What is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is not a new therapy process, though the name may be less familiar to some. This is a form of therapy developed by the very influential psychologist Albert Ellis (1913-2007), which is thought to be the principal groundwork for the extremely popular cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) methods that followed later. REBT, which had previously been called rational emotive therapy, takes a thinking approach to problem solution and psychic pain. Alliance between therapist and client has the main goal of identifying unrealistic thinking and reacting patterns and ultimately replacing these with more flexible ways to approach challenges.

It would be difficult to completely elucidate rational emotive behavior therapy in a short article, but there are some basic elements. The essential model of REBT is described as A, B, and C. In this, A stands for adverse situations that happen or anything that might prove activating, and B is connected to the idea of beliefs about A. C is the consequences of belief about adversity or activation. In the psychologically healthy person, a belief about difficult situations would not lead to consequences that were negative.


In contrast, when belief is very rigid and filled with “musts” or “shoulds” about how a person ought to behave, consequences of A (adversity) are likely to be painful and difficult to bear. Under these circumstances, the therapist helps the person identify core feelings and thoughts that tend to result in negative perceptions of A leading to negative C (consequences). Once these beliefs are identified, rational emotive behavior therapy shifts to learning how to replace core beliefs that are not useful and that may be unrealistic with new beliefs that help to change the way people will respond whenever encountering A.

It’s easy to see the similarity between CBT and REBT. There are additional points of comparison worth noting. Both of these counseling techniques use homework, and both of them are less interested in a psychoanalytic approach to why the beliefs developed. They may not deeply delve into the distant past to promote change and are instead interested in the here-and-now and practical approach to changing behavior/beliefs and keeping that change in place. They tend not to work out by creating transference, and if anything, especially in rational emotive behavior therapy, the therapist may to a degree become lecturer and teacher to clients, helping them detach from types of B that are not of use to them.

Many people view therapy in the much more traditional models created by Freud or by humanists like Carl Rogers. Rational emotive behavior therapy is unlike these, but its success may be attested to, in part, by its longevity, with beginnings in the mid 20th century. It joins the ranks of the many different types of therapy that might address psychological issues, and individuals seeking a cognitive approach might want to search for REBT therapists locally.


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