In 1953, Ellis saw psychoanalysis as ineffective and not very philosophical. He also almost completely rejected behavioral therapy. So between 1953 and 1955 he started to fill his therapeutic toolbox with philosophy and live desensitization. That’s how he ended up a true rational emotive behavior therapist.
At first rational emotive behavior therapy was very simple. That might be why it didn’t catch on until later. It’s a method of brief therapy to help people change inside, especially on an emotional level.
Rational emotive behavior therapy has already shown in some experiments that people can often (not always) significantly improve in a relatively short amount of time (between 10 and 20 sessions).
What exactly is rational emotive behavior therapy?
We all live in a specific envirnment, both a physical and social one. We also spend our days chasing after goals or acting with purposes, such as:
- Staying alive, active, and enjoying ourselves.
- Enjoying life, whether alone or with others.
- Maintaining intimate relationships with specific people.
- Finding meaning in our lives through education and experience.
- Creating and fulfilling goals that will show us our calling.
- Enjoying our leisure time.
The ABC model
But when you go after these things, you might run into a roadblock that holds you back and makes you feel stuck or like you’ve failed. Ellis gives these kinds of things the letter A.
When these things happen, you can turn the consequences into something healthy and useful. But you can also make them destructive or unhealthy. These consequences get the letter C.
So what’s up with the letter B? The letter B is there to give a name to people’s beliefs or thoughts. Ellis sees there being two kinds of beliefs: rational and irrational ones.
Rational and irrational beliefs
Rational beliefs (RB) help you confront unpleasant things (A). These are usually preferences, hopes, or desires. For example, “I hope this one awful thing doesn’t happen, but if it does then I can handle it and still be able to be happy.” Or it might be: “It’d be nice if Jon liked me, but if he doesn’t, I can still have a good life.”
Irrational beliefs (IB) contribute to feelings and actions that will sabotage your ability to confront any particular, unpleasant A. They’re usually rigid statements like these: “I should have, I would have, I have to, etc.
The three most basic rigid statements that create psychological problems are these:
- “I absolutely have to be successful in most of my actions and relationships. If I’m not, that means I’m useless and not good enough as a person.”
- “Everyone else absolutely has to treat me considerately, fairly, respectfully, and kindly. If they don’t, they’re not as good as they say they are. So they don’t deserve happiness in their lives.”
- “My living conditions absolutely have to be comfortable, pleasant, and valuable. If they’re not, things will be horrible. I won’t be able to take it and the world will be terrible.”
The 3 main assumptions of rational emotive behavior therapy
The 3 main assumptions (though there are more) or insights, as Ellis called them, put forth by rational emotive behavior therapy around the beginning of the 60’s are these:
- Assumption 1. Activating occurrences (A) that are seen as negative or unpleasant play an important role in the development of a neurotic outcome (C). But that doesn’t mean they’re the only causes of neuroticism. The main cause is probably B, the rigid, imposing beliefs people have about A. B is a major factor when it mixes with A to lead to C.
- Assumption 2. When people think, feel, or behave neurotically (with a defeatist attitude towards themselves and others) we can see that they’ve developed these irrational beliefs (IB) from unpleasant activating occurrences (A) as early as childhood. But there’s a chance that they won’t behave like that later on. When these symptoms appear in the present, they’re recreating, re-establishing, and re-training themselves with their irrational beliefs. That’s how their problems don’t go away and maybe even get worse. There’s no reason for their past thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to exist in the present. People are constantly, actively modifying and recreating their belief systems.
- Assumption 3. In general, it’s straightforward and easy for people to figure out which irrational beliefs (IB) go along with their neurotic behavior. They can almost always be fought and exchanged for more functional beliefs. To do that you need consistency and patience. It’s a question of effort and practice.
The impact of rational emotive behavior therapy
Within the wide field of cognitive-behavioral oriented psychotherapy, Ellis’s suggestions have been especially useful for anger, anxiety, frustration, social phobia, shyness, and sexual dysfuctions.
Rational emotive behavior therapy has influenced many other cognitive-behavioral therapies. Some of these are Maxie Clarence Maultsby, Jr.’s rational behavior therapy, Arnold A. Lazarus’s multimodal therapy, and Aaron T. Beck’s cognitive therapy.