What is Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy?

Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) is one of several therapeutic approaches related to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). However, as students who are pursuing a degree in which such therapies are used to assist patients and clients on a spectrum of diverse needs will discover, there are some key differences. This article explores the foundational concepts of REBT and offers insight into how therapists may use it in their practice.

Therapeutic Origins

While it is related to CBT, Albert Ellis independently developed rational emotive behavioral therapy in the 1950s as a response to the human expectation of happiness in life. Inspired by various philosophies drawn from classical Greek and Roman sources, as well those of Asian scholars, Ellis centered his practice more firmly on acceptance of situations and of the self, rather than behavioral changes. Because Ellis was trained in the Freudian school of psychotherapy, his philosophies also emphasized the measured exploration of the root causes and emotional or psychological underpinnings of behaviors.

The given stipulation of this type of therapy is that, in general, happiness is desirable in personal and professional spheres, whether an individual is in company or solitary. When this ultimate goal is thwarted by adverse circumstances, Ellis stipulated that an individual’s response could be productive and healthy or negative and harmful. The negative reactions become patterns and expectations, ideas that continue to shape perspective and ultimately to cause harm.

Core Principals

As Will Ross explains in his introduction to REBT on REBT Network, therapists who utilize the framework in their practice first identify the inflexible beliefs that are shaping their client’s outlook and ultimately feeding their negative feelings and behaviors. These three musts, as they are known, revolve around an unyielding belief that such conditions must occur: approval of others, fair treatment by others, and the retention of a specific desire or goal, without deviation or exception.

Therapists first challenge these unyielding, problematic concepts by questioning why they must exist. When the client attempts to answer these questions, the therapist can open a fruitful discussion about the nature of their inflexibility and clients will begin to see there is no reason why their desires or expectations must be gratified.

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By holding the belief, a client’s response to unsatisfactory events begins as negative. Unhappiness continues because the individual persists in connecting thoughts following the event to the original and unyielding belief. However, the core of REBT is that there is no magical cure that may be applied from outside the individual. The only way to remedy the problems caused by inflexible expectations such as depression, anxiety, socially awkward behaviors and fears, aggression, and even self-harm is to change the underlying expectations, which takes practice.

Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness

Once Ellis had identified the three musts, he also designed a path that therapists could help patients take away from their inflexible and tormenting attitudes. They are known as the three types of unconditional acceptance: self, other, and world.

Essentially, practitioners create a space in which their patients can absorb these ideas. They are allowed to be flawed, and it makes them no worthier or less worthy than any other human being. Others are also allowed to be flawed. The last form of acceptance is that life isn’t always fair or fun, but it is possible to live and move forward.

Related Resource: 30 Most Influential Cognitive Psychologists Alive Today

While even the staunchest proponents of the approach acknowledge that it isn’t possible to be rational and accepting 100 percent of the time, they emphasize that the reduction of irrational and inflexible beliefs helps everyone. Today, rational emotive behavioral therapy is used successfully to help treat psychological trauma, depression, anxiety, and a host of other issues that hold individuals back from attaining that most desired outcome of happiness.