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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Updated: Feb 22



*Originally posted on March 24, 2022, and updated on February 22, 2024

 

The main psychotherapeutic modality used by Hollings Therapy, LLC is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). The current handout is intended to augment one’s knowledgebase of REBT, fortify helpful belief in the model, and aid with practice of this clinical technique.

 

Conceptualize REBT as a tool and consider that the tools one uses less are useless (use + less). For more information regarding routine use of this method, you are encouraged to review Understanding, Belief, and Practice (Hollings, January 16, 2024).

 

Originated by psychologist Albert Ellis, Ph.D. and modified in accordance with emerging evidence-based practice standards (David et al., 2017), REBT is considered to be an effective form of psychotherapy for a number of mental illnesses and disorders (David et al., 2021).

 

In simplest terms, illness is acquired (e.g., major depressive disorder) and disorders are developed (e.g., borderline personality disorder). To better understand the distinction between mental illness and disorders, you are invited to review Personality Disorders (Hollings, November 22, 2023).

 

For the treatment and management of symptoms regarding mental illness and disorders, REBT essentially uses two main techniques. The first relates to the ABC model (Hollings, November 9, 2022) and the second concerns unconditional acceptance (Hollings, July 11, 2022).

 

ABC model

 

Activating event – What occurred

 

Belief about the event – What you told yourself about (A) that resulted in (C)

 

Consequence of one’s belief about the event – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (behavior)

 

Disputation of the self-disturbing belief about the event – How you might challenge (D) what you told yourself (B) and which led to (C)

 

Effective new belief to replace the self-disturbing belief – What effective new conclusion you can tell yourself rather than using unhelpful or unhealthy narratives (B)

 

People tend to think that when an Activating event (or “Action”) occurs, the situation is what leads to an unpleasant Consequence (e.g., fear, racing heartbeat, and avoidance). In physics, every action produces an equal and opposite reaction, so this makes sense.

 

However, there is a significant difference between the physical world and the psychological nature of human beings. Rather than an Action-Consequence (A-C) connection (Hollings, December 23, 2022), REBT makes use of personal responsibility and accountability in relation to objectionable events (Hollings, November 7, 2022).

 

Think of “responsibility” as task-oriented or what a person is to do. Think of “accountability” as what occurs when the responsible task is completed.

 

For instance, person X is responsible for getting out of bed when his alarm wakes him in the morning. If person X chooses to ignore the alarm, he is accountable for what happens when he neglects to show up for work on time.

 

Collectively, personal responsibility and accountability relate to one’s ownership of Consequences in relation to an Action. Therefore, REBT values a Belief-Consequences (B-C) connection for ABC model practice (Hollings, December 25, 2002).

 

Sticking with person X’s example, he ignored his alarm, missed breakfast, sped to work while cutting off other motorists, clocked in half an hour late, and his boss yelled at him. Each of these events can serve as their own Action.

 

Accordingly, it may be helpful to determine which single event is perceived as most bothersome when multiple Actions exist. This is known as the “critical Action” or “critical A” (Hollings, November 2, 2022). For the sake of this example, suppose person X perceives being yelled at as most troublesome.

 

Person X can clearly identify the critical A (i.e., being yelled at). Also, it isn’t difficult for him to identify feelings-based and behavioral Consequences (e.g., anger). Regarding “feelings,” there is an ordinary misconception about this term.

 

In common parlance, “feeling” relates to a belief, especially a vague or irrational one. However, this term has a very specific meaning in REBT. As such, an irrational belief—unreasonable acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists—is not a feeling (Hollings, May 18, 2023).

 

In REBT, a “feeling” relates to one of two things—either an emotion (i.e., joy, fear, anger, sorrow, disgust, surprise, etc.) or a bodily sensation (i.e., tightness in the chest, tingling hands, headache, upset stomach, etc.). As an example, person X can feel angry and as though his head will explode.

 

If “think” or “believe,” and any other derivative of mental faculties can be substituted for “feeling,” one is not expressing an actual feeling. For instance, saying, “I feel like you did that to upset me” may be appropriately restated thusly, “I believe you did that to upset me.”

 

Given this distinction, person X identifies the critical A and the Consequence, though there is no A-C connection at play in his scenario. Rather, when the Action occurs and person X unhelpfully assumes something about the event, it’s his Belief that causes a Consequence.

 

Suppose that when person X’s boss yelled at him, person X unproductively assumed, “No one should yell at me, because it’s awful being spoken down to! I don’t think I can stand this treatment and I hate every aspect about my life and this miserable job!”

 

Here, person X has unfavorably used all four of the major irrational beliefs identified in REBT:

 

·  Demandingness (Hollings, October 31, 2022) – Example: I must do well!

 

·  Awfulizing (Hollings, November 15, 2022) – Example: It would be awful if I didn’t do well!

 

·  Low frustration tolerance (Hollings, December 2, 2022) – Example: I couldn’t stand not to do well!

 

·  Global evaluations (Hollings, September 13, 2023) – Example: I’m a total failure if I can’t do well!

 

These are the elements with which person X self-disturbs (Hollings, November 1, 2022). This is because irrational beliefs of this sort serve as prescriptions for life (e.g., should, must, ought, etc.; Hollings, October 7, 2022) rather than descriptions of the world (i.e., what simply is; Hollings, October 5, 2022).

 

Ellis advocated use of humor, irreverent communication, and even profanity when working with clients. As such, he used terms such as “musterbating” (Hollings, May 24, 2023) and said that when clients used many should statements they were “shoulding” all over themselves, others, and the world (Hollings, May 12, 2023).

 

When person X’s boss yells at him (Action), person X then uses a series of self-disturbing prescriptive Beliefs, and as a result of his shouldy assumptions person X experiences anger, a throbbing head, and he punches a wall. If the ABC model were represented by an equation, it would look something like the following:

 

Action + Belief = Consequence ÷ Disputation = Effective new belief

 

or

 

A + B = C ÷ D = E

 

With the A, B, and C clearly indicated, person X can then use Disputation to uncover and challenge his unhelpful Belief (Hollings, n.d., blog category). To learn more about techniques for Disputation, you are invited to review Disturbing Democracy (Hollings, July 6, 2022).

 

Noteworthy, the process of Disputing is not aimed at arguing against the Activating event. Debating about whether or not something ought to have happened is pointless when the event already occurred.

 

In this way, REBT is in alignment with Enlightenment philosopher David Hume’s is-ought distinction (Hollings, December 14, 2022). Essentially, a problem arises when one makes claims about what ought to be which are based solely on statements about what merely is.

 

Likewise, Disputing is not focused on debating against the Consequence of an unproductive assumption. The Action simply is, just as the Consequence fundamentally is. These actual experiences aren’t up for challenge.

 

However, REBT aims to Dispute the unhelpful Belief that does not serve one’s interests and goals (Hollings, January 2, 2024). In this way, REBT is in alignment with teaching of Stoic philosopher Epictetus who stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

 

The main objective of the ABC model is to replace a self-disturbing Belief with an Effective new assumption. Although the process of challenge to one’s attitude may be discomforting, a more productive outcome may be achieved through use of this technique.

 

Consider that the purpose of the ABC model is not to create an illogical or unreasonable reaction to a displeasing event, such as joy when being yelled at (Hollings, January 8, 2023). To grant this proposition, examine the following syllogism (Hollings, October 17, 2023):

 

Form –

 

Major premise: If p, then q

 

Minor premise: p

 

Conclusion: Therefor, q

 

 

Example –

 

Major premise: If person X’s boss yells at him, person X should be joyous.

 

Minor premise: Person X’s boss yells at him.

 

Conclusion: Therefore, person X should be joyous.

 

Although the logic follows, it is based on a faulty assumption—that a person should be joyous as a reaction to a displeasing event. It is unreasonable to hold oneself to a standard based on a flawed premise such as this.

 

Consequently, a qualifying Effective new belief can aid an individual with transitioning from anger to frustration, sorrow to disappointment, or fear to annoyance. In this way, when person X’s boss yells at him, he can experience frustration rather than anger and learn from the event.

 

Worth noting, use of the scientific method is a key feature of REBT (Hollings, August 6, 2023):

 

 

When person X’s behavior is observed and brought to therapy, in-session inquiry serves as a form of topic research. Then, a hypothesis is formed. For instance, if person X is able to reduce self-disturbance in a session with use of an Effective new belief, can he replicate results out of session with use of similar methodology?

 

Testing the hypothesis occurs with negotiated homework, serving as a form of experimentation. When person X attends his next session, data from his findings are analyzed. Depending on the outcome of reported conclusions, person X can then use the ABC model to improve his level of functioning and quality of life.

 

According to one source, “REBT strives to help clients achieve a more flexible philosophy of oneself, others, and living conditions through the scientific examination of beliefs. REBT teaches individuals to become their own therapists through the active directive process of therapy” (DiGiuseppe, n.d.).

 

Becoming one’s own therapist is the ultimate goal of REBT practice (Hollings, October 15, 2023). Aside from use of the ABC model to achieve this result, there is another useful technique offered by REBT: unconditional acceptance.

 

Unconditional acceptance –

 

Self-challenge of inflexible attitudes is the main purpose of the ABC model. Still, there is a shortcut, of sorts, to reducing self-disturbance. This technique involves unconditional acceptance of oneself, others, and life in general.

 

·  Unconditional self-acceptance (USA) is being amenable to the fact of human fallibility (Hollings, March 1, 2023). You are not now, never have been, and never will be perfect.

 

Therefore, placing an extreme condition on oneself to be any other way is irrational. As an example, if person Y says to herself, “I will accept myself only if I don’t make any mistakes,” her stringent condition will lead to self-disturbance when she inevitably messes up.

 

·  Unconditional other-acceptance (UOA) is being open to the truth of human fault in others (Hollings, February 25, 2023). Just as you aren’t perfect, no one you know, have ever known, or will ever know is perfect.

 

Thus, use of an uncompromising condition with others is not reasonable. For instance, when person Y unhelpfully believes, “I will accept others only if they don’t make mistakes,” her unachievable condition will lead to self-disturbance when others eventually mess up.

 

·  Unconditional life-acceptance (ULA) is acknowledgement of reality concerning life—in all its wonder, both known and unknown—as it, too, is fallible (Hollings, March 11, 2023). Just as you and others aren’t perfect, life in this moment, yesterday, and tomorrow is imperfect.

 

 Accordingly, unwavering conditions placed on life is not a rational approach to living. For example, if person Y inflexibly maintains, “I will accept life only if I’m not inconvenienced,” her rigid condition will cause self-disturbance when she is unavoidably inconvenienced.

 

One helpful method of framing USA, UOA, and ULA is through consideration of a hybridized model related to author Stephen Covey’s concept regarding the circle of influence (Hollings, May 17, 2022):

 

 

The circle of control encapsulates an individual. Although this may seem surprising, each of us has limited control over ourselves. For instance, as you read this handout, your heart is circulating blood throughout your system and your conscious mind is not in control of this action.

 

Setting aside sub- and unconscious levels of functioning, you aren’t even in full control on a conscious level. This is evident in regards to thoughts. Consider what was expressed in 300 (Hollings, September 16, 2023):

 

Now, it may be worth stating that we aren’t necessarily in control of our thoughts. Don’t believe me? As you read this sentence, don’t think of a zebra. Now, what did you just think of?

 

In order to not think of a black and white striped horse-like animal, you first needed to think of what it was you weren’t supposed to think about. Ergo, you thought of a zebra.

 

If you don’t appreciate that thought exercise, try a separate one. Stop reading this post for five minutes. Remove as many distractions as you can and sit in silence, quieting your mind.

 

Think of complete nothingness—no images, sounds, suggestions, or otherwise. Presuming you actually attempted the second exercise and were unsuccessful at stopping the process of thinking altogether, I posit that you aren’t in full control of your thoughts.

 

It isn’t uncommon for unkind, unwelcome, or unpleasant thoughts to enter the mind. “You’re stupid,” you may think or, “No one likes you.” These are merely thoughts.

 

You can think these things without any emotional consequence—like deciding which toothpaste brand you prefer, which I’m guessing doesn’t stir your emotions—because thoughts cloud the mind all the time. It’s when we form beliefs based on thoughts that things become troublesome.

 

Conceptualize a thought as little more than a distraction or noise. It’s descriptive in nature. Now, consider a belief to be a command for how something ought to be. It’s prescriptive in nature.

 

In the circle of control, you have limited command over autonomic processes, thoughts, and other matters. Although you have some control over thoughts, you retain the ability to alter beliefs. Given this information, how much control could you possibly exert over another person?

 

This is where the circle of influence enters the picture. Short of illegally limiting the movement of another person at the threat of physical harm, and with a means to commit an act of violence, you have no actual control over other people.

 

Rather, you may have some influence regarding your friends, family, loved ones, coworkers, neighbors, and others. As these individuals do not maintain full control of themselves, they may be able to influence you in a similar way concerning your impact on them.

 

Then, there is the circle of concern. In this sphere, most people have no control and very little influence—if any at all. This is the realm of earthquakes, meteor strikes, global conflicts, the climate, death, the past, and so on and so forth.

 

USA acknowledges one’s own fallibility and operates within the circle of control. You imperfectly change what you can while otherwise tolerating and accepting your imperfection (Hollings, February 16, 2023).

 

UOA is recognition of the flaws inherent in other people while operating in the circle of influence. You flexibly influence when and where possible while disabusing yourself from the delusion of control (Hollings, January 7, 2024).

 

ULA concedes reality in relation to the imperfection of life and operates within the circle of concern. You disillusion yourself of the irrational belief that you have any meaningful control or influence over the cosmos while devoting your resources to the spheres of control and influence.

 

Of course, you are welcome to self-disturb about these matters, place unhelpful conditions on acceptance, and churn up all manner of unpleasant consequences with an unhealthy attitude. The choice is yours.

 

Unconditional acceptance is an alternative to methodically challenging inflexible beliefs. When used with rational compassion for oneself, others, and life (Hollings, October 22, 2022), the foregone conclusion of an effective new belief is something like, “I can tolerate and accept this.”

 

An REBT approach to rational living eschews temptation of succumbing to a victimhood way of living (Hollings, November 25, 2022). Regarding this matter, Ellis stated, “In rational psychotherapy, we accept mistakes and wrongdoings as unfortunate facts of life but never blame anyone for anything” (Krassner, 1960).

 

As such, USA, UOA, and ULA require personal ownership for how one responds to various situations. To live otherwise is an irrational form of existence.

 

Herein, REBT—the main psychotherapeutic modality used by Hollings Therapy, LLC—has been effectively illustrated. Still, it is worth noting that use of REBT can be adapted to meet a practitioner’s psychotherapeutic style or the needs of a client (Dryden & Neenan, pp. 30 & 31).

 

Aside from the ABC model and unconditional acceptance, existentialism may be incorporated into the practice of Stoicism offered by REBT (Hollings, May 28, 2022). Whereas the latter uses tolerance and acceptance, the former acknowledges the finiteness of life.

 

In simplest terms, existentialism is a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining one’s own development through acts of the will. In particular, use of existentialism delves into the matter of purpose and meaning (Hollings, June 23, 2022).

 

Much like the distinction between responsibility and accountability, think of “purpose” as task-oriented or what a person is to do. Think of “meaning” as value attributed to completion of a particular task.

 

Although one may not know the precise hour or method of one’s death, without question, each and every single one of us will die at some point (Hollings, September 22, 2023). Everyone you’ve ever known, currently know, and may ever know will experience death.

 

People can disturb themselves over this matter if they choose. Perhaps a healthier alternative to upsetting oneself about an inevitable end relates to the exploration of purpose from which one can acquire meaning.

 

Take for instance the example of person Z. He understands, believes in, and practices REBT which uses psychoeducation to teach people about what is (Hollings, January 1, 2024). Person Z comprehends that even though he doesn’t like this fact, even his children may die before he does.

 

There is no guarantee regarding the timeliness of one’s death. A “gone before his time” proposition is irrational, because there is no objectively predetermined point at which one may die.

 

Therefore, person Z uses ULA to keep from self-disturbing about the potential for his children to die. Instead, he takes a more adaptive approach to life by using existentialist techniques for raising his children well (purpose) and valuing the childrearing process (meaning).

 

In this way, person Z may not feel better about the fact that his beloved children will eventually perish. Nevertheless, he may get better through use of a flexible form of resiliency in the face of potential suffering (Hollings, October 12).

 

As is the case with other psychotherapeutic perspectives, REBT is not without its share of limitations and critiques. In its early development, REBT was criticized for being harsh, formulaic, and failing to address deep underlying problems (Scholarly Community Encyclopedia, 2022).

 

As well, some have proposed that REBT is ineffective at treating severe psychological illnesses and disorders, maintains that use of homework isn’t appreciated by some clientele, states that REBT techniques are perceived as degrading and forceful, and claims that people without a high tolerance for acceptability struggle with this method (Best Rehab Centres, n.d.).

 

For years, these claims have been disputed by REBT researchers (David et al., 2017) and practitioners (AEI, n.d.). Notwithstanding debatable criticisms, REBT is not a be-all, end-all psychotherapeutic modality for every person.

 

At any rate, one source adequately states of REBT practice, “Although some may agree that on the surface it appears simple, the application of REBT to real clients with a variety of clinical problems and emotional and behavioral disturbances is anything but easy” (Terjesen et al., 2023).

 

Therefore, the current handout is intended to augment one’s knowledgebase of REBT, fortify helpful belief in the model, and aid with practice of this clinical technique. Practice is the key component for success with this model and it isn’t an easy process.

 

In summary, when working with clients, the ultimate goal of Hollings Therapy, LLC is to:

 

1. Identify maladaptive beliefs (e.g., rigid demands).

 

2. Actively and persuasively challenge these maladaptive beliefs.

 

3. Provide an opportunity for practice of challenging maladaptive beliefs.

 

4. Negotiate homework so that people have the 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

 

For more information about how Hollings Therapy, LLC approaches praxis relating to REBT, the following blog category links may be useful:

 

·  Logical fallacies (Hollings, n.d., blog category)

 

·  REBT Therapist’s Pocket Companion (Hollings, n.d., blog category)

 

·  Tools (Hollings, n.d., blog category)

 

For more information about REBT from the Albert Ellis Institute, the following website link may be helpful for bibliotherapy:

 

 

For videos related to REBT, the following YouTube link may prove beneficial for those who prefer not to read though to watch content:

 

 

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—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, 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!

 

 

References:

 

AEI. (n.d.). Books. Albert Ellis Institute. Retrieved from https://albertellis.org/product-category/books/

AEI. (n.d.). REBT research with Daniel David, Ph.D. and Windy Dryden, Ph.D. Albert Ellis Institute. Retrieved from https://albertellis.org/2012/09/rebt-research-with-daniel-david-and-windy-dryden/

Best Rehab Centres. (n.d.). Rational emotive behavior therapy – Techniques, pros & cons. Retrieved from https://bestrehabcentres.com/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy/

David, D., Cotet, C., Matu, S., Mogoase, C., and Stefan, S. (2017, September 12). 50 years of rational‐emotive and cognitive‐behavioral therapy: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836900/

David, O. A., Cîmpean, A., Costescu, C., DiGiuseppe, R., Doyle, K., Hickey, M., and David, D. (2021, July 30). Effectiveness of outpatient rational emotive behavior therapy over one decade. The American Journal of Psychotherapy. Retrieved from https://psychotherapy.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.20200009

DiGiuseppe, R. (n.d.). Understanding rational emotive behavior therapy. Psychwire. Retrieved from https://psychwire.com/free-resources/q-and-a/83lt4s/understanding-rational-emotive-behavior-therapy

Dryden, W. and Neenan, M. (2003). The REBT Therapist’s Pocket Companion. Albert Ellis Institute. ISBN 0-917476-26-3. Library of Congress Control Number: 20031044378

Graver, M. (2021, June 15). Epictetus. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/ENTRIES/epictetus/

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