Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a treatment approach that focuses on the thinking component of emotional and psychological problems.
REBT is based on the belief that human beings are susceptible to misconceptions and misinterpretations that cause them to adopt dysfunctional behavior patterns. For example, we may feel anxious or depressed because we perceive that we have been rejected or are a failure. Rational emotive behavior therapists work with clients to identify irrational thinking and replace it with more rational and healthier thought patterns.
Origins of REBT
The founder of REBT was an American psychotherapist named Albert Ellis. Inspired by the teachings of ancient Greek, Roman and Asian philosophers, Ellis created REBT in the mid-1950s and continued to develop it until his death in 2007. Ellis believed that our emotional and psychological problems are not caused by outside events but are instead caused by our perceptions, attitudes and internalized voices. In his first major article describing REBT, Ellis cited a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that summarizes the main principle of REBT: “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
Ellis believed that our emotional and psychological problems are not caused by outside events but are instead caused by our perceptions.
Core Irrational Philosophies
REBT holds that irrational attitudes and ways of thinking often lead to unhealthy negative emotions such as depression, anxiety and guilt. Ellis identified a set of core irrational philosophies that lead to unhealthy behavior. These irrational philosophies include:
- The idea that we need unconditional love and acceptance for self-worth, rather than concentrating on developing self-respect on our own.
- The idea that misery is caused by external forces and other people, rather than caused by our own thinking.
- The idea that we should obsess about fearful events, rather than facing up to them.
- The idea that we must control the world around us in order to be happy, rather than accepting the uncertainty of life.
The ABC Framework
Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy uses an “ABC Framework” to help a patient see the error in irrational thinking. Therapist and patient will examine activating events (“A”) in relation to the patient’s beliefs (“B”) and the resulting consequences (“C”). The therapist will show how viewing negative events with rational beliefs will lead to healthy negative emotions, while irrational beliefs will lead to unhealthy emotions. Healthy negative emotions such as sadness and regret are viewed as acceptable by REBT because there are not self-defeating in the way that depression and anxiety are.
REBT supplements the ABC Framework by reminding the patient that psychological health is determined by personal choice, since beliefs determine the consequences for negative events.
REBT differs from other forms of therapy by de-emphasizing the influence of past events on current behavior. We are influenced by our childhood and history, but it is within our power to control our thinking as we move forward. REBT recognizes that changing deeply ingrained thought patterns can be difficult, but with persistence it can be done.