Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of psychotherapy and a philosophy of living created by Albert Ellis in the 1950's. REBT (pronounced R.E.B.T. — it is not pronounced rebbit) is based on the premise that whenever we become upset, it is not the events taking place in our lives that upset us; it is the beliefs that we hold that cause us to become depressed, anxious, enraged, etc. The idea that our beliefs upset us was first articulated by Epictetus around 2,000 years ago: "Men are disturbed not by events, but by the views which they take of them." Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), was developed by Dr.Albert Ellis in 1955. It has since flourished and spawned a variety of other cognitive-behavior therapies. REBT's effectiveness, short-term nature, and low cost are major reasons for its popularity.
The Goal of Happiness
According to Albert Ellis and to REBT, the vast majority of us want to be happy. We want to be happy whether we are alone or with others; we want to get along with others—especially with one or two close friends; we want to be well informed and educated; we want a good job with good pay; and we want to enjoy our leisure time.
Of course life doesn't always allow us to have what we want; our goal of being happy is often thwarted by the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." When our goals are blocked, we can respond in ways that are healthy and helpful, or we can react in ways that are unhealthy and unhelpful.
The ABC Model
Albert Ellis and REBT posit that our reaction to having our goals blocked (or even the possibility of having them blocked) is determined by our beliefs. To illustrate this, Dr. Ellis developed a simple ABC format to teach people how their beliefs cause their emotional and behavioral responses:
If you had held a different belief, your emotional response would have been different:
The ABC model shows that A does not cause C. It is B that causes C. In the first example, it is not your employer's false accusation and threat that make you angry; it is your belief that she has no right to accuse you, and that she is a bitch. In the second example, it is not her accusation and threat that make you anxious; it is the belief that you must not lose your job, and that losing your job would be unbearable.
The Three Basic Musts
Although we all express ourselves differently, according to Albert Ellis and REBT, the beliefs that upset us are all variations of three common irrational beliefs. Each of the three common irrational beliefs contains a demand, either about ourselves, other people, or the world in general. These beliefs are known as "The Three Basic Musts."
The first belief often leads to anxiety, depression, shame, and guilt. The second belief often leads to rage, passive-aggression and acts of violence. The third belief often leads to self-pity and procrastination. It is the demanding nature of the beliefs that causes the problem. Less demanding, more flexible beliefs lead to healthy emotions and helpful behaviors
The goal of REBT is to help people change their irrational beliefs into rational beliefs. Changing beliefs is the real work of therapy and is achieved by the therapist disputing the client's irrational beliefs. For example, the therapist might ask, "Why must you win everyone's approval?" "Where is it written that other people must treat you fairly?" "Just because you want something, why must you have it?" Disputing is the D of the ABC model. When the client tries to answer the therapist's questions, s/he sees that there is no reason why s/he absolutely must have approval, fair treatment, or anything else that s/he wants.
Albert Ellis and REBT contend that although we all think irrationally from time to time, we can work at eliminating the tendency. It's unlikely that we can ever entirely eliminate the tendency to think irrationally, but we can reduce the frequency, the duration, and the intensity of our irrational beliefs by developing three insights:
Emotionally healthy human beings develop an acceptance of reality, even when reality is highly unfortunate and unpleasant. REBT therapists strive to help their clients develop three types of acceptance: (1) unconditional self-acceptance; (2) unconditional other-acceptance; and (3) unconditional life-acceptance. Each of these types of acceptance is based on three core beliefs:
Clinical experience and a growing supply of experimental evidence show that REBT is effective and efficient at reducing emotional pain. When Albert Ellis created REBT in the 1950's he met with much resistance from others in the mental health field. Today it is one of the most widely-practiced therapies throughout the world. In the early days of REBT, even Dr. Ellis did not clearly see that consistent use of its philosophical system would have such a profound effect on the field of psychotherapy or on the lives of the millions of people who have benefited from it.
REBT's comprehensive approach works best for individuals desiring a scientific, present-focused, and active treatment for coping with life's difficulties, rather than one which is mystical, historical, and largely passive.
REBT is based on a few simple principles having profound implications:
REBT distinguishes clearly between two very different types of difficulties: practical problems and emotional problems. Your flawed behavior, unfair treatment by others, and undesirable situations, represent practical problems. Regrettably, your human tendency is to upset yourself about these practical problems, thereby unnecessarily creating a second order of problems--emotional suffering. REBT addresses the latter by helping you:
Assuming that you take the above suggestions to heart and thereby greatly reduce your anxiety, hostility, depression, and addictions, what remains? Will you exist robot-like, devoid of human feeling and motivation? Hardly! Without your turmoil, you'll more easily experience love, involvement, and joy. And without your addictions, you'll be freer to engage in the gratifying experiences of spontaneity, commitment, and self-actualization.
As you can see, REBT will appeal to you if you relish quickly taking control of your own life, rather than remaining dependent upon a therapist for years. By giving you tools for identifying and overcoming the true source of your difficulties, it will prepare you to act in many ways as your own therapist. And by helping you to reinforce realistic, self-benefitting beliefs, it will enable you to eliminate present emotional and behavioral problems, and to avoid future ones.
Underlying Theory of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy
Rational emotive behaviour therapy (‘REBT’) views human beings as ‘responsibly hedonistic’ in the sense that they strive to remain alive and to achieve some degree of happiness. However, it also holds that humans are prone to adopting irrational beliefs and behaviours which stand in the way of their achieving their goals and purposes. Often, these irrational attitudes or philosophies take the form of extreme or dogmatic ‘musts’, ‘shoulds’, or ‘oughts’; they contrast with rational and flexible desires, wishes, preferences and wants. The presence of extreme philosophies can make all the difference between healthy negative emotions (such as sadness or regret or concern) and unhealthy negative emotions (such as depression or guilt or anxiety). For example, one person’s philosophy after experiencing a loss might take the form: “It is unfortunate that this loss has occurred, although there is no actual reason why it should not have occurred. It is sad that it has happened, but it is not awful, and I can continue to function.” Another’s might take the form: “This absolutely should not have happened, and it is horrific that it did. These circumstances are now intolerable, and I cannot continue to function.” The first person’s response is apt to lead to sadness, while the second person may be well on their way to depression. Most importantly of all, REBT maintains that individuals have it within their power to change their beliefs and philosophies profoundly, and thereby to change radically their state of psychological health.
REBT employs the ‘ABC framework’ — depicted in the figure below — to clarify the relationship between activating events (A); our beliefs about them (B); and the cognitive, emotional or behavioural consequences of our beliefs (C). The ABC model is also used in some renditions of cognitive therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, where it is also applied to clarify the role of mental activities or predispositions in mediating between experiences and emotional responses.