A Personal Example of Using REBT

by Mike Toohey, M.A.

The following post is a step-by-step example of how I personally used REBT to reduce my recent anxiety.

I was told by my dentist that I needed to have my wisdom teeth extracted, and I immediately dreaded the thought of it. Although I’m not typically one to be nervous when it comes to dentists, the thought of getting my wisdom teeth pulled terrified me. After talking with friends, I only became more fearful of the impending misery and pain, and I knew that my anxiety was unhealthy. This was my thought process:

Step 1: Identify Beliefs:

First, I looked at the thoughts that were leading to my anxiety. I was mostly afraid of the sensation of my teeth being pulled (not even counting the pain). Simply put, I had been thinking that the sensation would be (1) so bad that (2) I wouldn’t be able to bear it, and I might faint. Using Ellis’ words, I was thinking it would be (1) awful and that (2) I wouldn’t be able to stand it.

Step 2: Challenge the Irrational Beliefs:

As soon as I had the two irrational beliefs, I challenged them with the following disputes (they work the best for me, but maybe not for you):

For the (1) awfulizing, I disputed (a) logically and (b) empirically: (a) was it really logical to think that feeling my teeth pulled (painless or not) would be the worst thing in the world? Of course not. It would be uncomfortable, but awful is way too strong of a word. And (b) was advice from fellow REBTer Amy Horowitz, M.S.: Suppose I was surrounded by a group of terminally ill patients, each discussing their own issues, and I brought up that I was going to have my wisdom teeth pulled and would feel discomfort for a week. Evidence would show that getting four unnecessary wisdom teeth pulled is clearly not awful.

For the (2) low frustration tolerance, I disputed logically: would I really not be able to stand the sensation? Although I may actually faint from the anxiety, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be able to stand it. Unless I die from the surgery (which I am confident won’t happen) I would be able to stand it.

Step 3: Identify and Repeat Rational Beliefs:

Understanding the silliness of my current irrational beliefs isn’t enough; I wouldn’t really feel better until I had a better way to think. So, every time that I began to feel anxious from thinking that the sensation would be (1) “awful,” I would say “that’s not true, it is only unpleasant and uncomfortable.” Likewise, I challenged the belief that I (2) wouldn’t be able to bear it with the new, rational belief that, “although I will be uncomfortable (and may even faint), I will live through it and it will pass. It is only temporary.” Although it was difficult to feel less anxiety at first, after repeatedly practicing the statements I began to internalize it. Although I am still concerned, I am happy to say that I am much less anxious about it.

Originally, I wrote this blog before I had the extraction. As an update: I was awake for the whole procedure, and although I could feel the pressure in my mouth, there was no pain at all. I did not faint, but even if I had I would have been okay. The oral surgeon actually said I was calmer than most patients, and commented on it during the surgery! In the end, I can truly say that REBT helped me, and hopefully it will help you too (if it hasn’t already)!

Next up: Candice Siu, M.A. on Unconditional Self-Acceptance for Teenagers

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