Albert Ellis' REBT: Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Albert Ellis' REBT: Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Last update: 09 July, 2018

REBT stands for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, which was developed by Albert Ellis following the principles of cognitive psychology. Due to the inefficiency of behavioral therapy (based on stimulus-response) to improve certain psychological disorders, researchers began to use REBT and the results improved. Thus, REBT is an example of pioneering techniques that showed promising effects in disorders like anxiety and depression.

This therapy is based on the ABC model of cognitive psychology originally proposed by Albert Ellis. It proposes that triggering events (A) by themselves don’t provoke emotional, cognitive, or behavioral consequences (C). These will depend on how the event is perceived or interpreted (B). In short, A (events) provoke B (interpretations), and these provoke C (consequences/behaviors).

Albert Ellis

The psychological pillars of REBT

The final goal of REBT is to eliminate or modify C. At first glance, C could be altered by modifying the events (A) as well as the interpretations (B). However, obviously, many times the events cannot be changed. Hence, in this type of therapy, the psychologist focuses on trying to change the interpretations the patient makes. In turn, these interpretations lead him to behaviors we’re aiming to modify.

The origin of disorders

Albert Ellis found, after a lot of research, that everyone (or at least most of us) develops irrational thoughts that make reality appear extremely negative. He found over 200 thoughts or beliefs that promoted this negative view of the world, beliefs which lead to anxiety or depression disorders. Currently, we group these irrational beliefs into 4 types:

  • Demandingness: “If my boyfriend loved me, then he would have given me a present.”
  • Awfulizing: If I do badly on the interview tomorrow, it’ll be the end of my professional career. I’ll simply die!”
  • Low frustration tolerance (LFT): “I’m scared to go to the party because surely everyone will reject me. It’s too hard, and I can’t take it.”
  • Depreciation: “I burnt my lunch. I’m useless. I mess everything up.”

These types of beliefs are considered irrational because they’re false, illogical, extreme, or too demanding. Ellis affirms that they originate from absolutist beliefs based on “should” or “would” which abound in our inner dialogues.

The maintenance of disorders

The thought patterns mentioned above provoke negative emotional or behavioral consequences, but…what maintains them? According to REBT, there are three types of insight or ideas which help disorders remain over time:

  • Insight nº 1: The disturbance is determined by irrational interpretations which derive from negative events. However, if the individual believes that the emotional disorder is due to the event instead of its interpretation, they will unsuccessfully attempt to change the situation. The real problem is their irrational beliefs.
  • Insight nº2: If people continue to reaffirm their rigid and extremist beliefs, these thoughts will resist change. Therefore, the disorder will continue.
  • Insight nº3: A thought focused on the past will provoke a stagnation of events and of the individual’s irrational beliefs. Only by working on the present and the future will you manage to change your beliefs. And, with them, your discomfort.
A head with one puzzle piece missing.

Traits of REBT

To talk about Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, we need to look at it from two perspectives. The first is the therapeutic approach, which will refer to its strategies and methods. The second is the relationship that is developed with the patient, the way the therapist interacts with them.

The therapist’s attitude will have the following characteristics:

  • Active and directive: It’s important that the therapist adopt an active attitude and offer the patient alternatives to their irrational beliefs.
  • Verbally active: It’s essential that the dialogue be fluid and active on both sides since this therapy is based on discussion and debate.
  • Didactic: The therapist must behave like a good professor, teaching his pupil to generate a change in themselves.
  • Promote changes in the patient’s philosophy of life: It’s essential to promote change in the way the patient thinks, in their philosophy of life.
  • Don’t encourage catharsis: Although it may alleviate the discomfort at first, the intentional expression of emotions derived from certain beliefs can actually strengthen these beliefs.
  • Be flexible: Each patient is a snowflake, with their own unique way of thinking. If the therapist isn’t flexible and doesn’t know how to adapt, they won’t be able to generate change in their patients.

The therapist-patient relationship

On the other hand, the relationship between the patient and the therapist will be based on the following principles:

  • Unconditional acceptance: There shouldn’t be any judgment, positive or negative, towards the patient. The therapist should show their patients they’re accepted just like anybody else. That they are human, fallible, not useless, or worthless. No single behavior can define a human being.
  • Empathy: Understanding the patient’s thought process is an essential part of understanding the nature of their beliefs. Therapists should understand the philosophy of life of each patient in order to help them change.
  • Be genuine: The therapist must be open and accessible. They can even talk about their own personal lives when it seems appropriate in order to show the patient that we all go through setbacks and make mistakes. Personal experience doesn’t help much in offering solutions, but it does help to normalize certain emotions.
  • Having a sense of humor: This is one of the key aspects of REBT, since it’s a therapy based on restlessness and tranquility. The therapist must use humor to highlight aspects of the irrational beliefs. Of course, without disrespecting the patient. The therapist, in this sense, must keep in mind that each patient’s sensibility is different.
  • Informal therapeutic style: REBT works better in a relaxed environment, one very different from the usual formalities of therapy. The patient should see therapy as a friendly and fun chat, a time when they can talk about their concerns and beliefs in a relaxed manner.
A patient in therapy with his psychologist.

Ellis’ legacy…

REBT is an interesting and usually satisfactory therapy for patients. It helps them change their philosophy of life and assume a more protective style when facing problems which cause anxiety or depression. It also has great scientific evidence to support it. This therapy made Albert Ellis one of the most important figures in clinical psychology.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.