptance.  I wish that those who misused their weapons could have been trained beforehand that people are fallible and human.  As such, they might have learned to accept others as fallible humans.  This philosophy would teach them to stay away from overgeneralization.  This type of thinking error is common in racist thinking, as well as in the thinking that would lead the sniper to attack innocent police for the crimes of non-innocent police.

6.  Injustice and unconditional life acceptance.  There is a hypothesis in CBT that has been nicknamed "the just world hypothesis", which states that the world is just.  However, injustice exists.  Acceptance of life does NOT mean that you like injustice.  What it means is that you recognize that it exists and that you prefer justice, leading you to persist in working toward justice legally, ethically, and morally.

If you would like to add to the discussion, please comment below.  

To learn more about REBT and apply these principles to create greater peace, please check out any of the works of Dr. Albert Ellis and/or my book The REBT Super-Activity Guide.