CBT and Scatology

“Freud was full of horseshit”. These are the words of Albert Ellis, co-founder of CBT and originator of what he calls Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).

I studied quite a bit of Ellis’ theory as I trained in clinical psychology. I recently returned to one of my prescribed texts (reference below). Helpfully, a chapter is written by Ellis on REBT in which he provides a transcript of one of his ‘therapy’ sessions. In it, one finds a veritable obsession with the scatological. His patient is Sara, a 25 year old who, ‘without any traumatic or violent history’, Ellis tells us, is nonetheless ‘insecure’, and ‘self-denigrating’. (Ellis regarded this sort of thing as ‘high-class whining’).

Sara tells Ellis that she has trouble explaining herself. She says that she is nervous.
Ellis interprets this by speaking for her: “‘I can’t think clearly. What a shit I am for not thinking clearly’. You see: you’re blaming yourself for that”.

Throughout the transcript, Ellis does the bulk of the talking. At one point, he opines to Sara: “[Y]ou don’t have to upset yourself. As I said before, if I thought you were the worst shit who ever existed, well that’s my opinion. And I’m entitled to it. But does it make you a turd?”

At no point does Sara herself make any reference to the scatological side of life. These are exclusively Ellis’ associations. He lectures Sara that if she believed that she were a kangaroo, then she would be ‘hopping around’, since ‘whatever you believe you feel’. Based on his speech, Ellis feels himself to be in a world of excrement, and sees it everywhere he looks.

One might counter this by arguing that Ellis was merely translating his patient’s speech, but such translation is clearly an interpretation. To be ‘insecure’ is not at all the same as to be identified with faeces. I have met, for instance, people with the delusion that they smell repulsively, like shit. This is, generally speaking, on the side of melancholia, an identification with an object that is by turns disgusting, unwanted, but occasionally precious. It is not at all self-evidently synonymous with just any old association or self-reproach. To interpret at all in a non-reckless manner, one would need the patient themselves to not only make the scatological reference, but also to establish, through association, the place of this reference in his/her mental life. Ellis the Rational has neither the time nor the aptitude for such intellectual cleanliness.

Some accuse Freud of taking too much interest in the private side of life; breastfeeding, toilet training, infantile masturbation. Freud, and psychoanalysis more generally, however, had no interest in the anal (or genital, etc) for its own sake. The anal object was of relevance to Freud only because, at certain points, it was raised by patients themselves. Unlike Ellis, Freud listened more than he spoke. Faeces becomes an object of demand by the Other in the life of every child. And moreover, the rims of the body, the areas which are portals between inside and outside, are simultaneously erogenous zones and (not coincidentally) zones of social regulation. Shit per se is of not inherent interest in psychoanalysis. This is different to enjoyment and demand, which are of interest, and these phenomena can be oriented around any rim, whether it be the eyes, ears, mouth, genitals, or indeed, the anus.

This is in marked contrast to our cloacal cognitivist Ellis, who not only observes the excremental everywhere, but also speaks it, emphasises, interpolates it. In Heideggerean terms, he dwells in a kind of in-der-Scheisse-sein.

According to Wikipedia, Ellis the logician published a text in 1965 called Homosexuality: Its Causes and Cure. Lest anybody imagine that this sort of unprincipled stupidity was a mere by-product of the times, we should recall that the very same year, Jacques Lacan gave a seminar on ethics, arguing that the only duty was to hold fast to one’s desire. Thirty years earlier, Sigmund Freud wrote to the concerned mother of a homosexual man that ‘homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of’, and assuredly, no illness.

So much for horseshit, and Augean stables.

Corsino, R. J., & Wedding, D. (2000). Current psychotherapies. Sixth edition. Peacock: Itasca, IL.
Whilst the text is okay, it’s one of those books which is written for students, and which is therefore released in a new edition every year or so, with all the pages and chapters out of order. It renders the prescribed reading difficult, if not useless for any student trying to use a second-hand copy. It’s a scam in other words. For that reason, I’d encourage the curious not to purchase it, but to seek a library instead.

13 thoughts on “CBT and Scatology

  1. My experience of being in therapy with any therapist using a rational or CBT type approach (very very breifly) is that there is a big component of “backhanded help” (or backhanded insults?). If Sara didn’t think that badly of herself to start out with, she would after talking to him, or else be forced to draw self esteem from something as thin as thinking “at least I’m not a high -class whiner”. I see this as a psychologically dangerous situation for any aware person who simply doesn’t want to participate in those kinds of values. This happened to me and I came away feeling battered. You are supposed to feel better about yourself by comparing yourself to others and condemning them. It’s always “someone around here is shit but it isn’t me”.
    Leading to the continual, often hostile or disparaging projections of people who have had CBT. I always avoid these kinds of people now, because they always locate their “shit” as being in me, and when I try to clarify that no, I don’t think the things they think I think, they get very startled. Its crazy making.

    • What I find extraordinary is that none of these sorts of things are secret. Ellis, for instance, has other, similar transcripts in the public domain. Anybody can peruse them and see a ‘therapy’ in action which is as abusive as it is poorly reasoned. That any professional could have fallen for it does not speak well for mental health disciplines.

  2. At least if we go back to the origins it becomes a lot clearer that he is projecting and holding his projection in contempt in order to feel above it. My experience with this stuff was a lot more confusing as the ‘cognitive’ therapies are now a kind of admixture relying heavily on positive psychology, attachment theory, schema therapy and a bunch of bell curve graphs. It is now largely infused with Bowens family systems theory as well. Which is based largely around the ‘karpman drama triangle.’ Which essentially pathologizes love which is considered ‘rescuing’ and considered “unhealthy.” A lot of this stuff is now culturally propagated in the name of “healthy boundaries.” That’s how they sneak it into everything now through this idea of “healthy boundaries,” because “healthy boundaries” are allegedly the cornerstone of happiness and personal empowerment. It was really when I read Melanie Kleins paper on splitting that I began to realize the entire premise of the congintive therapies was just ideologically sanctioned projective identification while identifying with some orientalist little Buddha nonsense.

    • Yeah, I started in an online cognitive therapy based support group community, Bpdfamily.com. When I read Klein’s paper on splitting or projective identification. That is when I slowly began to realize the entire platform of the cognitive therapies was essentially splitting. Unfortunately the cognitive behaviorists have appropriated the term ‘splitting’ and rather than its psychoanalytic roots based on disavowed anal projections identified as the other. They replaced it with the cognitive behaviorist concept of ‘black and white [twisted] thinking.’ This allows those indoctrinated by the cognitive behaviorist ideology to view those in distress as ‘going black’ and defensively identify the distressed other as ones own shit that one has mastered, while offering contempt disguised as empathy to the distressed other because those are ‘healthy boundaries.’

      Within the cognitive behaviorist sphere of influence is this fetishized idea of “healthy boundaries,” which in light of the psychoanalytic concept of splitting is all the more convenient because now splitting is considered “healthy” as long as one narcissistically identifies with a positive self image while doing it.

      That is how they sneak it into everything now through this Trojan horse idea of “healthy and unhealthy boundaries.”

      It is fucking madness!

    • I think you’re onto something with this idea of splitting. It’s particularly relevant since CBT does not require its practitioners to undergo any analysis, therapy or self-examination at all. There is amply opportunity for charlatans like Ellis to attribute scatological meanings to their patients when, ultimately, the charlatans are only ever talking about themselves.

      • well, I did continue to follow that idea of splitting and what i found is an underlying structure. A four way split. The split of love object, Kleins ‘good breast’ and ‘bad breast.’ Also a split that Winnicot refers to as the ‘true self’ and ‘false self.’ It became appearent when I looked at various members gravitation to the manosphere. In the manosphere the ‘true self’ being what they refer to as a ‘beta male,’ and the ‘false self’ an ‘alpha male.’ The women is split between a ‘woman that knows her place,’ and the ‘feminazi.’ In the ‘rational’ and cognitive behavioral therapies they fetishize the ‘rational,’ ‘mature,”wise mind,’autonomous self,’ ‘happy child’/’mature adult’ schema that has ‘healthy boundaries,’ which I think Winnicot would refer to as the ‘false self.’

        The goal as it was put foreward on bpdfamily.com, which is based on the congnitive behavioral model, is to attain ‘wisemind’ by being ‘mindful’ which is an identity that is unaffected by others due to said ‘healthy boundaries.’ This seems to me consistent with the manospheres concept of being ‘alpha,’ which is one who is unaffected by others for fear of becoming ‘betafied’ because one is negatively affected by the ‘feminazi’ ie. ‘bad breast.’ In the rational and cognitive behavioral jargon ‘beta’ is replaced with ‘irational,’ ‘immature’ or ‘angry child’/’neglected child’ schema which is considered to be ‘unhealthy boundaries.’ This seems to me to be an unresolved conflict with the father in favor of identification with an imaginary ‘mature’ or ‘alpha’ father who has not failed the mother somehow.

        This all seems consistent with Ayn Rands ideology which fetishizes what she refers to in Anthem as ‘ego,’ a rugged autonomous individual who is unaffected by an opressive government. I guess in Randian mythology the oppresive ‘government’ would be the equivelant of Klein’s ‘bad breast,’ or Winnicots not ‘good enough mother.’

        So with western societies obsession with wellbeing and being healthy it is like people blindly accept that core myth and ask “is that healthy?” as a way to police themselves and others. The thing is “healthy,” has already been loaded with ideology so asking the question only serves to shame people into conformity with an ideology that seems beyond question. Then if you have a problem with the ideology and find it upsetting you are deemed irrational and disordered.

      • It could be well worth getting some of these ideas down in writing, as they tie together quite a few points: liberal governmentality, male narcissism, Randism, etc.

  3. oh, I just wanted to add… I think the overarching idea of the cognitive rational therapies and the like boils down to one concept. The great “lesson” the cognitive therapies preach is….

    “Who ever smelt it dealt it”.

  4. Great article. While CBT does not encourage splitting as much as some interventions which reinforce these kinds of criticisms, it certainly does not offer the kind of deeper relief possible from a more integrated destination.

  5. David, I continue to be in graduate school, now my last year, and I continue to be blown away by what is being offered as “truth” in the classroom. Here is an article I was assigned for class, from the University of Melbourne interestingly enough, which takes CBT/mass drugging to a whole new level under the banner of “mental health literacy”.


    Of course, WHO exactly defines what “literacy” is.. that’s taken for granted.. And so the article calls for large scale, social interventions to convince the public to be more literate, i.e. accept the dominant ideological paradigm of mental coercion. The public doesn’t yet fully know that they are “sick” with “disorders” and need a certain kind of treatment – so they need to be taught. Outcomes of community wide propaganda campaigns apparently include “Attitudes toward antidepressants became more positive” and “more positive beliefs about the potential helpfulness of [evidence based] treatments”. It’s genius, really – if CBT can be done on the individual, then why not do a kind of social-level CBT, in order to convince even more individuals to undergo CBT and drugs! And all under the banner of help and empathy, a ruse 20th century dictators would have envied.

    The author suggests that this can ideally be done with the young and in educational settings (the usual site of indoctrination). The article ends with, “The ultimate aim is a society where people with mental disorders take prompt action to seek professional help, where they receive and adhere to evidence-based treatments..” I got a kick out of the “adhere to” part. Isn’t slavery defined as being coerced (physically or non-physically) to the dominant class’s rules?..

    In another class of mine, we are being taught (I’m not kidding) to use google scholar to search for articles for the “appropriate” intervention for any person we see, first by defining a “target problem”, selecting a psychometric test to determine “progress” and “prevent deterioration”, and then implementing the eminence based practice. (Yes, I can’t think of any better group to query for advice about existential distress than university academics, they are so in touch with themselves..) I also note that, despite the politically correct packaging of certain words today (“illness” is now “disorder” to avoid stigmatization, they say), at the same time the EBP language is also becoming more militaristic – when I think of targets, goals and objectives, it sounds more like an enemy front line than a real person with an authentic experience to be honored. I’m now thinking of this more and more as “The militarization of mental health”. This article completes it with a call for public propaganda campaigns.



    • The article is very illustrative of problems in ‘mental health’. Amusingly, when the author references the findings that in Australia, people prefer counsellors to psychologists, he interprets this as signalling a need for more propaganda…

      • Ha yes, that’s a good point. I’ve also read a number of articles with the “problems” around African Americans (and other minority groups) being suspicious of mental health services and how to deal with this, with a similar call for education campaigns of various kinds – it never occurs to the authors that a group that has been oppressed for centuries may have a keener bullshit detector than the average person, and that their reluctance may be something to be curious about, that there may be a kernel of wisdom in it.

      • Yes, there’s extraordinary arrogance with this approach, and with CBT and ‘evidence-based’ mental health more generally. If somebody rejects the coercive, ideological pseudoscience peddled by mental health hucksters, then the problem must be a lack of marketing/education, and not the hucksters.

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