Theoretical overlap and distinction between rational emotive behavior therapy’s awfulizing and cognitive therapy’s catastrophizing

Date03 May 2019
Published date03 May 2019
AuthorScott Harris Waltman,Angelique Palermo
Theoretical overlap and distinction
between rational emotive behavior
therapys awfulizing and cognitive
therapys catastrophizing
Scott Harris Waltman and Angelique Palermo
Purpose The term catastrophizing was coined by Ellis (1962) and commented on by Beck (1979). Since
that time, much research has been done on the topic and a recent review article postulated that
catastrophizing served as a transdiagnostic mechanism across the psychiatric disorders (Gellatly and Beck,
2016). In rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), there is a greater emphasis placed on the underlying
irrational beliefs than the surface-level automatic thoughts; therefore, REBT therapists tend to focus on
Awfulizing as opposed to catastrophizing. While these terms sound similar, it is unclear what theoretical
overlap and distinction exists between the concepts. The paper aims to discuss these issues.
Design/methodology/approach This paper is a review and synthesis of the extant literature, drawing
from both theorists and empirical studies, to map out the similar and unique aspects of each cognition.
Findings Awfulizing and catastrophizing are distinct concepts with differing effects on cognitive, affective
and behavioral responses; these findings extend beyond theoretical models and are supported by
empirical literature.
Originality/value This review has direct implications for practitioners of the cognitive and behavioral
therapies, including REBT, and those seeking an integration of the cognitive therapies.
Keywords Catastrophizing, Awfulizing, Cognitive therapy, Rational emotive behaviour therapy, REBT,
Pain catastrophizing
Paper type Literature review
With the recognition that rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT; Ellis, 1962; Ellis and Harper,
1961; Dryden, 2012a, b,c) and cognitive therapy (CT; Beck, 1963, 1964, 1979) have much in
common (Beck and Dozois, 2011; Ellis, 1995, 2003; Gellatly and Beck, 2016; Padesky and
Beck, 2003), efforts have been made in recent years to integrate the two therapies (Buschmann
et al., 2017; Hyland and Boduszek, 2012). A first step in that process is developing an
understanding of how the theoretical and empirical models of REBT and CT fit together, and
addressing differences in vocabulary and terminology (Ellis, 2003).
Catastrophizing and awfulizing
Recently, a major theoretical review paper suggested that catastrophic thinking existed as a
transdiagnostic process across all the psychiatric disorders (Gellatly and Beck, 2016).
The term catastrophizingwas originated by Ellis (Ellis, 1962; Gellatly and Beck, 2016;
Turner and Aaron, 2001); referring to a tendency to over-estimate a perceived threat and the
corresponding seriousness of its impact. Over the years various theorists and researchers
have written much abo ut catastrophizin g, and notably acro ss studies it is often de fined in
Received 22 July 2018
Revised 16 October 2018
Accepted 30 October 2018
Conflict of interest: the authors
declare that they have no conflict
of interest. Funding: this study had
no funding.
Scott Harris Waltman is based
at Warrior Resiliency Program,
Brooke Army Medical Center,
San Antonio, Texas, USA.
Angelique Palermo was based
at Adelphi University,
Garden City, New York, USA.
PAG E 44
VOL. 24 NO. 1 2019, pp. 44-50, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1361-9322 DOI 10.1108/MHRJ-07-2018-0022

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