REBT was developed in the 1950s by American psychologist Albert Ellis and was the first form of cognitive behaviour therapy. It is a practical and action-oriented approach for dealing with emotional, cognitive and behavioural problems and improving psychological wellbeing and personal growth.
What is Rational-Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT?
REBT is based on the theory of human nature: everyone has basic goals in life, such as to work, to learn, to love, to enjoy life, but we often experience adversities (e.g. rejection, failure, discomfort) that thwart our goals.
Psychological consequences follow these adversities – such as feelings, thoughts and behaviours. REBT believes that people respond to adversities in positive/negative ways that are classified as healthy / unhealthy.
So you can respond to an adversity in a positive (rarely) or negatively healthy way – which serves your best interests. Or you can respond in a negative unhealthy way – which won’t be in your best interests.
For example, imagine it was your birthday today and your goal is to enjoy your day. However, a loved one has forgotten all about it! (adversity). How might you feel? Feeling happy regardless is probably unlikely.
Maybe you might feel hurt and decide to sit and sulk for a while hoping that your loved one notices and realises their mistake! As you’re probably aware, people aren’t very good at reading each other’s minds so you might well be prolonging the agony.
This would be a negative and unhealthy response. A healthy negative response could involve feeling sorrow (a mixture of sadness and disappointment) about the fact your loved one forgot your birthday and deciding to tell them that they’ve forgotten, expressing your sorrow whilst being open to forgiveness and their apology. A slight blip but likely to be over quite soon and this reaction will help you on your way to your goal of enjoying the day.
In REBT sessions your therapist will help you to identify unhealthy emotional responses to adversity and to explore the thinking styles and beliefs that lead to this distress. Once these beliefs are identified, clients are shown how to challenge them in different ways, replacing them with alternative beliefs that lead to healthier emotional states. Ultimately the goal of REBT is to help clients develop a philosophy and approach to living that enhances their own health, happiness and personal welfare.
RBET has been proved to be effective in overcoming clinical depression
In sessions, your REBT therapist will ask you to identify a problem that you want to work on or change and help you set practical and emotional goals in relation to this problem.
REBT uses a simple ABC framework to understand the creation and maintenance of emotional distress:
A stands for adversity or activating event
B stands for beliefs
C stands for consequences - emotional, behavioural and cognitive
Your therapist will show you how to apply the framework to the problems and difficulties you bring to session, and help you to recognise the important role of your beliefs and how they shape the adversities you experience and the emotions you feel.
Your therapist will show you how to challenge your unhelpful beliefs and help you develop and adopt a new set of beliefs that lead to a more self-enhancing state of being.
The goal of REBT is not to eradicate all negative experiences and feelings, but rather to help clients build emotional resilience and psychological health to tackle adversities that are inherent in every day life.
The lessons I have learnt will stay with me for a life time – life just doesn’t feel so much of a struggle now.
What is REBT used to treat?
Rational emotive behaviour therapy has been used effectively in the treatment of:
Behavioural problems in children and adolescents, (Anger issues, Aggressive behaviour, Procrastination, Excess guilt, Self-sabotage, Social skills deficits, Impulsivity and impulse control disorders, Personality disorders)
Substance abuse and dependence, Porn addiction, Gambling addiction
Grief and loss
Marital problems, Relationship issues, Family conflict
Chronic or severe stress
Somatic complaints, Chronic pain, Coping with health issues (e.g. a psychiatric disorder, chronic physical illness or condition, physical disability)
Insomnia, Performance anxiety (e.g. public speaking, taking tests), Difficulties being assertive,
Managing major life transitions
Is REBT right for me?
The key indicators that REBT might be a good choice of therapy for you include:
You are looking to work short term: REBT is a relatively short-term treatment; most REBT clients require only 10 to 20 therapy sessions to accomplish their treatment goals.
You are interested in working in a goal orientated way: REBT is a very action-oriented type of treatment. You will be set homework assignments to allow you to practice what you’ve learned in between sessions, which helps reinforce what you’ve learned and REBT gives clients useful, practical tools in addition to insight into their problems.
Self-reliance is important to you: Not everyone starting therapy wants to build the deep relationships with their therapist that certain types of therapy rely on, for instance psychodynamic or humanistic. REBT encourages the individual to stay as self reliant as possible.
Why might REBT be the wrong therapy for me?
Before deciding to have REBT, it might be helpful to think about the following:
Is short term right for me? Although REBT is generally short term therapy, you can continue indefinitely but other therapeutic approaches lend themselves more readily to long term therapy.
Am I comfortable thinking about my thoughts and feelings? Like any therapy, REBT involves exploration of emotional distress and the beliefs that create and maintain this.This process can be uncomfortable .
Do I want to explore issues from the past on a deep level? REBT treats emotional distress in the present and is a very action-oriented type of therapy. Although current distress may be linked to past experiences, the focus of REBT remains on what you tell yourself in the present about those past experiences rather than on the events themselves.
How much time do I want to spend? REBT is an action-oriented therapy and your therapist will encourage you to be active both in and outside of sessions in order to benefit most. You may find this means you need to commit your own time to complete the work over the course of treatment, and afterwards.
REBT helps clients to understand and change problematic emotional, cognitive and behavioural responses to life’s adversities. Unhealthy negative emotion responses (along with their associated unhelpful ways of thinking and acting) are anxiety, unhealthy anger, shame, guilt, hurt, depression, unhealthy jealousy and unhealthy envy. Anyone who is experiencing these unhealthy and unhelpful negative states can benefit from REBT regardless of whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not.
Dr Clare Churchman is a BPS Chartered and HCPC registered Clinical Psychologist with over 10 years’ experience working with both children and adults in inpatient and community settings. Clare is trained in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy...
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