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Updated on December 10, 2022
6 min read

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. The goal is to see how thoughts based on irrational beliefs cause distress, which then leads to unhealthy behavior.

For many people, the challenge lies in changing how they think. It also involves recognizing their thoughts as harmful.

People struggling with substance use disorder often don’t realize their beliefs to be irrational. Once they identify what’s causing the problem, they are able to change what needs to be changed.

REBT was developed in 1955 by psychologist Albert Ellis. It states that a person’s psychological ailments occur due to perspective. They're not because of any external events.

This form of therapy is intended to improve mental health. This is done by replacing harmful perspectives with healthy ones.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy deals with difficult emotions. These emotions can drive unhealthy behavior such as:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Guilt

It also helps people:

  • Control aggression
  • Change unhealthy eating habits
  • Stop procrastination

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How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) Works

REBT therapy involves a therapist and a patient. 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. The therapist explains that those thoughts shouldn’t be used to drive actions. Then, they both work on replacing irrational thoughts with healthier ones.

Some techniques used in REBT include:

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

Irrational beliefs lead a person to suffer negative emotions. They engage in self-destructive behavior. This includes drinking too much alcohol or misusing drugs.

REBT's premise is that people are capable of challenging and changing damaging beliefs. This is as long as they are willing to work at it.

Some specific events in life play a role in mental illness. A person can improve mental health by changing the irrational belief system.

REBT asserts that positive thinking is helpful in a difficult situation.

REBT is a multi-step process. Merely recognizing irrational thinking will not bring about benefits. A person has to work to change it.

The ABC Model

According to REBT, most people want to do well in life. But their irrational thoughts and feelings can 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. These are connected to that irrational belief about the situation.

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

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Identifying Irrational Thoughts and Beliefs 

Albert Ellis coined the "Three Major Musts." These are three common irrational beliefs that places a demand on:

  • The environment
  • Others
  • Ourselves

The Three Major Musts are:

  • "I must do well and win others' approval or else I am no good."
  • "Others must treat me fairly and kindly and in the same way I want them to treat me. If they do not treat me this way, they are not good people and deserve to be punished."
  • "I must always get what I want, when I want it. Likewise, I must never get what I don't want. If I don't get what I want, I'm miserable."

Most Common Irrational Thoughts and Beliefs Addressed in REBT?

Here are some of the most common irrational thoughts and beliefs that can benefit from REBT:


Imagining only the worst possible outcome in every situation


Similar to catastrophizing, this occurs when someone minimizes their good qualities or refuses to see good (or bad) qualities in other people or situations


Possessing an exaggerated sense of self-importance


This is a type of grandiosity in which someone believes themself to be the center of the universe.

Therefore, they believe it’s possible to cause events even if it 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


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 irrational 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 remains in distress because they continue to adhere to that belief system. They do not work to change it
  • A person is only psychologically health when they work to change irrational beliefs

REBT asserts that psychologically healthy people can accept themselves, others, and the world. They know undesirable things will occur. However, they know they can tolerate these things by accepting them or working to change them.

They’ll still experience negative emotions. 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 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.

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 the risks associated with the treatment are low enough that it’s worth trying.

REBT might not be right for everyone, but many people seeking treatment for substance use disorder will benefit.

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Updated on December 10, 2022

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