What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

Rational emotive behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy, but what exactly is it, and does it work? Get trusted information on REBT at HealthyPlace.

Rational emotive behavior therapy is a branch of psychotherapy based on healthy, rational beliefs and attitudes. It stems from the philosophy of Albert Ellis who formulated a theory and model of psychological health from stoic philosophy in the 1980s. Ellis believed that we can transform our desires into dogmatic demands, which can be detrimental to mental health.

According to rational emotive theory, when we transform our wishes into 'musts,' we become disturbed and develop neuroses. These neuroses may include anxiety, depression and anger issues. These emotional states are provoked by rigid thinking, which rational emotive behavior therapy works to change.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: What Does It Involve?

In rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), rigid thinking sabotages healthy communication and presents an obstacle to achievement.

As the theory goes, rigid beliefs trigger unhealthy emotional states and influence their thoughts and actions. By having an awareness of how to transform rigid thinking into wishes and desires, and by questioning the rigidity of our thoughts, we can improve our mental wellbeing and disrupt negative thought cycles.

Rational vs. irrational Beliefs

So what's the difference between a rational and an irrational belief according to rational emotive behavior theory?

Here's an example: a desire is to succeed in work or life is healthy. However, a viewpoint that if you fail in either of these areas, you are worthless as a human being is rigid thinking that can trigger depression and anxiety.

According to Ellis, there are three main areas of rigid thinking:

Demanding approval from others: this may include disapproval of others or feeling that you need to change to be granted their approval.

Having high expectations of others: other peoples' value is conditional to you – you only value them if they agree with your viewpoint or attitudes.

A need for life to become easy and comfortable: effort and discomfort become unbearable. You give up easily, procrastinate, and you can't cope with discomfort.

Musts: this is when people believe that they "must" be a certain way or they can't accept themselves. The same goes for others and the world around them.

Over-generalizing: the belief that something is "all bad" (i.e., "I always mess up my relationships. They never work out.")

Globalizing: believing that if one bad thing happens once, it will always happen (i.e., "My life will always be terrible")

In rational emotive behavior therapy, your therapist will help you to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy emotional states, as well as where your rigid thinking stems from. You will also learn to dismantle your beliefs about how you and other people "should" be so you can transform this into rational thinking.

REBT is an active form of therapy, whereby the therapist works to undermine rational beliefs and replace them with rational ones. Your therapist may also help you change your behaviors through homework assignments (i.e., confronting a fear).

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and the ABC Model

In rational emotive behavior therapy, thoughts and behaviors are continually interacting. Albert Ellis created the ABC model to describe how people are affected by their irrational thoughts:

A - Activating thought

B - Beliefs

C - Consequence

Ellis believed that a person's belief is what primarily informs their thoughts and behavior. He cited that if you are aware of your irrational beliefs, you can avoid the negative emotional consequence.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) Benefits, Goals and Techniques

Rational emotive behavior therapy uses rational science to undermine irrational beliefs. The goal of rational emotive behavior (REBT) techniques is to undermine and replace irrational, rigid thoughts and replace them with healthier, more flexible ways of thinking. One of the main benefits of REBT is that it can be incredibly empowering for patients.

REBT is based on the idea that our emotions don't control us; we are in control. This core belief can help make ideas more flexible and accepting, encouraging us to free ourselves from rigid, irrational thinking and live happier and more productive lives.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, September 26). What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 20 from

Last Updated: October 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info