Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy

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Applications of REBT
REBT has been successfully used to help people with a range of clinical and non-clinical problems, using a variety of modalities.

Clinical applications
Typical clinical applications include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobias, generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, etc.
  • Eating disorders, addictions, impulse control disorders
  • Anger management, antisocial behaviour, personality disorders
  • Sexual abuse recovery
  • Adjustment to chronic health problem, physical disability, or mental disorder
  • Pain management
  • General stress management
  • Child or adolescent behavior disorders
  • Relationship and family problems
  • Non-clinical applications
  • Personal growth – REBT theory contains detailed principles (for example, enlightened self-interest, self-acceptance, risk-taking) which can be used to help people develop and act on a more functional philosophy of life
  • Workplace effectiveness – a variation of REBT known as Rational Effectiveness Training which is increasingly being used in the workplace to aid worker and managerial effectiveness. This process helps in advancing emotional growth through the study and application of effective, short-term therapy providing long-term results.

REBT is an action- and results-oriented psychotherapy which teaches individuals how to identify their own self-defeating thoughts, beliefs and actions and replace them with more effective, life-enhancing ones. REBT, the first of the modern cognitive behavior therapies and a pioneering philosophy, was developed in 1955 by Albert Ellis, PhD.

In the mid-1950’s Dr. Albert Ellis, a clinical psychologist trained in psychoanalysis, became disillusioned with the slow progress of his clients. He observed that they tended to get better when they changed their ways of thinking about themselves, their problems, and the world. Ellis reasoned that therapy would progress faster if the focus was directly on the client’s beliefs, and thus was born the method now known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.

REBT was originally called ‘Rational Therapy’, soon changed to ‘Rational-Emotive Therapy’ and again in the early 1990’s to ‘Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy’. REBT is one of a number of ‘cognitive-behavioural’ therapies, which, although developed separately, have many similarities – such as Cognitive Therapy (CT), developed by Psychiatrist Aaron Beck in the 1960’s. REBT and CT together form the basis of the family of psychotherapies known as ‘Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy’. Over the past half-century, REBT has developed significantly, and continues to change.

Helping People Change
The steps involved in helping clients change can be broadly summarized as follows:

  • Help the client understand that emotions and behaviors are caused by beliefs and thinking. This may consist of a brief explanation followed by assignment of some reading.
  • Show how the relevant beliefs may be uncovered. The ABC format is invaluable here. Using an episode from the client’s own recent experience, the therapist notes the ‘C’, then the ‘A’. The client is asked to consider (at ‘B’): ‘What was I telling myself about ‘A’, to feel and behave the way I did at ‘C’? As the client develops understanding of the nature of irrational thinking, this process of ‘filling in the gap’ will become easier. Such education may be achieved by reading, direct explanation, and by self-analysis with the therapist’s help and as homework between sessions.
  • Teach the client how to dispute and change the irrational beliefs, replacing them with more rational alternatives. Again, education will aid this. The ABC format is extended to include ‘D’ (Disputing irrational beliefs), ‘E’ (the new Effect the client wishes to achieve, i.e. new ways of feeling and behaving), and ‘F’ (Further Action for the client to take).
  • Help the client get into action. Acting against irrational beliefs – for example, disputing the belief that disapproval is intolerable by deliberately doing something to attract it, then discovering that one survives – is an essential component of REBT. Its emphasis on both rethinking and action makes it a powerful tool for change. Such activities are usually referred to as ‘homework’.

REBT is not just a set of techniques – it is also a comprehensive theory of human behavior. REBT proposes a ‘biopsychosocial’ explanation of causation – i.e. that a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors are involved in the way humans feel and behave.

The most basic premise of REBT, which it shares with other cognitive-behavioral theories, is that almost all human emotions and behaviors are the result of what people think, assume or believe (about themselves, other people, and the world in general). It is what people believe about situations they face – not the situations themselves – that determines how they feel and behave.

The most common use of REBT is with individual clients, but this is followed closely by group work, for which REBT is eminently suited. REBT is also frequently used with couples, and there is a growing literature on REBT family therapy. A newer development is the use of REBT in non-clinical settings in the workplace, as described above. Suitable client groups REBT has been developed over the years for use with individuals, couples, and families; adults and children; people with mental health problems; people with physical illnesses, disabilities, and terminal illnesses; different cultural groups; and people of varying intellectual ability, including those with learning impairments.