Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
REBT (rational emotive behavior therapy) helps us to get more of what we want out of life, and less of what we don’t! Founded by Dr. Albert Ellis in 1955, REBT is accredited as being the pioneering form of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). REBT teaches us how our beliefs, emotions, and behaviors are all deeply intertwined, and why thinking rationally puts us in an empowered position to enjoy ourselves, in spite of the inevitable challenges that will arise throughout our lifetime. When I explain REBT to my clients, I focus on introducing them to 4 overarching concepts: the ABC Model of Emotion, unhealthy negative emotions versus healthy negative emotions, irrational beliefs, and acceptance.
The ABC Model of Emotion in REBT
The ABC Model of Emotion is comprised of 5 components:
A (Activating Event or Adversity)
B (Belief or Attitude)
C (Emotional & Behavioral Consequences)
E (Effective New Belief)
REBT says that people do not become emotionally and behaviorally disturbed about activating events or adversities in their lives; rather, they become emotionally and behaviorally disturbed by the core beliefs and attitudes that they hold about activating events or adversities within their lives. In other words, A does not cause C. B is responsible for causing C. This is known as the BC connection! Once we understand that B causes C, we can start D (which means we can begin disputing the irrational belief). Through successful disputing, we can then replace our irrational beliefs with effective new beliefs (this is the E).
Unhealthy Negative Emotions in REBT
Unhealthy negative emotions are anxiety, depression, hurt, anger/rage, problematic jealousy, problematic envy, shame, embarrassment, and guilt. Our goal is to help transform any unhealthy negative emotions into healthy emotions. Healthy emotions can still be negative and the healthy alternatives to all of the unhealthy negative emotions I mentioned above are concern, sadness, sorrow, disappointment, annoyance/frustration, non-problematic jealousy, non-problematic envy, remorse, and regret. The goal of REBT is to strive to experience strong healthy negative emotions regarding adverse challenges within our lives, as opposed to unhealthy negative emotions: this is the difference between feeling healthily distressed versus unhealthily disturbed.
Irrational Beliefs in REBT
The 4 irrational beliefs in REBT are:
1. Demands (attitudes rooted in rigid and absolutistic musts, shoulds, oughts, need to’s, and have to’s)
2. Awfulizing/Catastrophizing (thoughts that jump to the worst-case scenario and take-on an end of the world mindset)
3. Frustration/Discomfort Intolerance (stubborn beliefs regarding not being able to cope with or withstand something)
4. Global Evaluations of Self-Worth, Others’-Worth, & Life’s-Worth (an attitude that the worth of people, things, and the world in general can be globally rated and/or have their/its value entirely depreciated)
Irrational beliefs prevent us from fully functioning in our lives and our relationships, because they cause unhealthy negative emotions and unhelpful behaviors. Remember that the word irrational in this context does not mean stupid; rather, it is a way of thinking that is unproductive or unhelpful.
Acceptance in REBT
In REBT, to accept something is to:
1. Choose to acknowledge its existence
2. Choose to recognize the empirical reality that all the conditions are in place for it to exist
3. Choose to believe that though it is preferable for this reality not to exist, logically it is irrational to demand that it must not exist
4. Choose to practically change current circumstances and resolve specific challenges IF a realistic solution is possible; when a realistic or practical solution is NOT possible, choose to cognitively and constructively adapt, as well as emotionally and behaviorally adjust in order to effectively move forward in spite of adversities that cannot be changed
Acceptance in REBT does not equate to enjoying, liking, preferring, desiring, choosing, or feeling happy, neutral, and even emotionless about whatever it is that we are striving to accept; rather, acceptance encourages us to experience strong healthy negative feelings towards hardships and stressful emotionally activating events within our lives. Acceptance is also not about positive or negative thinking, rather it is about rational thinking: this means pragmatically evaluating the situation with a goal of finding a solution, and resolving the problem, if possible.
While we may not be able to change our present circumstances, we can change the way that we think about them in order to improve our emotional and behavioral well-being. Consciously separating our wants from our needs can make a tremendous difference in our perspective. It is healthy to have desires and preferences, but just because we really want something does not mean that we actually need it to survive, nor does it mean that we must have it, that others should give it to us, that life circumstances ought to be fair, and that comfortable conditions have to exist. In other words, just because we strongly desire for it not to rain does not mean that it must not rain and demanding or musturbating that it must not rain (something we do not have control over) will only further upset us. When we surrender our demands about the aspects of life that we strongly desire but do not physically need, cultivate a belief that even the most difficult adversities are not the literal end of the world, develop an attitude that we are capable of tolerating frustration and withstanding discomfort, and adopt the mentality that people and life in general cannot be globally rated in their entirety, we learn to accept and function within the reality of the circumstance, and we will begin living more rational, mindful, and peaceful lives.
At its core, REBT is a philosophy for living, and it can be so profoundly effective in teaching all of us how to identify, dispute, and replace our irrational beliefs with rational alternatives, which will help us to manage, alleviate, and conquer anxiety, depression, anger, low self-esteem, guilt, shame, stress, procrastination, and countless additional unhealthy emotions and behaviors!