NYC Therapist Talks: “Fifty Shades of Grey” from a New York Couples Therapist point of view
Fifty Shades of Grey: REBT Style (Yes I am going there!) Without spoiling the plot of the book “Fifty Shades of Grey”, I got to thinking about one character… Dr.Flynn. Flynn is Christian Grey’s therapist (but I bet you already knew that… since you read the book. Hey it’s ok I read all three.) I was interested in the therapist's approach while working with Christian in therapy. Although it is not explicitly said, Flynn seems to work from a psychoanalytical perspective- meaning he tries to relate unconscious thoughts, conflicts and desires from Christian’s childhood to his current life issues. As a therapist I was reading I kept thinking how would I relate a more modern approach like rational emotive behavior therapy to Christian’s presenting situation? Some of the conclusions that the therapist and "patient" worked out in therapy were kind of Freudian, which makes sense- Dr. Flynn was doing psychoanalysis. The therapist's analysis that Christian’s attraction towards women who look like his mother is a perfect example. Although it might be helpful to analyze Christian from this angle, using REBT, I would have focused on his irrational beliefs surrounding being touched (or haphephobia, as "diagnosed" by Dr. Flynn).
In REBT we often use something called the ABC self-help exercise, and I imagine it would look something like this:
A: Adversity My lover touched my chest
B: Beliefs (About A):
I am going to get hurt, and that would be unbearably terrible and awful. This is wrong, therefore I am a bad person, and I must not be. I must be perfect at all times. I shouldn't have this problem, because again, I should be perfect.
C: Consequences (of believing the beliefs at B):
Emotional: I feel afraid and nervous Behavioral: I am distant and cold
D: Dispute/Debate (the Beliefs at B):
Using the ABC exercise in therapy, Christian and I would debate his beliefs about being touched and come to the conclusion that his beliefs lead to his emotional and behavioral consequences. Being touched does not cause fear, and he has no proof that this is a universal law. He feels fear because he is telling himself all sorts of thoughts that lead to fear (we call this negative self talk). Many people tend to believe that events cause emotional and behavioral reactions (YOU made me so ANGRY), whereas it is the beliefs that we attach to these events (I made myself angry because I have beliefs about how you MUST behave, and if you behave any other way, I tell myself can't stand it, and become angry).
In our work in therapy Christian would start to replace the self-defeating beliefs with more balanced thoughts that he will hopefully be able to prove to himself- that he will not get hurt when his lover sensually touches his chest. In addition being touched consensually is a totally normal thing to do with someone you love, trust, and care for. The idea is that with this understanding Christian’s emotional and behavioral responses will become healthy and less debilitating. If Christian ever came to couples therapy we could work with his partner to communicate about their wants and desires related to sex to make sure they are on the same page and both getting what they need.
As a therapist, I have my own critical opinions of this book, and it's clear that therapy played a key role in the development of the characters. And since it seems like everyone is talking about this book, then people start to think that all therapists are psychoanalysts and would deal with the issues discussed in the book in the same way as Dr. Flynn.
Can you think of more ways a rational emotive behavior therapist would work with the characters in this book? Or in your own life? Do you have any sexual hang-ups or turn-ons that worry you? Well then hit up one of our therapists (pun intended). Modern therapists won't be spending three times a week talking about why things are the way they are, but focus more on accepting that things ARE as they are, and how are you going to work with what you have in order to have the most fulfilling life you can have.