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Understanding Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Dr. Yvette Stupart is a clinical counselor and educator. She gives insights on how to experience emotional health and relational well-being.

You can find solutions by understanding and using REBT strategies.

You can find solutions by understanding and using REBT strategies.

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is considered as the foremost example of a cognitive-behavioral approach. Albert Ellis, who founded the approach, emphasized our thoughts as the way to change our emotions and behavior. Ellis posits the ABC theory of self-disturbing: A for activating event, B for person’s beliefs, and C for emotional, behavioral and cognitive consequences that result from B.

According to Ellis, people contribute to their own psychological problems by how they interpret events and situations. However, clients can learn skills in the therapeutic process that help them to identify and dispute the irrational beliefs they may have.

REBT employs various forms of therapies. The main methods include individual therapy, group therapy, brief therapy, and marriage and family therapy, which utilize cognitive, emotive and behavioral techniques.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Albert Ellis

Major foci of REBT include self-interest, self-direction, tolerance of self and others, flexibility, self-acceptance, and scientific thinking. The assumption is that people who adopt this type of balanced thinking will experience a minimum of emotional disturbance. This reflects Ellis’ argument that psychological problems stem from the way people think about things.

He calls this the philosophy of “musturbation” which, he explains, is the core of much psychological trouble. This involves irrational ideas that are self-defeating. For example, a person might continually tell himself, "I must do things exceptionally well at all times." Internalized, self-defeating thoughts like this could make the person emotionally disturbed.

There is a twofold goal to help clients "disturb" themselves less emotionally in order to feel better and decrease emotional disturbances. People are able to work towards changing their irrational thinking and self-defeating effects. So the emphasis is on a philosophical restructuring of irrational beliefs that can result in long-lasting changes.

In his book, How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, Albert Ellis outlines several outcomes of the REBT strategies including:

  • coping with difficult life situations and feeling better when you are faced with them
  • learning to control your emotions and destiny
  • promoting scientific thinking, reason, and reality
  • achieving profound philosophic change and radically new outlook on life
  • taking full responsibility for your "upsetness"
  • using strategies that can change your personality and is backed by objective, scientific experiments.

REBT is an action-oriented, practical approach to managing cognitive, emotional and behavioral disturbances. Through the use of REBT methods and techniques, individuals can develop a philosophy that leads to a more self-enhancing life.

Albert Ellis' A-B-C

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy helps client to identify irrational beliefs, teach them to dispute these beliefs, and substituent logical and rational ones.

A - Activating Events B - BeliefsC - Consequences

Facts, events, behavior, attitudes

The person's belief (B) about A causes C

There are emotional and behavioral consequences (healthy or unhealthy)

For example, a person experences depression after losing his job (A)

The person's belief about A is irrational and self-defeating

The feelings of failure result in the depression (C)

Loss of job

"I am a worthless person"

The person feels depressed




Dr. Michael Edelstein: Three Minute REBT

REBT and Issues of Diversity

REBT has a certain appeal from a multicultural perspective. In this approach, therapists function as teachers and clients focus on learning skills to deal with the problems of living. In this respect, REBT is especially appealing to those individuals in cultures who prefer, strong, directive counseling and an active counselor.

It is likely that cultures, where people want their teachers and advisers to be strong and authoritative, would be amenable to these approaches. However, clients in some cultures could find REBT’s direct disputation of their irrational beliefs, realistically, practically and pragmatically intimidating.

People from different cultures tend to appreciate the emphasis on cognition and action. REBT is especially effective for those who prefer a focus on reason and thinking. rather than affect or behavior to bring about a positive change in lives. However, since exploring client’s beliefs play an important role in the REBT approach, therapists need to be careful about challenging client’s beliefs, until they have a deeper understanding of the client’s cultural context.

REBT can help to change irrational self-defeating messages to more self-enhancing self-talk

REBT can help to change irrational self-defeating messages to more self-enhancing self-talk

“People are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.”

— Albert Ellis

Methods and Techniques Used in REBT

REBT is multi-modal, that is, it uses of many therapeutic techniques including cognitive, emotive and behavioral. However, cognitive interventions are considered to be at the heart of therapy, which involves disputing (D) of irrational beliefs (IB) with vigor and force. The disputing process consists of three steps to detect, debate and discriminate.

According to Ellis, the most effective cognitive disputing methods to use falls under these three realistic, logical and practical headings. Strategies to dispute beliefs, realistically, show clients that there is no evidence to substantiate these beliefs. To dispute irrational beliefs logically is to help clients see their overgeneralization. While pragmatic disputation is to help clients recognize the practical consequences of their irrational beliefs.

The therapist has a presence in the treatment process using influence to effect changes and is seen largely as an educator who seeks to establish the best environment for clients to learn in. However, while REBT regards establishing an effective therapeutic bond between clients and therapists as important, it is not a necessary ingredient for successful therapy.

Test Your Knowledge of REBT

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Who is the founder of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT)?
    • Albert Ellis
    • Aaron Beck
  2. Which of the letters of the alphabet indicates the result of irrational thinking in REBT?
    • A
    • C
  3. According to Ellis, people emotional difficulties are usually caused by:
    • continued challenges in life.
    • the way they interpret events and situations.
  4. Which statement is an example of "musturbation"?
    • I must do things exceptionally well at all times.
    • I would like to things well, but sometimes it's not possible.
  5. Which sentence is TRUE?
    • People can't change their self-defeating thinking.
    • People can change their irrational thinking.
  6. Feelings of failure after a divorce is likely to be a(n):
    • activating event
    • belief
    • consequence
  7. Which of the technique is used in REBT?
    • The therapist explores client childhood conflicts.
    • The therapist disputes irrational beliefs.

Answer Key

  1. Albert Ellis
  2. C
  3. the way they interpret events and situations.
  4. I must do things exceptionally well at all times.
  5. People can change their irrational thinking.
  6. activating event
  7. The therapist disputes irrational beliefs.

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

REBT posits that people's emotional problems largely result from irrational beliefs. This approach focuses on reason and thinking rather emotion and behavior to bring about positive changes in lives. People can change their disturbances, by first recognizing the self-defeating beliefs, and then dispute them.

REBT uses cognitive, emotive, and behavioral methods to help clients minimize their irrational beliefs. Disputing and replacing self-defeating thoughts could help you to experience a better quality of life.

References and Further Reading

Dryden, W., & Ellis, A. (2001). Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. In Dobson, K. S. (Ed), Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies (295-348). New York: Guilford Press.

Ellis, E. (2001). Rational emotive behavior therapy: Overcoming destructive beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2013 Yvette Stupart PhD

Share in the conversation ....

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on February 11, 2018:

Thanks for telling me Lynette. I have made the necessary adjustments.

Lynette on February 10, 2018:

I think the "correct" answers on the quiz are wrong.

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on June 22, 2013:

Thanks for stopping by. Although Beck's Cognitive Therapy and Ellis' REBT both focus on the role of cognitive processes on feelings and behavior, there are differences in emphasis especially in the techniques utilized. For example, REBT employs challenging and debating to help clients let go of their irrational beliefs. In contrast, Beck's Cognitive Therapy helps clients to identify certain patterns of thinking called "schemata," but uses a more collaborative approach, which facilitates clients' playing a more active role in treatment.

Dr. Gary L. Sidley from Lancashire, England on June 11, 2013:

Interesting hub about a type of cognitive therapy that seems currently less popular as compared to Beckian CBT.

I've always found elements of it - such countering a "demand" philosophy to life - very helpful and relevant for some depressed patients.

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on May 03, 2013:

MsDora , according to Albert Ellis Ellis, "musturbation" is the irrational belief that things "MUST" be a certain way. For example, I might say, "I MUST be approved or accepted by my colleagues at work." Of course, such beliefs, will bring emotional disturbances, so they should be disputed and replaced with more rational beliefs.

Thanks for sharing.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 02, 2013:

The philosophy of “musturbation” is an expression I have not heard before. Made me smile, but it makes sense. It is really a challenge to fully accept the whole concept about changing by thinking. We cannot teach it enough. Thanks and Voted Up!

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