Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of behavioral therapy developed by American psychologist Albert Ellis in the 1950s. REBT is an action-oriented therapy focusing on helping individuals deal with irrational beliefs by managing emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in a healthier, more realistic way.
The Goal of REBT Therapy
The base concept of REBT is that emotions such as anger, depression, and anxiety are caused by our beliefs, and not a result of the events one experiences. Thus, changing irrational beliefs should have a positive impact on emotional issues. Irrational beliefs influence how people perceive and respond to events and life situations and, as they are “irrational,” the effect is generally negative. The goal of REBT is to identify these irrational beliefs and develop strategies to replace them with more rational thought patterns, bringing a level of control to one’s emotional state.
Properly done, REBT can be effective in treating anxiety, addictive behaviors, depression, eating disorders, phobias, and many other issues.
ABC Model of REBT Therapy
The core of REBT is as easy as ABC: A – Activating Event, the situation that causes/triggers the emotional issue; B – Beliefs, the beliefs one holds about the event; and C – Consequence, the emotional reaction to the event.
Imagine a perfectionist who believes that they must be perfect in everything they do. The Activating event could be a poor grade in school, a failed road test, or a simple math error on a bank deposit slip.
The triggered Beliefs about the Activating event may cause irrational thoughts that they are a failure, the error is inexcusable, they should be ashamed, and maybe give up — or drive themselves harder and further raise the bar on what they expect of themselves. The Consequence is that the person feels shame, guilt, depression, or anger.
A different Belief would lead to a different emotional Consequence.
REBT Therapy Techniques
REBT uses a number of techniques, but they can be added as D and E to the ABC above: D – Dispute, recognizing that Beliefs are irrational and Disputing them; and E – Effective behavior, resisting the irrational Beliefs and changing responses to more beneficial behaviors.
REBT helps people make the distinction between healthy negative feelings and unhealthy feelings of stress and anxiety. When individuals accept that the main cause of emotional reactions is beliefs about events rather than the event itself, they learn that their irrational beliefs are the cause of the turmoil. REBT encourages people to understand that they have choices in how they react.
Therapists using REBT teach these forms of acceptance:
Unconditional Self-Acceptance – recognizing that one has flaws, but these flaws do not make an individual less worthy or unimportant.
Unconditional Other-Acceptance – recognizing that others are also flawed, but they are no less worthy than any other person.
Unconditional Life-Acceptance – Life will never be perfect or ideal, but life itself is never awful, and it is usually bearable.
To help recognize and deal with the Activating event, problem-solving techniques can be useful, including problem-solving skills, assertiveness and social skills, decision-making skills, and conflict resolution skills.
Changing irrational Beliefs can be helped by logical or rationalizing techniques, guided imagery, reframing / looking at events differently, humor, and disputing irrational thoughts.
Coping techniques such as relaxation, meditation, or hypnosis can help manage the emotional Consequences of irrational thoughts.
Other techniques may also be used.
Imagining the worst – REBT teaches that the worst-case scenario is unrealistic and therefore unlikely to happen — and even if it did, the worst-case will probably still be bearable.
Blowing out of proportion – REBT uses imagery and humor to tackle irrational thoughts. The therapist asks the client to imagine the thing they fear the most actually happening, and visualize it at an extreme level. When the worst becomes exaggerated, events can become humorous, and by laughing at overblown fears, the client gains more control over them.
Disputing irrational beliefs – DIBS is a restructuring technique in which the REBT therapist questions the client’s beliefs head-on, asking them to rethink or to imagine another point of view that they may not have considered before.
What is REBT Used to Treat
REBT is generally accepted as an effective type of therapy valid for obsessive-compulsive disorders, social anxiety, depression, and disruptive behavior. REBT has also shown to be helpful in combating burnout at work or school, improving athletic performance in combination with other sports psychology programs, and alcohol and drug addiction.
REBT is a relatively short-term treatment, only requiring 10-20 sessions to meet treatment goals. It is very action-orientated, and will likely involve homework assignments between sessions. This provides opportunities to apply these new skills to daily life. For example, they may ask one to keep a journal to track emotions after an anxiety inducing Activating event. The only way to get better is through the hard work of changing beliefs. It takes time and practice, and clients have to take responsibility for their own treatment.
The positive effects of REBT also appear to last even after therapy has ended.
People respond differently to all types of therapy, so what works for one person may not work for others.
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.