Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) was developed by Albert Ellis. Dr. Ellis who was originally trained in psychoanalysis. After completing his doctoral work he began treating patients in New York City. He became frustrated by the limited progress his psychotherapy patients were making in psychoanalysis.
He then decided to turn to one of his earliest interests, philosophy. He went back and read Stoic philosophy as well as eastern philosophy. He based a new system of psychotherapy on much of this work. The hypothesis that made the most sense to him was that our emotional pain is not the product exclusively of the situation, but also our thinking about the situation, ourselves, life, and the future.
From this view of human emotion, he developed the ABC model, which is used by many Cognitive Behavior Therapists (CBT) today. In REBT, “A” stands for activating events. These are the situations, real or imagined, that trigger, or activate, our beliefs. “Bs” are these beliefs, which can be rational (or helpful) or irrational (unhelpful). Over the years the kinds and number of irrational beliefs he identified changed. The most refined version of REBT beliefs includes four core irrational beliefs and four alternative rational beliefs.
Low frustration Tolerance (LFT)
Global Evaluations (Self-downing; SD)
High Frustration Tolerance (HFT)
Unconditional Self-acceptance (USA) or Unconditional Other/Life Acceptance
REBT posits that the combination of activating events (As) and beliefs (Bs) produce consequences or the “Cs.” The situation (A) is interpreted and evaluated (B), which results in an emotional consequence (C). For example, if a student receives a failing grade on her exam (A), and she believes this proves it, “I’m a failure (B).” She might then feel depressed (or depressed and anxious) (C). That particular consequence is an emotional consequence (Ce). When feeling that way, certain behaviors become more likely than others. When we are depressed, staying in bed may become more likely than going to the gym. These are behavioral consequences (Cb).
REBT therapists target behavior change largely by identifying the events, irrational beliefs, and then emotions that precede the behavior they want to change. The most common intervention is to dispute (D) the irrational beliefs, i.e., asking challenging questions to reduce the strength of the irrational belief. Then once the client no longer believes the irrational beliefs as strongly, an alternative rational belief can be selected to rehearse (E; effective new philosophy). Changing the core irrational beliefs results in what he calls the “Elegant Solution.”
In this case, an REBT therapist may help the client, through disputation, to recognize that even though she may have failed one exam, it does not logically follow that she becomes a failure. It may take a great deal of effort on the part of the therapist and even more on the part of the client to get there. The hope is, she will eventually let go of the belief that she is a failure, and can rehearse and practice behaviors to support the rational alternative. The rational alternative to the global evaluation/self-downing (“I”m a failure”) belief would be unconditional self-acceptance (USA). If she can accept herself unconditionally, regardless of what grades she receives, she can be more emotionally stable. Without the thinking that “I’m a failure” could be looming, the client can become less anxious she will become depressed again. Now if she fails at something, she can practice unconditional self-acceptance, and tell herself, “even though I fail at things, I do not become a failure– I do not become what I do.” This new attitude can inoculate her against self-defeating thoughts that “dog” her. And this new accepting attitude can reduce or prevent feelings of depression or anxiety that she may become depressed again. Without the anxiety she may be able to concentrate more when studying, hopefully decreasing the possibility of failing future exams.
REBT therefore aims to change beliefs in order to reduce not only future negative emotions, thereby making adaptive behaviors, e.g., effective studying, more likely, but also intends to reduce failures. Since intense negative emotions often lead to poor judgement, impulsive actions, or unhealthy coping, e.g., procrastination, drinking, overeating, etc… REBT aims to improve behaviors and life circumstances over time, by first changing thinking and feelings. So while it is a cognitive model of psychotherapy, it by no means ignores improving behaviors and life circumstances. REBT simply believes the closest target to emotion is cognition, and changing that link alters for the better the entire chain reaction, resulting in better behaviors and eventually improved life circumstances.
A synopsis of rational-emotive behavior therapy (REBT); Fundamental and applied research. David, Daniel; Szentagotai, Aurora; Eva, Kallay; Macavei, Bianca
Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Vol 23(3), 2005, 175-221.