What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

Our cognition, emotions, and behavior are all linked, according to REBT. Therefore, it’s critical to look at people’s beliefs about events and situations they’ve been through. This way, they may comprehend the influence of those events and situations, as well as the emotions that occur as a result of those beliefs. When a person understands what emotions influence their behavior, it can help them make better decisions than abusing drugs or alcohol. 

Developed by psychologist Albert Ellis, rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Rational emotive behavior therapy is a practical method for assisting people in dealing with illogical beliefs and learning to control their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors more healthily and realistically. This therapy is commonly used to help individuals who are in treatment for addiction as their negative thoughts could have caused them to cope with drugs or alcohol. 

REBT emphasizes the notion that rather than life circumstances causing someone to become unhappy, it is the person’s beliefs about the events that have a negative influence. As a result, rational emotive behavior therapy focuses on transforming a person’s life beliefs first and foremost.

The Principles of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Problems might arise when people have unreasonable views about themselves or the world. REBT’s purpose is to assist people in recognizing and changing negative beliefs and thought patterns to alleviate psychological issues and mental anguish.

The three irrational thoughts that many people have are the subject of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. The “Three Basic Musts” describes these ideas. The “Three Basic Musts” according to REBT include:

  • An excessively high expectation of self-worth based on one’s ability to perform well and obtain favor from others
  • An excessively high expectation of others, as well as the expectation of being treated honestly and politely at all times
  • Excessively high anticipation of always getting one’s desired outcome

While people often hold a variety of irrational beliefs, the Three Basic Musts cover the major principles that underpin them. These beliefs can cause negative sensations and thoughts, which can lead to harmful behaviors such as substance misuse.

How Does Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Work?

Addiction develops as a result of counterproductive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, according to REBT. The purpose of rational emotive behavior therapy is to replace these negative habits with more realistic and good ones.

The following are the basic premises of how REBT works to change addictive thoughts and behaviors:

  • Changing thoughts: Many people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol have absolutist thinking. This means that they believe they must use drugs or alcohol or else they won’t make it. REBT counteracts these thoughts by encouraging individuals to question their thinking.
  • Changing visualization: Individuals struggling with addiction often have low esteem and trouble visualizing themselves in a positive light. Rational emotive behavior therapy helps people improve their self-image and gain confidence in themselves.
  • Changing behavior: Irrational thoughts often lead to irrational behaviors. This is especially true in the case of addiction. Many addicts feel, and act on, the urgent need to use drugs or alcohol. REBT helps people address their irrational behaviors and think through behaviors before acting.

How does ABC Therapy Modeling work?

The ABC model, created by Dr. Albert Ellis, a psychologist, and researcher, is the basis of REBT. Its name refers to the components of the model. Here’s what each letter stands for:

  • A: Adversity or activating event.
  • B: Your beliefs about the event. It involves both obvious and underlying thoughts about situations, yourself, and others.
  • C: Consequences, which include your behavioral or emotional response.

In the ABC model, B links to A and C. Additionally, B is considered the most important component. That’s because CBT focuses on changing beliefs (B) to create more positive consequences (C).

When using the ABC model, your therapist helps you explore the connection between B and C. They’ll focus on your behavioral or emotional responses and the automatic beliefs that might be behind them. Your therapist will then help you reevaluate these beliefs. Over time, you’ll learn how to recognize other potential beliefs (B) about adverse events (A). This allows the opportunity for healthier consequences (C) and helps you move forward.

Identifying Beliefs and Applying the ABC Model

During rational emotive behavior therapy, your therapist will help you learn how to apply the ABC model to your daily life. If you’re feeling depressed due to a conflict in your relationship, for example, your therapist may help you identify the activating event for your problem before encouraging you to figure out which beliefs led to your negative feelings. They would then work with you to change those beliefs and, ultimately, your emotional response to the conflict.

An important step in this process is recognizing the underlying beliefs that lead to psychological distress. In many cases, these are reflected as absolutes, as in “I must,” “I should,” or “I can’t.” Some of the most common irrational beliefs include:

  • Feeling excessively upset over other people’s mistakes or misconduct
  • Believing that you must be perfectly competent and successful in everything to be valued and worthwhile
  • Believing that you will be happier if you avoid life’s difficulties or challenges
  • Feeling that you have no control over your happiness; that your contentment and joy are dependent upon external forces

Holding unyielding beliefs like these makes it almost impossible to respond to activating situations in a psychologically healthy way. Possessing rigid expectations of ourselves and others only leads to disappointment, recrimination, regret, and anxiety.

Gaining Insight and Changing Behavior With REBT

An important part of the rational emotive behavior therapy process is learning how to replace your irrational beliefs with healthier ones. This process can be daunting and upsetting, and it’s normal to feel some discomfort or to worry that you’ve made a mistake. 

However, the goal of REBT is to help people respond rationally to situations that would typically cause stress, depression, or other negative feelings. When faced with this type of situation in the future, the emotionally healthy response would be to realize that it is not realistic to expect success in every endeavor. All you can do is learn from the situation and move on. Three key insights that rational emotive behavior therapy teaches are:

  • You are worthy of self-acceptance no matter what even when you struggle or make mistakes; there is no need for shame or guilt.
  • Others are also worthy of acceptance, even when their behavior involves something that you don’t like.
  • Negative things will sometimes happen in life, and that doesn’t mean that things are happening in a way they shouldn’t be. Life is not positive all of the time, and there’s no rational reason to expect it to be.

While rational emotive behavior therapy uses cognitive strategies, it focuses on emotions and behaviors as well. In addition to identifying and disputing irrational beliefs, therapists and clients also work together to target the emotional responses that accompany problematic thoughts. Techniques that will be encouraged include:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Guided imagery

What Can Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Help With?

REBT has some data to support its benefit in a variety of conditions, including:

The Benefits of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

When developing REBT, Ellis’s goal was to create an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy that produced results by helping people manage their emotions, cognitions, and behaviors. Indeed, research suggests that REBT is effective at reducing irrational beliefs and changing behavior. We see the same results in sports psychology, where REBT can decrease irrational beliefs and reduce anxiety for athletes.

Several obvious goals come with using rational emotive behavior therapy. The overall goal is to help patients develop a more positive outlook by restructuring these irrational thoughts and beliefs that they hold. As REBT therapists work to restructure thoughts that will change the feelings or behaviors that a person may feel during therapy.

There are many goals associated with REBT and these forms of therapy overall, however, how effective is this type of counseling? Is it worth it to pursue REBT? Overall, rational emotive behavior therapy offers several behavioral benefits, like:

  • Reduced feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, and distress
  • Improved health and quality of life
  • Better school performance and social skills

Effectiveness

Rational emotive behavior therapy has a wide range of potential applications. Because it’s focused on education and taking action, it may be effective for a variety of situations and mental health conditions. It may even lead to lasting change in those who undergo this form of therapy.

Burnout at School or Work

Researchers have studied the impact that REBT has on professional and academic performance. One 2018 study showed that this approach was effective in reducing symptoms of burnout for undergraduate students and continued to help even months after therapy concluded.

Another 2018 study showed similar results for nurses. Group REBT reduced their job-related stress and burnout while increasing their job satisfaction and commitment to their organization.

Depression and Anxiety

Rational emotive behavior therapy may be effective in reducing symptoms for people with depression or anxiety. The positive effects also appear to last even after therapy ends.

REBT has also shown promising results for adolescents experiencing depression. This may be due to its emphasis on teaching techniques like:

  • Identifying cognitive errors
  • Challenging irrational beliefs
  • Separating individuals from their behaviors
  • Practicing acceptance

Rational emotive behavior therapy is quickly gaining popularity as a treatment option for athletes who are experiencing mental health and drug addiction issues. It can be used to restore and maintain athletes’ mental health, helping them learn how to change their outlook and manage their emotions. This often improves their athletic performance, though the goal of REBT in sports psychology is to care for the athlete’s mental well-being first and foremost.

Things to Consider About REBT

REBT can be a daunting process. For some, disputation may feel aggressive or confrontational, and facing irrational thought patterns can be difficult, as it’s not easy to accept these beliefs as unhealthy. The process of changing these thoughts can be even more challenging, as it may involve learning to let go of long-held beliefs.

Rational emotive behavior therapy is meant to teach you life-long skills and, as such, it’s not a passive process. Your sessions may involve reading assignments and homework, and you’ll likely have to step out of your comfort zone to get the benefits of this form of therapy. However, by dedicating time and effort to REBT, you can get closer to recovery

Discovery Institute Can Help You Recover With REBT

Here at Discovery Institute, we offer individualized treatment plans based on a patient’s needs. REBT is one of the ways we address the causes of addiction and help our patients move beyond it. During your first session, your therapist will likely discuss your goals and the activating event (or events) that prompted you to seek treatment

Throughout your treatment, you will probably receive homework assignments to complete and new behaviors to experiment with. Your willingness to try out new beliefs and different behaviors will impact how beneficial rational emotive behavior therapy is for you.

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction, don’t wait. You can contact us if you’re ready to begin your journey towards recovery. Let us help you, today!

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.