Rational emotive behavior therapy helps us listen to our inner compass and reduce challenging or irrational thoughts.

Psychologist and psychotherapist Albert Ellis developed rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) to treat mental health conditions when other treatments didn’t seem to be working.

His inspiration came from his passion for philosophy and quotes from philosophers like Epictetus, who said, “People are disturbed not by things but by their view of things.”

The Albert Ellis theory centers on the idea that “people disturb themselves by the rigid and extreme beliefs they hold about things.”

There may be something to the fact that we all view events and experiences in different ways. This interpretation can affect our emotions and behaviors.

Ellis developed REBT in the 1950s. The therapy says humans can act and think rationally. But when we think irrationally, those difficult or “negative” thoughts and feelings can get in our way.

Another way to look at it is by thinking about how it isn’t the event that directly causes emotions and behaviors, but it is one’s belief about the event that leads to our reactions.

So, when we experience failure or hardship, we react with either healthy or unhealthy emotions and behaviors.

Let’s look at an example of REBT.

The COVID-19 pandemic required many people to spend days quarantined. As a result, some viewed it as detrimental and began to experience signs of depression and anxiety. Others saw the time as an opportunity to spend more quality time with family.

REBT reduces the number of irrational thoughts and beliefs and increases rational thoughts and behaviors.

As a therapeutic intervention, REBT may help treat many conditions, including:

Recent evidence shows that REBT can also aid athletes’ mental health and performance.

Most athletes experience some anxiety about competing, but some share more severe symptoms.

For example, a football player can injure their knee multiple times, causing severe stress and anxiety. With REBT, a mental health therapist can help to change their perception of the injury from a personal failing to something less harmful.

Examples of less negative thoughts include:

  • It isn’t the end of the world.
  • The knee will recover in time.
  • I can return to playing football once I’ve healed.

When you seek REBT from medical professionals, they apply the ABCDE model to your treatment.

The “A” is an activating event that causes issues for you. The event can be:

  • positive or negative
  • a situation
  • a person
  • a traumatic event
  • an unexplained behavior

The “B” involves your beliefs (thoughts) about the activating event (A). “C” represents the consequences of your beliefs about the event.

Here’s an illustration of the first part of the model:

A student feels anxiety after failing an exam. They might think, “If I fail it this time, I’m sure I’ll fail next time.”

As the dread sets in, they become shaky, and their stomach turns. In the context of the ABCDE model:

  • The activating event (A) is seeing a failed grade.
  • The belief (B) is that they will fail again.
  • The consequence (C) is the physical symptoms they now feel.

In this example, the student’s irrational belief leads to uncomfortable consequences. REBT therapy aims to help the person look at the situation more rationally by teaching them to remain optimistic. This can help reduce unwanted physical symptoms.

Here’s the second part after the model’s A-B-C core.

Dispute (D) is when we question our beliefs. This might look like:

  • identifying the unreasonable or irrational belief
  • countering ineffective thoughts with more helpful, rational, or constructive thoughts

Effective behavior (E) is the final step, and therapy aims to achieve this step. At this stage, you have learned how to change your behaviors and can now resist future unhealthy beliefs.

REBT uses three main techniques:

  • problem-solving
  • cognitive (mental) restructuring
  • coping


You can address the “A” in the ABCDE model by developing effective problem-solving techniques.

When you approach problem-solving rationally, you take the following steps:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Think of alternate solutions.
  3. Make decisions.
  4. Implement a solution.
  5. Check that your solution is effective.

Mental restructuring

Cognitive restructuring allows you to change your irrational thought patterns by identifying them.

Then, when you experience a particular event that causes unhealthy behaviors and thoughts, your mind becomes trained to stop the irrational thoughts and replace them with more effective thinking.

We can change our perceptions and beliefs so they don’t lead to anxiety or depression.


Life comes with many challenges, and how we handle those challenges is how we cope.

For example, if you feel burned out at your job, you can make immediate changes to improve your circumstances by trying relaxation exercises or listening to music, among other things.

REBT isn’t the same as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but both therapies were developed by cognitive behavioral theorists. Both approaches assume that distress comes from cognitive distortions or faulty thought processes and that changing these thoughts will change your feelings and behaviors.

In both REBT and CBT, the therapist is active and directs the sessions, helping the client through education.

The main differences are the focus of the two therapies and the approach of the therapist:

  • CBT aims to change the person’s current behavior. It concentrates on negative behaviors and involves collaboration between the therapist and client.
  • REBT aims to change the person’s irrational thoughts. It aims to help clients think of situations more positively. In therapy sessions, the therapist confronts the client to spur change.

According to a 2017 meta-analysis looking at 50 years’ worth of data, REBT can be effective in helping to treat various mental health conditions, including:

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • social phobia
  • depression
  • symptoms of psychosis

If you’re ready to find a therapist near you, you have many options. Searching online for local providers is a good first step. You can also connect with mental health professionals outside your local area through online therapy.

Also, an insurance provider or general practitioner can tell you about physicians or therapists in your network.

Looking for mental health support but unsure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support Hub may help.

The definition of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) states that it’s not events that directly cause certain emotions or behaviors but our own beliefs about the events that lead to our behaviors.

REBT takes a more philosophical approach to mental health by aiming to change irrational thoughts and beliefs to more helpful ones.

The theory teaches us that it’s OK to seek the opinion of others, but it’s essential never to lose sight of what’s right for you. REBT wants you to have a greater self-direction in life and not think or feel how others or the world tells you.

With therapy and repeated practice, you can improve your sense of self-worth and face life’s challenges with a clearer mind and better mindset. This change leads to a happier life.