Frequently Asked Questions About Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

A glass of wine after a long day is one good way to destress. There are scientific studies that can back up this claim. But even though wine can make you feel better, it is not an end-all-be-all solution. It may only provide temporary relief for stress and anxiety. If you constantly have irrational thoughts that you find hard to deal with, you may need to consider getting serious help, other than wine. 

Although humans are blessed with reason, we often think and act in highly irrational ways. These irrational thoughts – about ourselves, other people, or the world in general – have material consequences that prevent us from leading full and satisfying lives. 

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is a form of psychotherapy that seeks to change these irrational beliefs. Albert Ellis, who developed this therapy, said that things don’t disturb people, but it’s their view of things that does.  

The main premise of REBT is that the way we feel greatly influences the way we think. It is not enough to be aware of the problem. We have to identify and actively change the beliefs at the root of our distress. 


REBT, which became the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy, has a wide range of clinical applications. And it includes depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders. However, it is not limited to deep-seated psychological problems. 

Any individual who wants to process their emotions and change their behavior for the better can benefit from this therapy. Nearly everyone subscribes to an irrational belief. People usually think in absolutes, like “I should/must” or “I cannot.” 

For example, high-achievers tend to hold themselves to a rigid standard. When they fall short of that expectation or make a mistake, they may feel excessively upset. They then tend to engage in maladaptive behaviors. 

Everyday situations can act as triggers that bring these beliefs to the surface and cause emotional distress. It is essential to change these beliefs so that people can form emotionally healthy responses. In the high-achiever case, a therapist might use several cognitive techniques to help them realize that making mistakes is normal and encourage more rational ways of thinking.

If you want to learn more about how REBT can help you, read the most frequently asked questions below. 

What is rational emotive behavior therapy used for?

REBT is a form of psychotherapy that can be useful for individuals with affective mood disorders like depression and anxiety. It can also help those with addictive behaviors, eating disorders, phobias, sleep problems, and procrastination issues.

What are the three main beliefs of REBT?

Also known as the “three musts of irrational thinking,” these common beliefs result in negative emotions due to the expectations they impose on the person, other people, and the external environment. The first belief is, “I must do well.” The second is, “You/others must treat me well or do the right thing.” The third is, “Life should be easy.”

What is the rational-emotive approach?

The rational-emotive approach emphasizes that a person’s thoughts or beliefs influence how they feel and behave. The proponents argue that humans are far from rational and hold on to irrational beliefs or assumptions. By disputing these beliefs and forming more useful ones, it’s possible to change how a person views and responds to a situation.

What is the difference between REBT and CBT?

Although both REBT and cognitive behavioral therapy are based on the complex interplay between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior, there are critical differences between the two approaches. Unlike CBT, which classifies an irrational thought as a cognitive distortion, REBT examines the emotional disturbance’s root cause.

Once the underlying cause of these irrational beliefs has been identified, REBT recommends an unconditional acceptance of your mistakes and failings. Additionally, REBT acknowledges secondary disturbances or worrying about worrying, a factor that often contributes to depression and severe anxiety.

What are the ABCs of REBT?

REBT dissects a situation using its ABC framework, where the A stands for an activating event or scenario that triggers emotional distress. B refers to beliefs in response to the activating event. C stands for the emotional consequences of those thoughts or beliefs like anger, sorrow, shame, or guilt.

For instance, you have a high-stakes job interview tomorrow (activating event), and you believe that you might fail or embarrass yourself (belief). As a result, you will likely feel anxious or nervous (consequence).

What are the major principles of REBT?

Drawing on the ABC framework, REBT supposes that an irrational belief triggers negative emotions instead of the activating event. These beliefs are based on irrational expectations/demands of ourselves, other people, and the world. Once you can identify and challenge these beliefs, it’s possible to form ones that are more grounded in reality.

What are emotive techniques?

In an REBT session, your therapist may use several emotive techniques to help you identify and dispute irrational beliefs resulting in emotional distress. You may be asked to write these beliefs and dissect them, or your therapist may use humor/irony, guided imagery, or songs to help you form healthier habits.

Your therapist may also recommend meditation, relaxation, or hypnosis so you can manage negative emotions that arise from these thoughts.

Who can benefit from REBT therapy?

REBT can help patients with severe mental health issues, phobias, eating disorders, and addictions. However, it can also be useful for individuals seeking healthier ways to cope with negative emotions or respond to life’s setbacks.


What is disputing in REBT?

To dispute in REBT means to put an irrational belief under scrutiny and look for evidence that challenges that belief. For instance, the first major belief, “I must do well,” might cause you to set rigid and unrealistic standards about your performance at work.

To dispute this thought requires you to examine whether the belief is sensible by looking for supporting evidence. It might also help ask the worst and best outcomes that might happen if you maintain that belief.

What do REBT therapists call an unhelpful thought?

An unhelpful thought is one that results in unhealthy emotions and self-destructive behaviors. The “three major must’s” and their sub-beliefs form the basis of unhelpful thoughts. For instance, the belief that “Life should treat me well” begets the thought that we should not experience any hardship or difficulty.

When a person experiences the disparity between their beliefs and reality, it may result in emotional consequences of frustration, depression, and anxiety or self-sabotaging behaviors like substance abuse.

How long does Rebt last?

REBT is a short-term therapy that typically takes 10-20 sessions, with each session lasting around 30-50 minutes. Unlike some therapy approaches that require a deep and lasting relationship with the provider, REBT focuses on equipping individuals with the practical tools to tackle life’s problems and help them become self-reliant.

Although REBT can be highly effective, it’s not rare for clients to have a hard time during treatment. After all, it asks to identify and change deeply-held beliefs, including those you carried for a long time. These years-old thinking patterns are already grooved into your neural pathways. Although these beliefs may have served you at some point, it’s time to put them to rest if they are no longer useful.  


In some cases, a therapist may take a blunt and confrontational approach to push a client in the right direction. If you’ve been tending to a poisonous tree, it might require force to uproot it to plant something more nurturing as a replacement. They will dispute your irrational beliefs until you become open to alternatives. Through this, you can develop more rational ways of looking at the world.

In the high-achievers earlier case, a therapist may probe or even find fault in their absolutist belief. Since it’s impossible to be successful all the time, they may point out that holding themselves to such a punishing standard will only inflict more damage in the long run. 

Keep in mind that the results are not instant. Since REBT is a short-term therapy, you may have to continue the therapeutic practices long after the treatment is over. You can recite a daily mantra or keep a journal until change starts to set in. 

Ultimately, the goal of REBT is to shift your consciousness in small but meaningful ways. It aims to change from a self-defeating view to a more realistic perspective. In the end, you become more compassionate to yourself, others, and the world. A more rational way of thinking encourages healthy emotional expression and promotes productive behavior to meet your life goals. 

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