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 5 overarching concepts: the ABC Model of Emotion, unhealthy negative emotions versus healthy negative emotions, irrational beliefs versus rational beliefs, disputing, and unconditional acceptance.
The ABC Model of Emotion in REBT
The ABC Model of Emotion is comprised of 5 components:
A: Activating Event or Adversity that we are upset about (both terms can be utilized interchangeably)
B: Belief or Basic Attitude about the adversities within our lives (both terms can be utilized interchangeably)
C: Consequences (emotional and behavioral consequences of our beliefs/attitudes)
D: Disputing (critical questioning of our current beliefs/basic attitudes)
E: Effective New Philosophy/Belief/Attitude (all three words can be utilized interchangeably)
*F: Functional New Behavior (not a component of the traditional ABC Model, but an addition that I believe is helpful)
REBT says that people do not become emotionally and behaviorally disturbed as a direct consequence of activating events or adversities within our lives; rather, we become emotionally and behaviorally disturbed by the core beliefs and attitudes that we hold about activating events or adversities within our 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/attitude). Through successful disputing, we can then transform our irrational beliefs/attitudes into rational and effective new philosophies (this is the E). We can also establish functional new behaviors (F) to accompany our effective new philosophies. With both our cognitive transformations (E), as well as the helpful behavioral changes (F), we will likely experience a much healthier shift in our emotions.
Unhealthy vs. Healthy 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/functional worry, 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. It is also important to remember that, just as our emotions are a consequence of our beliefs and attitudes, so are our behaviors. For every unhealthy emotion, there is an unhelpful behavior to accompany it, and both are the result of distorted thinking and irrational beliefs/attitudes. Likewise, healthy emotions are generally linked to helpful and functional behaviors, both of which can be attributed to rational beliefs/attitudes.
Irrational vs. Rational Beliefs or Basic Attitudes in REBT
The 4 types of irrational beliefs or basic attitudes that people tend to hold are rooted in:
1. Demands (attitudes rooted in rigid and absolutistic musts, should, ought, need to, and have to)
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 oneself, others, and life in general can be globally rated and/or have their/its value entirely depreciated)
Irrational beliefs/attitudes 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 illogical, not factual, and unhelpful.
The 4 alternative rational beliefs/attitudes to the aforementioned irrational beliefs/attitudes are:
1. Non-Dogmatic Flexible Preferences (as opposed to rigid demands that treat desires as absolute needs)
2. Anti-Awfulizing & Anti-Catastrophizing Attitudes (the ability to acknowledge that conditions can be very bad, without being the end of the world - Even if something is extremely bad and/or truly "awful", awfulizing about it can make it much worse)
3. High Frustration & Discomfort Tolerance (the psychological fortitude to withstand circumstances in which you experience feeling frustrated and uncomfortable, so that you do not allow potential frustration and discomfort to dictate your life)
4. Unconditional Self, Other, and Life Acceptance (the ability to acknowledge the reality of the complex and fallible nature of humanity, as well as life itself, with its positive and negative attributes)
Once we identify our irrational beliefs or basic attitudes, the most effective way to transform them into a rational and effective new philosophy is to, firstly, dispute them, which will help us to confirm if they are indeed, irrational, as well as serve as motivation for learning to think more rationally moving forward. Disputing means to critically question our beliefs or basic attitudes. In other words we can view disputing as a way of challenging our current perspectives by asking ourselves questions that aid us in determining whether our beliefs and basic attitudes are either rational or irrational.
Remember, rational beliefs and attitudes are flexible, non-extreme, anti-awfulizing, highly tolerant of frustration and discomfort, and unconditionally accepting. They are rooted in logical reasoning, evidence-based, and both practically and emotionally beneficial for us to sustain. There are countless questions that we can ask ourselves in order to challenge our beliefs, and here are some of the most effective types of disputation that I utilize with my clients and with myself:
· For a logical dispute, ask: does my belief make sense or is it an overgeneralization/extreme way of thinking?
· For a factual dispute, ask: is there evidence to prove that my belief is true or factually correct?
· For an emotional dispute, ask: is my belief helping me to effectively cope with and accept what I cannot change or control?
· For a behavioral dispute, ask: is my belief helping me to behave in ways that move me closer towards the values and goals that are most important to me?
If the answer to each of these questions is, "no", then that indicates that the beliefs are irrational (inflexible, extreme, unhelpful, and inconsistent with our values). Therefore, we can now move in the direction of developing and sustaining new and effective rational beliefs!
Unconditional Acceptance in REBT
Acceptance is a trendy, yet significant term, that is commonly utilized in multiple approaches to counseling; however, I believe it is particularly beneficial to learn about acceptance in the context of 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!