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Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a comprehensive, active-directive, philosophically and empirically based psychotherapy which focuses on resolving emotional and behavioral problems and disturbances and enabling people to lead happier and more fulfilling lives. REBT was created and developed by the American psychotherapist and psychologist Albert Ellis who was inspired by many of the teachings of Asian, Greek, Roman and modern philosophers. REBT is one of the first and foremost forms of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and was first expounded by Ellis in the mid-1950s.



One of the fundamental premises of REBT is that people in most cases do not merely get upset by unfortunate adversities, but also through how they construct their view of reality through their evaluative beliefs and philosophies about these adversities. In REBT therapy clients usually learn and begin to apply this premise by learning the A-B-C-model of psychological disturbance and change. The A-B-C model first states that it normally is not merely A, adversities (or activating events) that lead to a disturbed and dysfunctional emotional and behavioral consequences - at C, but adversity times what people B, believe (peoples belief system) in relation to the these event. This belief system is highly evaluative and consists of interrelated cognitive, emotional and behavioral aspects. Generally, if the evaluative "B" about the activating event "A" is rooted in an irrational and self-defeating belief the consequence is likely to be un-healthy and destructive or alternatively if it is rooted in a rational and self-helping belief the consequence is likely to be healthy and constructive.

By understanding the role of their mediating evaluative and philosophically based irrational and self-defeating beliefs in upset, clients often can learn to identify them, begin to D, dispute, challenge and question them and come up with more rational and functional ones for then to subsequently begin to experience relief from their self-defeating emotions and behaviors.[1]

The REBT framework assumes that humans have both innate rational, meaning self- and social-helping and constructive, and irrational, meaning self- and social-defeating and un-helpful tendencies. REBT claims that people to a large degree create and construct emotional difficulties such as self-blame, self-pity, clinical anger, hurt, guilt, shame, depression and anxiety, and behaviors and behavior tendencies like procrastination, over-compulsiveness, avoidance, addiction and withdrawal by the means of their irrational and self-defeating thinking, emoting and behaving. REBT is then an educational process in which the therapist often active-directively teaches the client how to identify irrational and self-defeating beliefs which in nature are rigid, extreme, unrealistic, illogical and absolutist, and then to forcefully and actively dispute them and replace them with more rational and self-helping ones. By using different cognitive, emotive and behavioral methods and activities, the client, together with help from the therapist and in homework exercises, can gain a more rational, self-helping and constructive rational way of thinking, emoting and behaving. One of the main objectives in REBT is to show the client that whenever unpleasant activating events occur in people's lives, they have a choice of making themselves feel healthily and self-helpingly sorry, disappointed, frustrated, and annoyed, or making themselves feel unhealthily and self-defeatingly horrified, terrified, panicked, depressed, self-hating, and self-pitying (Ellis, 2003). By attaining a more rational and self-constructive philosophy of themselves, others and the world, people often are more likely to behave and emote in a more life-serving and adaptive ways.

Albert Ellis (2003, p.23-24) posits three major insights of REBT:

Insight #1 - People seeing and accepting the reality that their emotional disturbances at point C do not stem from the activating events or adversities at point A that precede C. Although A contributes to C, and although strong negative A’s (such as being assaulted or raped) are much more likely to be followed by disturbed C’s (such as feelings of panic and depression) than they are to be followed by weak A's (such as being disliked by a stranger), the main or more direct cores of emotional disturbances (C's) are people’s irrational beliefs—the absolutistic musts and their accompanying inferences and attributions that people strongly believe about their undesirable activating events.

Insight #2 - No matter how, when, and why people acquire self-defeating, irrational beliefs that mainly lead to their dysfunctional, emotional-behavioral consequences, if they are disturbed today, they tend to keep holding these irrational beliefs and upsetting themselves by them not because they held them in the past but because they are still actively, though often unconsciously, reaffirming them and acting as if they are still valid. They still follow, in their minds and in their hearts, the core "musturbatory " philosophies that they may have taken over or invented years ago, or that they have more recently accepted or constructed for themselves.

Insight # 3 - No matter how well they have achieved insight 1 and insight 2, insight alone will rarely enable people to undo their emotional disturbances. They may feel better when they know, or think they know, how they became disturbed and are still making themselves upset largely because they believe these insights to be useful and curative. It is unlikely, however, that they will really get better and stay better unless they accept insights 1 and 2 and also go on to 3: There is usually no way but work and practice to keep looking for and finding one’s core irrational beliefs; to actively, energetically, and scientifically dispute them; to replace one’s absolutist musts with flexible preferences; to change one's unhealthy feelings to healthy, self-helping emotions; and to firmly act against one’s dysfunctional fears and compulsions. Only by a combined cognitive, emotive, and behavioral, as well as a quite persistent and forceful, attack on one's serious emotional problems is one likely to significantly ameliorate or remove them—and keep them removed.

Originator Albert Ellis sums up the cognitive-affective processes like this (Ellis, 2003): "REBT assumes that human thinking, emotion, and action are not really separate or disparate processes but that they all significantly overlap and are rarely experienced in a pure state. Much of what we call emotion is nothing more nor less than a certain kind—a biased, prejudiced, or strongly evaluative kind—of thought. But emotions and behaviors significantly influence and affect thinking, just as thinking. Evaluating is a fundamental characteristic of human organisms and seems to work in a kind of closed circuit with a feedback mechanism: Because perception biases response and then response tends to subsequent perception. Also, prior perceptions appear to bias subsequent perceptions, and prior responses to bias subsequent responses. What we call feelings almost always have a pronounced evaluating or appraisal element."

Albert Ellis further points out, "People are born and reared with the ability to look at the data of their lives, particularly the negative things that happen to them against their goals and interests, and to make inaccurate inferences and attributions about these data."

From whence do peoples self-sabotaging irrational and self-defeating tendencies originate? REBT proposes that many of these self-defeating cognitive, emotive and behavioral tendencies are both innately biological and indoctrinated in early and during life, and further grow stronger as a person continually revisits and self-propagandizes them.

REBT differs from psychoanalysis in that it places little emphasis on exploring the past, but instead focuses on changing the current evaluations and philosophical thinking about people's lives, others and themselves.

Psychological Dysfunction and Mental Wellness

One of the main pillars of REBT is that irrational patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving are the cause of much, though hardly all, human disturbance. REBT teaches that when people turn flexible preferences, desires and wishes into grandiose absolutistic jehovian demands and commands, they disturb and upset themselves. Albert Ellis has suggested three core beliefs that humans disturb themselves through (Ellis, 2001):

  • "I absolutely MUST, under practically all conditions and at all times, perform well (or outstandingly well) and win the approval (or complete love) of significant others. If I fail in these important—and sacred—respects, that is awful and I am a bad, incompetent, unworthy person, who will probably always fail and deserves to suffer." This belief usually contributes to feelings of anxiety, panic, depression, despair, and worthlessness.
  • "Other people with whom I relate or associate, absolutely MUST, under practically all conditions and at all times, treat me nicely, considerately and fairly. Otherwise, it is terrible and they are rotten, bad, unworthy people who will always treat me badly and do not deserve a good life and should be severely punished for acting so abominably to me." This belief usually contributes to feelings of anger, rage, fury, and vindictiveness and lead to actions like fights, feuds, wars, genocide, and perhaps ultimately an atomic holocaust.
  • "The conditions under which I live absolutely MUST, at practically all times, be favorable, safe, hassle-free, and quickly and easily enjoyable, and if they are not that way it's awful and horrible and I can't bear it. I can't ever enjoy myself at all. My life is impossible and hardly worth living." This beliefs usually contributes to frustration and discomfort, intolerance, self-pity, anger, depression, and to behaviors such as procrastination, avoidance, and inaction.

REBT commonly posits that at the core of irrational beliefs there often is an explicit or implicit rigid demand and command, and that extreme derivatives like awfulizing, low frustration tolerance, people deprecation and over-generalizations are accompanied by these. A key tenet in the REBT framework is that the evaluative belief system, based on core philosophies, is very likely to create unrealistic, arbitrary, and crooked inferences and distortions in thinking. REBT therefore first teaches that when people in an insensible and devoutly way overuse absolutistic, dogmatic and rigid "shoulds", "musts", and "oughts", they disturb and upset themselves. REBT holds that that devoutly held absolutistic philosophies and beliefs often contribute to disturbances, and that these inflexible and self-defeating philosophies are better replaced with more flexible, self-constructive and self-helping attitudes.

Disturbed evaluations generally occur through over-generalization, wherein people exaggerate and globalize events or traits, usually unwanted events or traits or behavior, out of context, while almost always ignoring the positive events or traits or behaviors. For example, awfulizing is mental magnification of the importance of an unwanted situation to a catastrophe, elevating the rating of something from bad to worse than it should be, to beyond totally bad, worse than bad to the intolerable and to a holocaust. The same exaggeration and overgeneralizing occurs with human rating, wherein humans come to be defined by their flaws or misdeeds: the person is bad based on bad behavior or bad traits. Frustration intolerance occurs when one perceive something to be too difficult, painful or tedious, and by doing so exaggerates these qualities beyond ones ability to cope with them.

As would be expected, REBT argues that mental wellness results from a surfeit of rational and self-helping ways of thinking, emoting and behaving. When a undesired and stressful activating event occurs, and the individual is interpreting, reacting to and evaluating the situation rationally and self-helpingly, then the resulting consequence is likely to be more healthy, constructive and functional. This does not mean a relatively undisturbed person never experiences negative feelings, but REBT does hope to keep debilitating unhealthy affect and behavior to a minimum. To do this REBT promotes a flexible, un-dogmatic, self-helping and efficient belief system and constructive philosophy about adversities.

REBT acknowledges and emphasizes that people in addition to disturbing themselves, also are innately constructivists. Because they largely upset themselves with their beliefs, they can be helped to examine, to question, to think about these beliefs and thereby to develop a more workable, more self-helping set of constructs.

REBT teaches that:

  • Unconditional self-acceptance, other-acceptance, life-acceptance are of prime importance in achieving mental wellness.
  • People and the world are inherently fallible and people had better accept themselves, life's hassles, and unfairness and others "as is".
  • People had better consider themselves valuable simply because they are alive and kicking, and are better off not measuring their entire self or their "being," or giving themselves any global rating, because all people are continually evolving and are therefore far too complex to rate, and all humans do both good and bad deeds and have both good and bad attributes and traits. REBT holds that ideas and feelings about self-worth are largely definitional and are not empirically confirmable or falsifiable (Ellis, 2003).

REBT Therapy

As Albert Ellis (2003) explains: "Humans, unlike just about all the other animals on earth, create fairly sophisticated languages which not only enable them to think about their feeling, and their actions, and the results they get from doing and not doing certain things, but they also are able to think about their thinking and even think about thinking about their thinking." This is quite essential to the REBT thought. Ellis, also points out that "because of their self-consciousness and their ability to think about their thinking, they can very easily disturb themselves about their disturbances and can also disturb themselves about their ineffective attempts to overcome their emotional disturbances" (Ellis, 2003). In REBT terminology, this is referred to as secondary disturbances.

One of the most popular methods in REBT is forceful and active disputing. Central in REBT is helping the client challenge and question irrational and self-defeating beliefs (B). These disputing processes incorporate cognitive-philosophic, emotive-evocative-dramatic, and behavioral methods necessary to successfully challenge the irrational beliefs. In therapy the therapist may point out irrational and self-defeating beliefs, but he or she also teaches the client how to dispute them in day-to-day life outside of therapy and also gives the patient homework exercises. The result of disputing the self-defeating belief and replacing it with a rational one yields an effective new philosophy (E).

By using emotive, cognitive and behavioral methods the client learns effective ways to dispute, question and replace the irrational and self-defeating beliefs with more rational and self-constructive ones, which then are likely to cause and create healthier and more constructive emotions and behavior. The therapist is most interested in finding core beliefs and deep rooted philosophical evaluations. These contribute to automatic negative inferences and higher level cognitions.

REBT acknowledges that understanding and insight are not enough. In order for clients to significantly change, they had better pinpoint their irrational philosophies and work forcefully and actively at changing them to more functional and self-helping attitudes. Although REBT teaches that the therapist had better demonstrate unconditional other-acceptance, the therapist is not necessarily always encouraged to build a warm and caring relationship with the client. The therapist's most important task is to aid the client in identifying and confronting irrational thinking, emotive, and behavioral processes and through a manner of ways and methologies replace them with more rational ones.

REBT posits that the client has to work hard to get better, and this work may include homework assigned by the therapist. The assignments may for example include desensitization tasks, i.e., by having the client confront the very thing he or she is afraid of. By doing so, the client is actively acting against the belief which often is contributing greatly to his disturbance.

Often REBT focuses on specific problems and is used as a brief therapy, but in deeper and more complex problems longer therapy is promoted. Another factor contributing to the brevity of REBT is that the therapist helps the client learn how to get better through hard work, and to help himself get through future adversities. It holds that hard work, and hard work only, is the way to get better and to stay that way. REBT does rarely promote any temporary solutions. An ideal successful collaboration between the REBT therapist and a client results in changes to the client's philosophical way of evaluating him- or herself, others, and his or her life, and which is likely to yield effective results: The client moves toward unconditional self-acceptance, other-acceptance, and life-acceptance.


  • Ellis, Albert (2001). Feeling better, getting better, staying better. New York: Impact Publishers, 2001. ISBN 1-886230-35-8
  • Ellis, Albert (2003). Early theories and practices of rational emotive behavior theory and how they have been augmented and revised during the last three decades. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 21(3/4)
  • Froggatt, Wayne (2005). A Brief Introduction To Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Third Edition, New Zealand Centre for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
  • Albert Ellis (2001). Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors: New Directions for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Prometheus Books

Further reading

  • Albert Ellis & Windy Dryden, The Practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy 2.ed.; Springer Publishing, 2007. ISBN 9780826122162
  • Windy Dryden & Michael Neenan, Getting Started with REBT; Routledge, 2005. ISBN 9781583919392
  • Windy Dryden, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy in a Nutshell (Counselling in a Nutshell); Sage Publications, 2005. ISBN 9781412907705
  • Windy Dryden, Fundamentals of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy: A Training Manual; Wiley, 2002. ISBN 1-86156-347-7
  • Windy Dryden, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy; Theoretical Developments; Brunner-Routledge, 2003. ISBN 1-58391-272-X
  • Albert Ellis, Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors: New Directions for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy; Prometheus Books, 2001. ISBN 1-57392-879-8
  • Albert Ellis, Feeling better, getting better, staying better; Impact Publishers, 2001. ISBN 1-886230-35-8
  • Windy Dryden et al., A Practitioner's Guide to Rational-Emotive Therapy; Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-507169-7
  • Albert Ellis et al., A Guide to Rational Living (3rd rev ed.); Wilshire Book Company, 1997. ISBN 0-87980-042-9
  • Stevan Lars Nielsen, W. Brad Johnson & Albert Ellis, Counseling and Psychotherapy With Religious Persons: A Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Approach; Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001. ISBN 0805828788.
  • Windy Dryden, Raymond Di Giuseppe & Michael Neenan, A Primer on Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (2nd ed.); Research Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0878224784
  • Albert Ellis & Catharine MacLaren, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: A Therapist's Guide (2nd ed.); Impact Publishers, 2005. ISBN 978-1886230613

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Rational_Emotive_Behavior_Therapy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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