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Updated on September 30, 2021

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

What is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a treatment approach that involves identifying and altering negative, irrational thoughts and feelings. The process focuses on a person’s thoughts and learning to see how thoughts based on irrational beliefs cause distress, which then leads to unhealthy behavior.

For many people, the challenge lies not only in changing how they think but recognizing their thoughts as harmful. People struggling with substance use disorder often don’t even realize their beliefs to be irrational. Once they identify what’s causing the problem within themselves, they are more easily able to change what needs to change.

Developed in 1955 by psychologist Albert Ellis, REBT asserts that a person’s psychological ailments occur because of our perspective, not because of any external events. REBT is intended to improve mental health by replacing harmful perspectives with healthy ones.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy deals with difficult emotions that can drive unhealthy behavior. This includes anger, anxiety, depression, and guilt. It also helps people control aggression, change unhealthy eating habits, and stop procrastination.

How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) Works

REBT therapy involves a therapist and a patient working together to identify beliefs and thought patterns that lead to unhealthy behavior. The therapist’s role is to help a person see that some thoughts are irrational and those thoughts shouldn’t be used to drive actions. Then, the patient and therapist can work on replacing irrational thoughts with healthier ones.

Some of the techniques used in REBT include:

  • Positive visualization
  • Reframing thoughts
  • Audio-visual guides
  • Self-help books

The irrational beliefs held by someone lead that person to suffer negative emotions and engage in self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much alcohol or misusing drugs. REBT operates on the premise that people are capable of challenging and changing those damaging beliefs as long as they are willing to work at it. 

And though specific events in life play a role in mental illness, a person can improve his or her mental health by changing the irrational belief system. REBT asserts that even when a person faces a difficult external situation, he or she can benefit from positive thinking. 

REBT is a multi-step process. This means that even if someone recognizes his or her irrational thinking but doesn’t work to change it, there will be no positive emotional, behavioral, or cognitive benefits. 

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The ABC Model

According to REBT, most people want to do well in life. However, their irrational thoughts and feelings sometimes interfere with this goal. The ABCs of REBT demonstrate this concept. They are as follows:

  • A: An (A)ctivating event or situation triggers a negative reaction or response
  • B: A person has (B)eliefs or irrational thoughts about that situation
  • C: (C)onsequences occur because of the distressing emotions connected to that irrational belief about the situation.

REBT allows someone to achieve better consequences by helping them identify their irrational beliefs and reframe how they think about their circumstances. And as a result, better consequences occur.

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Identifying Irrational Thoughts and Beliefs 

What are some of the most common irrational thoughts and beliefs addressed in REBT?

  • Catastrophizing — Imagining only the worst possible outcome in every situation
  • Minimization — Similar to catastrophizing, this occurs when someone minimizes their good qualities or refuses to see good (or bad) qualities in other people or situations
  • Grandiosity — Possessing an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Personalization — This is a type of grandiosity in which someone believes him or herself to be the center of the universe. Therefore, he or she believes it’s possible to cause events even if said event has nothing to do with them personally
  • Magical thinking — The belief that by doing some sort of ritual a person can avoid harm to themselves or others.
  • Leaps in logic — Creating seemingly logic-based statements, but leaving out obvious steps to arrive at that point.
  • “All or nothing” thinking — Being unable to see the middle ground in everyday life and instead of engaging in “black and white” thinking
  • Paranoia — Many of the previous items on this list can lead someone to feeling paranoid
  • Delusional thinking — Everything on this list is mildly delusional, but delusional thinking can be severe when there is no basis in reality

Keep in mind, everyone is irrational on occasion. It’s when irrational thinking severely interferes with a person’s life that it becomes a serious problem. This is the case when someone develops an alcohol or drug use disorder due to an irrational way of thinking.

According to REBT, the following insights can change irrational thinking:

  • A person’s belief system about a negative event is responsible for emotional distress
  • A person’s remains in distress because he or she continues to adhere to that belief system instead of working to change it
  • A person is only psychologically health when he or she works to change irrational beliefs

REBT asserts that psychologically healthy people can accept themselves, others, and the world. They know undesirable things will occur, but know they can tolerate these things by accepting them or working to change them. They’ll still experience negative emotions, but those negative emotions are healthy because they stem from rational beliefs. For example, a healthy person will experience the emotion of concern, but it won’t blossom into anxiety. Sadness remains sadness without becoming depression, and so on.

Who Benefits from REBT?

People with alcohol or drug use disorder can benefit from REBT. It is also effective for helping those with addiction who also have a co-occurring disorder. For example, REBT is effective for dealing with many different issues, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Phobias
  • Feelings of anger, guilt, or rage
  • Eating disorders
  • Aggression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Procrastination

How Effective is REBT?

REBT is an effective treatment program in general and for substance use disorders. At least one study showed that REBT helped participants reduce the number of prescription antidepressants they were taking. Participants also made fewer trips to the doctors.

Most therapists agree that theories about the effectiveness of REBT require more research, but that any risks associated with the treatment are low enough that it’s worth trying. It might not be right for everyone, but many people seeking treatment for substance use disorder will benefit.

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“Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy | Psychology Today.” Psychology Today, 2019,

“Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: Principles, Techniques, Efficacy.” Healthline,

“What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?” ThoughtCo,

Mcgregor, Sherrie, and Ph D. Last updated: 8 Oct 2018~ 3 min read. “Identifying Irrational Thoughts.” Psychcentral.Com, 17 May 2016,

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