Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

What is REBT?

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a scientific form of cognitive psychotherapy that focuses on taking responsibility and practicing rational, realistic thinking. It is based on the idea that events do not make us feel certain emotions, our beliefs about those events do. This psychotherapy was originally developed by American psychologist Albert Ellis in the early 1950s, although the title Rational Therapy did not happen until 1955. Ellis was inspired to develop this new psychotherapy when he wasn’t seeing a changed behavior in any of his patients by using traditional methods. The name was changed to Rational Emotive Therapy four years later, and then to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy in 1992. Ellis worked on REBT until he died in 2007. Today, REBT is one of the most popular psychotherapies used due to its low cost and short-term effectiveness.

Goals of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

The main goal of REBT is to rid the patients of their current negative philosophies and replace them with ones that are more realistic and flexible as a means of finding happiness. Doing this allows patients to experience and enjoy involvement, love, self-actualization, spontaneity, and commitment. It is based on a few principles: that you are responsible for your emotions as well as your actions, and your irrational thinking causes you to emotionally and behaviorally respond negatively. You can overcome these negative responses by thinking in a more realistic way, from there making those thoughts a part of yourself. This allows patients to fully accept themselves by changing their perspective to something more reality-grounded.

When is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Used?

REBT tends to work best on patients who desire proactive, present-oriented treatment as a means of coping with the difficulties they face in life. This tends to work best for those who want a faster solution that will not leave them with dependency on a therapist. It can work for anyone facing mental difficulties, specifically things like fear, guilt, hostility, anxiety, depression, and addiction or substance abuse.

How Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy Works

REBT distinguishes between two different types of problems. Practical problems involve unwanted situations, our own negative behaviors, and the unfair mistreatment we receive from others. Emotional problems are the tendencies we have to get upset when practical problems occur. Emotional problems are essentially a second layer of problems over the first that do not need to be there, and can be changed instead.

The client is asked to identify their irrational philosophies, usually in the form of a “Must”. There are three different types of Musts. The first is called a demand on yourself, which might look like, “I MUST get straight As, otherwise I’ll never be good enough”. The second is a demand you have on others and might look like, “You MUST go out with me, otherwise my world will end”. The third is called a demand on situations and might look like, “My car MUST not break down on the way to work or else I will give up on the whole day.” Once these have been identified, the client must question their validity. Why do they believe this to be true? Where is the evidence to prove these philosophies? From there, the client can change these “Musts” into “Preferences”. One example would be, “I would PREFER to get the promotion at work today, but if I don’t it will not be the end of the world as I can continue improving and maybe get the next promotion instead.”

This is often in the form of the ABC model. A is the Activating Event which includes the event itself and the client’s automatic interpretations. B is for the Beliefs the patient has about the event, whether they are rational or irrational. C is the Consequences the client has of these beliefs, which includes behavioral and emotional responses as well as further thoughts. By modifying the irrational Beliefs to rational Beliefs, we also change the Consequences.

Criticisms of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Although REBT is very popular, it does not work for everyone. The procedures involved in REBT could be performed poorly, focusing on irrelevant things instead of the core problem at hand, which is a complete waste of time. The patient and therapist may not have the same idea about what is important, and this is especially true for patients who have many different irrational beliefs. Some people have also criticized REBT of being too formulaic or too harsh, although arguments against these claims have been made several times over.


David, Daniel, et al. "A synopsis of rational-emotive behavior therapy (REBT); fundamental and applied research." Journal of rational-emotive and cognitive-behavior therapy; 23.3 (2005): 175-221.

Ellis, Albert, and Windy Dryden. The practice of rational emotive behavior therapy. Springer publishing company, 1997.

Enfield, Roger E. "Rational emotive behavior therapy." Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology (2010).

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