Updated on May 1, 2024
6 min read

What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

What is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of psychotherapy. The treatment approach involves identifying and altering negative, irrational thoughts and feelings.

The process focuses on a person’s thoughts. It aims to see how thoughts based on irrational beliefs cause distress, leading to unhealthy behavior.

REBT helps you deal with difficult emotions. These emotions can drive unhealthy behavior such as:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Guilt

In addition, REBT also helps you:

  • Control aggression
  • Change unhealthy eating habits
  • Stop procrastination

Who Benefits from REBT?

People with alcohol or drug use disorders can benefit from REBT. It’s also effective for helping those with addiction who have a co-occurring disorder. 

For example, REBT is effective for dealing with many issues, including:

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

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How Effective is REBT?

REBT is an effective treatment program in general and for substance use disorders. Researchers have analyzed the effectiveness of REBT, and most show positive results.

One study looked at the efficacy of REBT among elite youth cricketers. The cricketers received three one-to-one REBT counseling sessions regarding their performance anxiety. After the sessions, results showed a significant reduction in irrational beliefs and cognitive anxiety.4

Another research studied the effects of REBT among drug users. It said that:5

  • REBT can help people reduce future anxiety 
  • After rehab, REBT can help people reduce aggressive behavior when experiencing drug addiction
  • REBT helps people consciously reduce drug use 
  • REBT helps people change destructive lifestyles for the better 

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Pros & Cons

Here are some of the pros of REBT psychotherapy:

  • It’s easier to access present emotions rather than past ones. This makes it easier for people to engage with the approach and explore their feelings
  • Several studies have backed up the effectiveness of this psychotherapy approach
  • REBT teaches people how to manage their emotions independently. This makes the recovery process quicker
  • It doesn’t include spirituality, making it suitable for people with different types of beliefs

Here are some cons of REBT psychotherapy:

  • REBT can be harsh to some people. Challenging irrational thoughts can be difficult to work through
  • The approach implements a “therapist as the expert.” This may create more pressure during the treatment
  • REBT may be ineffective for severe psychological disorders where biochemical problems are the root of the disorder

How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) Works

REBT therapy involves a therapist and a person. They work together to identify beliefs and thought patterns that lead to unhealthy behavior.

The therapist’s role is to help a person identify irrational thoughts. They explain why those thoughts shouldn’t be used to drive actions. Then, both parties work on replacing irrational thoughts with rational beliefs.1


In REBT, you’re taught that events don’t directly cause emotions and behaviors. Instead, your beliefs about the situation shape your feelings.2

REBT theory can be summarized into seven basic principles:4

  1. Cognition determines human emotion and emotional disturbance. Events are emotional triggers but don't inherently make us feel good or bad. 
  2. Irrational belief processes majorly contribute to emotional and behavioral distress or disturbance.
  3. Analyzing thoughts is the best way to change emotional and behavioral distress or disturbance.
  4. Multiple factors shape our beliefs around irrational beliefs and psychopathology. These factors include one’s culture, past experiences, genetics, and more.
  5. Healthy negative emotions are crucial to the human experience. However, we must learn to separate healthy and unhealthy negative emotions.
  6. REBT emphasizes present influences rather than historical influences on belief.
  7. Changing beliefs isn’t easy and takes some trial and error. However, it’s possible with lots of practice.


Some techniques used in REBT are:

The ABC Model

The ABC model is a tool used to identify the beliefs and feelings that lead to destructive behavior.

  • A stands for activating event
  • B stands for beliefs or thoughts
  • C stands for consequences

People can use the ABC model to identify irrational beliefs and replace them with rational ones.

They can realize that outside events (A) don't cause their dysfunctional reactions (C). Instead, it's their irrational beliefs (B). This means they control how they respond to adversity because they can have autonomy over their beliefs.2


Disputation involves challenging irrational beliefs. This helps people identify and replace them with more realistic and helpful thoughts.

Different kinds of disputes include:3

  • Functional Disputes: Involve assessing whether the belief supports desired goals
  • Empirical Disputes: Questioning whether certain “facts” of an event are accurate
  • Logical Disputes: Questioning the logic of thinking processes
  • Philosophical Disputes: Asking if some pleasure can be derived from life despite dissatisfactions

Insights and Changed Behavior

REBT aims to help people identify and challenge irrational beliefs. By understanding their thoughts, feelings, and actions, clients can learn how to respond more healthily. 

Discussing insights and how they can change their behavior is essential in REBT. This helps clients integrate their new beliefs into their lives. It also allows them to set realistic goals for future behavior.

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REBT vs. CBT vs. DBT

REBT, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) have been popular forms of therapy for years now. While they can all help improve your thinking, they have their differences.

REBT focuses on how thoughts and belief systems cause negative disturbances. People are more focused on thinking about situations and events than on the present. REBT helps people change this habit. 

CBT is similar to REBT since it aims to identify negative thought patterns. However, this approach requires people to dig through their past. CBT focuses on unhealthy thought patterns fixed during childhood and identifies ways to change them.

DBT was initially created to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD). It aims to teach people how to live in the moment. This approach also leads them to be more in control of their emotions.  

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How to Find a Therapist

Finding a therapist can be challenging, but you can be successful with a few tips. Here are some ways to find a therapist:

Choose Your Therapy Type

Different therapists specialize in different kinds of therapy. Review therapist profiles to see whether their specialization fits your needs. This will make it easier to work with your chosen therapist.

Figure Out Your Budget

Therapy can be expensive. You should know how much you’re willing to spend on your sessions. Therapy sessions are available at different price points. Insurance can also help cover the costs.

Ask Friends and Family

You can ask friends and family members for therapist recommendations. Chances are that they know someone who can help you with your problem. These referrals and suggestions can also help narrow down your search.

Trial and Error

Sometimes, the first therapist you work with isn’t a good match. If this happens, don’t be afraid to find another therapist. It’s better to start over with a therapist that doesn’t match your goals and values.


REBT is a type of psychotherapy that can help people struggling with substance use disorder. It involves recognizing irrational thoughts and how they affect the present. 

With the right therapist, you can successfully work through your negative emotions.

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Updated on May 1, 2024
7 sources cited
Updated on May 1, 2024

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