Helping Teachers and Students Get Into the Best Possible Mental and Emotional Place


By Ray Mathis
Education Consultant, Speaker
Chicago Institute for Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (and Education)

We constantly hear about education reform. However, reformers seem to keep ignoring a simple but an important truism of life. People need to be in the right mental and emotional place to function at levels they are capable of, and they and others want them to. That’s true for both teachers and students. Too many of both struggle to get there, and we’ve never helped either learn how to. We need to start.

Too often students and teachers both generate a dysfunctional amount of emotion. By that I mean more than is helpful or necessary, more than they want to have, and more than they know what to do with. E-motion is energy to move intended to help us get what we want and need, and deal with threats. However, too often students and teachers generate a type and amount that works against them instead of for them.

Consider all the problems students so often struggle with, that teachers have to deal with, and that interfere with education. Many are defined by generating a dysfunctional amount of emotion, i.e. anger problems, anxiety disorders, depression. Others are caused or driven by someone doing so, i.e. arguments, fights. Still others are what students do to get relief from how they feel, i.e. alcohol and drug use and abuse, not working, truancy, dropping out, suicide. Then there are all those problems that arise from such things, i.e. addiction, overdoses, accidents, illness, disability and premature death.

Dr. Albert Ellis once said that “Therapy should be educational, and education can be very therapeutic”. We don’t want teachers doing therapy in classrooms, but there is much we could and should do in the way of education that would help students better manage what goes on inside their own heads. If they learn to, it will make teachers’ jobs easier and more rewarding.

Teaching students such skills will be good for teachers. They tend to be thrown into classrooms unprepared to deal with the mental and emotional challenges their students struggle with, and their own mental and emotional responses to such challenges. Teachers makes a lot of mistakes with students because of this, often making bad situations worse, especially with the most troubled and troublesome students we cannot afford to make mistakes with. We lose too many students, sometimes starting early in their school careers, because of such mistakes.

One simple life skill, or “tool” we could help students develop is an internal locus of control. The majority of the people on the planet have an external locus of control. They wrongly blame what others say and do, and what happens for how they feel. This needlessly puts them at the mercy of others, and their life events. They usually end up feeling worse than is necessary or helpful, and perhaps more importantly, miss opportunities to feel better because of this. It makes no sense that we allow students to spend over a decade and a half in our schools and never bother to correct this error.

Many struggle through school because of it, and continue to throughout their lives.
The solution is to teach and encourage them to have an internal locus of control. That means realizing that it’s really what they choose to think about what happens, and what others say or do that really causes how they feel. Thoughts cause feelings, not the events of their lives. It also means helping them see they have a host of cognitive choices they alone make that cause how they feel, and they can use these choices to feel better.


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