Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
Updated: Sep 21
TL;DR: My approach to REBT, which isn’t how all associated therapists practice this method, involves challenging unhelpful beliefs that lead to undesired emotions, unpleasant bodily sensations, and unproductive behaviors. This sort of psychotherapy can be uncomfortable, isn’t appreciated by all people, and may lead to an improvement in overall functioning and quality of life for those who practice the technique.
What is REBT?
I often find that when potential clients contact me regarding an initial screening for services, they communicate differing perspectives relating to how they conceptualize the field of mental, emotional, behavioral, and social health—collectively, mental health.
Who’s to say from where their perceptions stem?
Did they watch a movie or web series, listen to an audiobook or podcast, hear of experiences from friends or family members, have prior mental health treatment, hear about a popular trend on social media, or receive information from some other source?
The short answer: Maybe.
Due to the possibility of differing treatment expectations, I find it useful to discuss with prospective clients my approach to mental health treatment. I inform people that I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), created by Albert Ellis.
“There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” – Albert Ellis
SMO narratives are often the elements with which we disturb ourselves. That’s correct; I said we tend to disturb ourselves. To demonstrate this occurrence, REBT uses the ABC Model which highlights the Epictetian notion, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
People frequently maintain that an action (A) leads to a consequence (C). Someone blocking an aisle in the grocery store (A) is said to lead to anger (C). However, REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection we disturb ourselves with beliefs (B)—B-C connection.
In this case, someone blocks an aisle with a grocery cart while paying no mind to you alerting them of your presence (A), you think, “This shouldn’t happen, and because it is, I’m being wronged [B],” and as a result of this unhelpful belief you disturb yourself to an angry disposition (C).
Our self-disturbing SMO narratives, when left undisputed, may lead us to conclude that demanding words (i.e., I ought to have…, they better…, etc.) function as a prescription to life rather than a description of an observation.
Disputing (D) the rigid notion (B) that one SMO not to inconvenience us could lead to a healthier outcome (E). It is worth noting that REBT as a system doesn’t claim to function as the be-all, end-all intervention for all diagnoses or situations.
In my sessions, I listen closely for expressed or implied demands, in the form of SMO narratives, as these terms often contribute to how people disturb themselves when requiring the world to conform to their expectations.
Though we tend to think our minds frequently use rational processes, this simply doesn’t seem to be the case. Rather, we often use illogical, irrational, and unhelpfully rigid and extreme demands.
Here’s an example of how illogical reasoning works:
· I should be perfect.
· I often make mistakes. How awful!
· This proves I’m imperfect and therefore worthless.
I assist clients by identifying rigid and extreme belief systems (also called cognitions)—similar to the example above—that often lead to emotional consequences (i.e., shame, guilt, sorrow, agitation, etc.) and behavioral reactions (e.g., punching a wall when upset).
Here are some examples of rigid beliefs:
· I must do well at work.
· Others must respect my views.
· Society must not cause me discomfort.
It isn’t uncommon to derive extreme cognitions from rigid expectations. Here are a few examples of these unhelpful combinations:
· I must do well at work, and it will be awful if I don’t.
· Others must respect my views, and it will devastate me if they don’t.
· Society must not cause me discomfort, and it’s terrible when I’m uncomfortable.
Using an REBT approach to psychotherapy addresses how thoughts and feelings interplay, and how they impact behavior. Stress or aggression management, relational functioning, and the processing of traumatic experiences are some examples of what this sort of therapy is designed to treat.
In my clinical practice, and with life coaching, I work with adult individuals. As well, it is worth noting that each REBT-trained clinician may practice this modality differently, as my style may not reflect that of other REBT practitioners or the Albert Ellis Institute as a whole.
In fact, much of the content I post within my blog may not be condoned by the Albert Ellis Institute, as I speak solely for myself in this regard.
More about the REBT method.
Examples of Stoic expression are statements such as:
· It is what is.
· Could be better, could be worse.
· That’s life.
· There’s no use in complaining, because it won’t change anything.
Sometimes, people mistakenly conflate existentialism with nihilism, relativism, fatalism, or absurdism. Existentialism, influencing REBT, emphasizes action, freedom, and decision as fundamental to human existence.
Examples of existentialist sentiment are expressions such as:
· Enjoy the journey if you can, because one day it will end.
· Nothing lasts forever.
· All things shall pass.
· There is no unitary meaning of life, other than that which is self-ascribed.
Using a Stoic and existentialist lens affords one the opportunity to reduce suffering. As well, my approach to REBT also incorporates elements of personal responsibility and accountability—collectively: Ownership.
Not quite the same as the concept of extreme ownership, because not all events that occur in our lifetimes are the fault of our own actions, ownership entails looking at what role we play and what effect we would prefer.
Perhaps thinking of this modality in a different way may help. As a child, I heard a saying that went something like, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
This was a Stoic approach to life. Somehow, through the passage of time and with changing attitudes, a number of people seem to have developed an alternative version to this principle.
Now, it’s something like, “Sticks and stones may break my bones and words will also hurt me, because they’re terrible, horrible, awful micro-aggressions, and I couldn’t stand it if they were to be used against me.”
When I hear the term, “I can’t stand […],” I think of the REBT concept of low frustration tolerance (LFT). Is it true that one couldn’t tolerate being offended?
If people choose a victimhood narrative, opt to shift blame, and denounce ownership of their circumstances, it could be easy for them to delude themselves into thinking their problems are the responsibility of others to resolve.
This is becoming an alarmingly common societal narrative. For most instances, I reject this framing.
Keeping in mind the B-C connection, I assist clients in disputing narratives with which they disturb themselves. Remember, it’s not what happens to you, though your belief about it with which you disturb yourself.
This makes my clinical sessions more active than some clients say they previously envisioned. All the same, clients are encouraged to challenge their LFT, dispute irrational attitudes, and question learned helplessness—often taught by trendy social narratives.
“Too many people are unaware that it is not outer events or circumstances that will create happiness; rather, it is our perception of events and of ourselves that will create, or uncreate, positive emotions.”– Albert Ellis
REBT is a directive clinical approach, meaning I do not simply sit quietly in sessions and provide minimal encouragers (i.e., uh huh, um hmm, etc.). Nor do I exhaust a client’s time by taking 45 minutes to focus on breathing.
I don’t waste valuable time by divvying blame to past, present, or potential future actors who are believed to have somehow wronged my clients. As well, I do not encourage self-disturbing narratives by telling my clients they are deserving of or entitled to the treatment from others which they demand.
For more information about my approach to REBT, I invite you to read my following blog posts:
Those blog entries will provide you with a general perception of my therapeutic style. Aside from how I conduct my sessions, I also negotiate homework so that clients may practice techniques they learn when working with me.
This can be a process that some clients report is uncomfortable. For those clients, I remind them that it isn’t the disputation that is discomforting; rather, it is likely that clients tell themselves they SMO not to have their unhelpful beliefs challenged.
My approach to REBT also involves persuasive techniques so that clients develop a buy-in for their preferred outcomes. This affords you an opportunity to tailor sessions according to your unique circumstances.
Additionally, I use a hypothesis technique, by which I don’t claim to have all the answers, yet collaboratively the client and I work towards achieving a higher level of functioning and improved quality of life for each person with whom I work.
Yes, this may mean I work myself out of a job.
It is important to state that use of REBT does not promise to “fix” or “cure” people. Who said you’re broken to begin with?
Is my approach to REBT practical for everyone?
As is the case with other therapeutic perspectives, REBT is not without its share of limitations and critiques. In its early development, REBT was said to be harsh, reductionist, formulaic, neglectful of deeper underlying issues, too rational, and without consideration of emotional impact.
Personally, I’ve heard how others view this therapeutic intervention as being fairly easy to grasp, though hard to employ, which serves as the most repetitive criticism I’ve encountered when using the modality. I do not promise ease to any of my clients.
I’ve also heard people state that REBT, “Makes sense rationally, though not emotionally,” “It’s impossible to rationalize yourself out of an emotive experience,” it could likely be interpreted as a form of victim-blaming, it takes more time to practice than other quick-solution models, and it allegedly minimizes past experiences.
Some of these accounts deserve assessment, depending on the expectations for treatment people maintain, and I address them in session. I welcome questioning.
In short, self-disturbance is what leads many of my clients to session, one may effectively use REBT to impact emotive and behavioral interplay, victim narratives may rely too heavily on SMO narratives, quicker isn’t synonymous with better, and while the past informs how we got the present, we live life moving forward from here.
It is important to understand that Ellis once stated, “I hope I am also not a devout REBTer, since I do not think it is an unmitigated cure for everyone and do accept its distinct limitations.”
Personally, I remain skeptical of modalities that profess to do too much, cure mental illness, claim they apply to all conditions/diagnoses, or declare that one modality is akin to all the others. Per the Dodo bird verdict, not all psychotherapeutic modalities produce equal outcomes.
There are hundreds of different models available for mental health treatment. For more information regarding some of the most commonly used forms, you may want to check out GoodTherapy’s collection or Mental Health Match’s glossary.
For videos related to different psychotherapeutic approaches, you may want to consider Theories of Counseling’s YouTube channel. For REBT videos by the Albert Ellis Institute, I invite you to view content on REBT Education and Training’s YouTube channel.
As well, it may be worth noting that I’m not the sort of therapist who focuses on “feeling your feelings” or “living your best life.” I don’t develop “personal truth,” overemphasize “lived experience,” or dwell solely on symptoms of mental illness rather than what may be done about them.
I’m not a clinician who disagrees with Hume’s Law, fosters self-deception and delusion, or one who focuses heavily on improving self-esteem. After all, the development of an overinflated sense of self-worth may not serve a client as well as one may hope.
Additionally, in my practice I do not prefer to use race-baiting, agenda-drivenvirtue signaling or moral grandstanding, hashtag movement promotion, or partisan sociological rhetoric. I work with clients on self-change, not activism geared towards changing the world.
I value the spheres of control, also termed spheres of influence, and I encourage clientele to consider—not necessarily adopt—that lasting change starts from within. As such, my clinical style may not be appreciated by those with social justice, radical feminist, intersectional, or socialist or communist-leaning social perspectives.
As well, I maintain no interest in advocacy for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility rhetoric—considering that these missions tend to violate the very SMO narratives I challenge. For more information, I encourage you to read the following: REBT discourse.
“Even injustice has its good points. It gives me the challenge of being as happy as I can in an unfair world.” – Albert Ellis
I have dedicated considerable effort to working with clients who have left the care of other practitioners, many of whom were said to have pushed these values on people. It is not my responsibility to indoctrinate my clients or serve as a sociopolitical ally for them.
Additionally, I’ve had clients who’ve opted to forego REBT treatment with me, because I didn’t advocate for social change. After all, I am an REBT psychotherapist who maintains that it isn’t the occurrence of events—though people’s judgments of these matters—by which they disturb themselves.
Additionally, while I respect elements related to spiritual, metaphysical, and supernatural origin, I don’t incorporate these methods into my practice. Moreover, I do not focus on infantilization, paternalism, or victim-perpetuation.
Since much of what I do involves pragmatism, many of the aforementioned ethereal concepts may derail client treatment outcomes. Still, it isn’t uncommon for me to encounter prospective clients who are opposed to the concepts associated with my particular approach to REBT.
This is understandable, and I don’t market myself as a one-stop shop for all prospective clients. I promote self-determination and autonomy, while also valuing the importance of social relationships, and I do not pretend as though my way is the way.
My clients are encouraged to push through the discomfort in order to grow, as the benefit of REBT is allowing an individual to ultimately develop a proverbial toolbox that affords one the ability to function autonomously.
For those people who prefer an approach different to that described herein, I encourage you to consider other options. As well, for those interested in critiques of REBT, I invite you to review proposed limitations of this method.
ABC Model in practice.
It may be useful to provide a specific example of how my approach to REBT is conducted. While the process listed herein is a somewhat oversimplified representation of how I conduct my sessions, it is my hope to leave the reader with some understanding as to what I mean when discussing self-disturbance.
The following example of the ABC Model is my main approach to psychotherapy.
A (Activating event) – You’re driving down the highway and another motorist suddenly cuts you off. You’re going with the flow of traffic, slightly faster than the posted speed limit, and it seems as though no other vehicles are treated to a similar action as you. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to you either.
I find it useful to determine the critical (A); that is the content of the Activating event clients consider most relevant to the unhelpful Consequences they report. As previously mentioned, there is no A-C connection here, so let us explore the A-B-C connection together.
For the sake of this example, let’s say that when others cut you off on roadways (A) you notice that these events leave you feeling angry (C). Is the (A) responsible for the (C)? No.
B (Beliefs) – You tell yourself something along the lines of, “Others should not drive erratically,” “I must not be put in danger,” or, “I ought to be safe when driving.” These SMO narratives may suffice for an administrative example.
Still, I’m not convinced that too many of the people with whom I work speak in such a reserved manner. In fact, I know my mental dialogue doesn’t communicate in this fashion.
In order to evoke an impactful Consequence, let us be honest with how we sometimes talk to ourselves. LFT is usually lurking somewhere within our self-disturbing beliefs.
This may involve use of rigid and extreme demands of ourselves, others, or the world in general. It isn’t uncommon for obscene langue to be used in our mental discourse, so let’s really color the Beliefs properly.
You may tell yourself something like, “Who the fuck does this asshole think he is? I’m going 60 in a 55 and shouldn’t be cut off, because I could’ve died just now! [B] That fucker almost caused me to wreck my car! I’m tired of this happening to me. You know what, I’m gonna’ catch that ass-munch and show him I’m not the one to fuck with! I’m gonna’ cut him off and see how he likes it!”
Not always is this monologue occurring in our minds, as many people yell these statements inside the vehicle. Who among us hasn’t?
C (Consequences) – With sufficiently punctuated Beliefs, you may experience a host of feelings. When I speak of feelings, I mean one of two things.
One, feelings as emotions (i.e., joy, fear, anger, sorrow, disgust, etc.). Two, feelings as bodily sensations (e.g., “I feel tightness in my chest.”).
Saying something like, “I feel like people don’t know how to drive,” isn’t necessarily accurate or helpful. Generally, if you can replace feel/feeling with thought/think, you’re likely not describing an emotion or body sensation (e.g., “I don’t think people know how to drive.”).
Saying something like I “shouldn’t be cut off, because I could’ve died just now [B],” when having been cut off on a roadway (A), I suspect you may feel scared, anxious, irritated, angry, or all of these emotions (C). You may also feel your heart pounding, legs going numb, head becoming hot, or shoulders tensing (C).
Also worth noting is that behavior, which some people refer to as actions, can serve as a Consequence, too. Let’s say fear (C) was the initial feeling you experienced, perhaps even without much forethought. After all, you were startled.
Following the thought about how you “shouldn’t be cut off [B],” your secondary emotion manifested as anger (C). This is a self-disturbed Consequence fueled by a maladaptive cognition.
Perhaps that anger (C) is the most significant emotion you experienced. Your heartrate is accelerating to the point where your chest begins to hurt (C). You then step on the accelerator and weave in and out of traffic to catch the person who cut you off (C).
This actually happens, as some people ruminate over more self-disturbing cognitions (B) regarding how they’ll teach other motorists a lesson. It’s called road rage (C)—anger plus behavior—and it’s all Consequence.
However, it isn’t that someone cut you off on a roadway (A) that led to you emotive, sensory, and behavioral experience (C). Remember your A-B-C’s.
Suddenly being startled (A) leads to telling yourself that your life is in danger due to someone having violated your SMO belief (B), and because of this unhelpful Belief you generate aggressive behavior (C) while disturbing yourself into a angry experience (C).
Goal – Once the A-B-C order of operations is established in session, I find if helpful to discuss what goals a client has regarding the presenting problem.
Let’s say that instead of feeling angry, enduring painful bodily sensations, and racing to do unto another motorist that which was done to you (C), you would rather be somewhat annoyed by the incident and not suffer other unhealthy Consequences.
It may be worth saying that it isn’t uncommon for some people to desire an unrealistic outcome, such as, “I want to feel totally blissful when someone cuts me off.” Let’s be honest, when have you ever experienced joy during such a situation?
While REBT is largely grounded in Stoicism, and to keep this example as straightforward and pragmatic as possible, I invite you to consider that mild annoyance may be preferable to disturbing yourself to aggression (C).
D (Disputation of beliefs) – Next, your Beliefs are challenged so that you may experience new Consequences, preferably those of a healthier or more helpful nature. While Disputing Beliefs may occupy more time in my sessions than any other element of the ABC Model, I won’t go too far into detail about the finer points of Disputation herein.
Still, I think it’s worth consideration of the following. I use inference chains, empirical disputes, the Socratic Method, role reversal, role play, and other techniques to assist clients with consideration of other perspectives and with challenging (D) rigidly held Beliefs.
Another significant element with which I assist clients relates to unconditional self-acceptance. As soon as we place rigid conditions on acceptance, we will disturb ourselves when we, others, or life violates our standards.
We accept ourselves as fallible human beings while challenging the many ways in which we disturb ourselves with maladaptive cognitions (B). After all, we are not our thoughts (B).
Additionally, REBT includes elements of existentialism. I discuss these matters with clients on a continual basis.
Suppose you understand that one day you will die, even if you practice safe and defensive driving skills. Maybe you even realize that with the limited time you have available, fulfilling purpose and meaning as an anecdote to suffering is worthwhile.
You no longer disturb yourself by pretending you’re the moral arbiter of the universe, educator on road safety, or enforcer of posted roadway laws. This knowledge could help frame your perspective (D) despite how others behave.
Suppose that after a back-and-forth dialectic (D), you arrive at a conclusion that better serves your goals.
You determine that while it’s true some people violate driving laws, or even your personal desire for driving etiquette, a society in which liberty and freedom exist is inherently dangerous, to a degree, and likely always has been for as long as you can recall.
Considering these things, you further conclude that taking proper precautions (i.e., slowing down to avoid accidents, not pursuing other motorists, etc.) better suits your goal than self-disturbance. You no longer endorse the unreasonable conclusion that you SMO not die.
Sure, it may be mildly annoying to contemplate how others don’t share your sentiment, and you can accept this all the same (D).
E (Effective new beliefs) – You tell yourself, “Immortality isn’t something I’m guaranteed, I’m taking proper precautions for my safety, I can’t control the behavior of others, and I choose to lead a meaningful life despite the suffering I may experience [E].”
Because of this Effective new Belief, you are only somewhat annoyed when other motorists behave in a manner you wish they wouldn’t, having met your goal. Additionally, you no longer experience unhelpful/unhealthy feelings (C) concerning the roadway, especially because you choose to employ a more helpful new Effective Belief.
When working with clients using my approach to REBT, my ultimate role is to:
1. Identify maladaptive beliefs (e.g., rigid demands).
2. Actively and persuasively challenge these maladaptive beliefs.
3. Provide practice to clients with challenge to maladaptive beliefs.
4. Negotiate homework which affords clients an ability to identify, evaluate, and challenge maladaptive beliefs, and to rehearse rational alternatives.
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” – Albert Ellis
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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