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An Overview of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

I’ve heard that REBT is only really useful with very intelligent people.

REBT can work very well with very bright people. Good brain power can help certain people analyze more quickly the ways in which their thinking is illogical when they are upset. However, just because you have the potential to quickly see the irrational qualities of your thinking, doesn’t mean you will use your potential to help yourself. Many very bright people are more motivated to argue the “rightness” of their beliefs than to consider they might be wrong. Over the years, REBT methods have been adopted for children as young as five or six years old, and even for the learning-impaired. Rational emotive behavior therapists are trained to tailor REBT to meet the wide variety of intellectual, cognitive-developmental and other personal characteristics of clients.

I’ve heard that REBT therapists do a lot of confronting. This doesn’t sound very empathic or supportive.

REBT practitioners are very concerned about establishing a helpful, supportive, and facilitative alliance with people. They realize that not all people come to therapy ready for action and change, and that some people—because of their personalities and problems—require a great deal of support and empathy before they are ready to change. At the same time, REBT practitioners tend to take an active role with their clients. They help provide people as quickly as possible with the tools to help them change their beliefs leading to disturbing emotions, thus freeing them to confront their everyday problems with all their resources.

By being so active, aren’t REBT therapists “controlling” the client?

REBT practitioners have excellent insight into the nature of problems in living and how to help clients free themselves from their emotional misery about them. They are conscious that many clients find it difficult to address the main problems in their lives and their own inner obstacles to happiness. Rational emotive behavior therapists work collaboratively with clients to clarify existing problems, and to identify important general problems to work on together. And yes, REBT practitioners are active in teaching clients new methods for changing their thinking, feelings and behavior. However, REBT does not control the client. Rather, it empowers people to manage their own emotional problems more effectively and to take control of their own behavior in order to try to obtain more of what they want in life.

Does REBT force its own beliefs about what’s rational on people?

REBT defines rational beliefs as those which help people live satisfying, healthy, and fulfilled lives. Over the years, Albert Ellis has identified a set of rational beliefs or values which abet a person’s happiness and survival. For example, rational self-acceptance—which involves people giving up the self-rating game—seems to help people significantly reduce anxiety and increase feelings of self-acceptance. High frustration tolerance, which encourages people to accept (not like) life’s hardships and other people’s imperfections, leads to greater perseverance, patience, and the ability to get along with others. REBT practitioners are careful, however, not to impose “rational” beliefs. REBT accepts that there are also other “non-rational” belief systems that can help people achieve happiness. REBT accepts the value system of the client and works within that framework to facilitate the client’s goals.

By emphasizing the individual’s beliefs and values and eliminating “should’s,” isn’t REBT incompatible with religious values?

REBT has discovered that when people impose rigid expectations on themselves, other people, and the world they are likely to experience unnecessary emotional distress. In REBT, these expectations are expressed as absolutistic “shoulds,” “oughts,” and “musts.” For example, “I should be successful in important things I do at work” can get you into emotional hot water when you make mistakes or fail. REBT affirms the value of achievement, but helps clients give up their demanding ness for total success at all times. REBT advocates instead a more preferential system of values: one which encourages people to work toward their professional goals, but never to condemn and damn themselves when they fail to achieve them. In a similar way, REBT is useful in helping people from diverse religious backgrounds to be more self-accepting, as well as more accepting of other people who may not share their particular values.

REBT makes sense, but I can’t seem to apply it to myself—I understand it “intellectually,” but not “emotionally.”

When you think about it, what REBT sets out to accomplish sounds pretty ambitious: its goal is no less than changing core irrational beliefs that you’ve spent your whole life rehearsing, living, and “feeling.” For many people, it takes some time before the emotional “gut” follows what their head already “knows.” Learning new ways of thinking and new beliefs can be compared to a horse-driven carriage which has had the same driver and horse for years. The horse knows where to go without having to be told by the driver. Once you change the driver (new ways of thinking), the horse still goes in the same direction (old emotions and behaviors), but the driver has to strain at the reins to produce a change in direction (new emotions and behaviors). The positive aspect of the strain you may experience in using REBT is that it shows you are learning new ways of feeling and behaving and that you are taking charge of your own direction in life.

Article courtesy of the Albert Ellis Institute.

An Overview of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Psych Central Staff

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APA Reference
Psych Central. (2020). An Overview of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
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