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  • Writer's pictureJaclyn Hall

The ABCs of REBT: Short-Term Counseling with Lasting Results

At Keys to Counseling in Tampa, FL, I specialize in a specific type of therapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Established by Dr. Albert Ellis in 1955, REBT is an active, directive, solution-focused, and goal-oriented approach to counseling and it is recognized as the pioneering form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

REBT is based on the ABC Model of Emotion: to summarize the basic principles of this model, most people generally believe that activating events or adversities within our life (A) are responsible for causing how we feel and how we act (C). REBT teaches us that our adversities or activating events (A) only contribute to and trigger our emotions and behaviors (C); rather, it is our beliefs (B) about adversities and/or activating events (A) within our lives that cause our emotional and behavioral consequences (C). 

To reiterate this concept, our B about A causes C:

  • A stands for activating events/adversities

  • B stands for beliefs about A

  • C stands for emotional and behavioral consequences 

Both individuals and couples mostly come to counseling to work on their A and C; therefore, they are generally seeking out what REBT clinicians refer to as practical solutions. Practical solutions essentially aim to resolve and change specific activating events and adversities (A). In REBT, we believe that it is most beneficial; however, to find emotional solutions (also known as elegant solutions). Emotional solutions aim to change our beliefs (B) about the adversities we are facing (A), which will ultimately result in changing our broader emotions and behaviors (C). As long as it is practically possible (i.e. not a matter of safety or time constraints) to work towards finding the emotional solution prior to the practical one, this is preferable in REBT-based counseling. Once we have discovered and implemented the emotional solution, then we can work towards finding a practical solution, IF a practical solution exists. When a practical solution does not exist, REBT's emphasis on emotional solutions help us to more effectively cope with that which we cannot control, as well as learn to channel our attention into where we can make a difference. 

When working with my clients, once they understand REBT's ABC Model of Emotion, and we have identified their A and C, we can begin to target their B, but more specifically their irrational beliefs. One of the reasons I favor REBT over other forms of CBT is that it uniquely emphasizes the role that irrational beliefs play in contributing to our emotional and behavioral dysfunction. 

As a counselor, whenever I identify irrational beliefs, I look for beliefs that sound like:

  • Demandingness

  • Awfulizing or Catastrophizing

  • Frustration Intolerance

  • Global Evaluations of Self-Worth

  • Global Evaluations of Others’-Worth and Life-Worth

Irrational beliefs are rigid and absolutistic, which makes them inconsistent with reality. Irrational beliefs impede our ability to reach our goals, and ultimately, they generate unhealthy negative emotions and unhelpful behaviors. By contrast, rational beliefs are flexible, logical, and consistent with reality. Rational beliefs help us to achieve our goals, as well as to better cope with our defeats. Despite profound adversity, thinking rationally leads to healthy emotions, as it helps us to accept what we cannot change, and to focus our energy on that which is within our power.

REBT helps us to recognize that another person, event, or circumstance (as awful as they may be) cannot in and of itself cause us to feel disturbingly upset. In other words, we are responsible for creating our own emotional and behavioral reactions to ourselves, others, and the world: it is entirely within our thoughts; and this is especially true in regard to our unhealthy negative emotions. 

Unhealthy Negative Emotions Are:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Guilt

  • Shame

  • Hurt

  • Clinical Anger or Rage

  • Problematic Jealousy

  • Problematic Envy 

Acknowledging the presence of unhealthy negative emotions does not mean that we will not experience negative emotions at all! On the contrary, REBT encourages us to experience functional and healthy negative emotions in response to unfortunate circumstances. 

Healthy Negative Emotions Are: 

  • Concern vs. Anxiety

  • Sadness vs. Depression

  • Remorse vs. Guilt 

  • Regret vs. Shame

  • Disappointment vs. Hurt

  • Annoyance, Frustration & Functional Anger vs. Rage & Clinical Anger

  • Healthy Jealousy vs. Problematic Jealousy

  • Healthy Envy vs. Problematic Envy

Let us return to the ABC Model of Emotion, where the final steps are disputations (D) and effective new beliefs (E). As a collaborative team, once my clients and I have identified their irrational beliefs (B), we can target them through multiple types of disputation strategies (D), and ultimately replace their irrational beliefs (B) with healthy and effective new beliefs (E). The goal of REBT is to encourage cognitive, emotive, and behavioral health and wellness by helping us to identify, challenge, and replace our irrational beliefs with rational alternatives, and subsequently to replace our unhealthy emotions and behaviors with healthier options. 

At Keys to Counseling in Tampa, Florida, my mission is to promote healthy living through rational thinking! I provide individual, couples, and marriage counseling, and I would be honored to cognitively, emotively, and behaviorally accompany you on your journey to living, loving, being, and staying better!


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