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Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, REBT, is a short-term form of psychotherapy that helps you identify self-defeating thoughts and feelings, challenge the rationality of those feelings, and replace them with healthier, more productive beliefs. REBT, which evolved from the work of psychiatrist Albert Ellis in the mid-1950s, focuses mostly on the present time to help you understand how unhealthy thoughts and beliefs create emotional distress which, in turn, leads to unhealthy actions and behaviors that interfere with your life goals. Once identified and understood, negative thoughts and actions can be changed and replaced with more positive and productive behavior, allowing you to develop more successful personal and professional relationships.

When It's Used

REBT can help you with negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, guilt, and extreme or inappropriate anger. This approach is also used to help change stressful and self-defeating behaviors, such as aggression, unhealthy eating, and procrastination that get in the way of your quality of life and reaching your goals.

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What to Expect

To help you manage and overcome difficulties or achieve life goals, the therapist will work with you to identify the beliefs and rigid thought patterns that are holding you hostage. The therapist will help you see how irrational these thoughts are and how they harm you. Through a variety of mental exercises, you will then learn how to reduce your negative thoughts and behaviors, and replace them with healthier, more constructive, and self-accepting thoughts. REBT makes use of a variety of methods and tools, including positive visualization, reframing your thinking, and the use of self-help books and audio-visual guides, as well as assigned homework for reinforcement between sessions.

How It Works

REBT evolved from the original form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Albert Ellis believed that most people are not aware that many of their thoughts about themselves are irrational and negatively affect the way they behave in important relationships and situations. According to Ellis, these thoughts lead people to suffer negative emotions and engage in self-destructive behaviors. At the same time, humans are capable of challenging and changing their irrational beliefs, if they are willing to do the work. While specific life events may contribute to mental health difficulties, REBT therapists believe that it is an individual’s own faulty and irrational belief system that is at the root of most problems. By letting go of negative thoughts and replacing them with positive beliefs, one is better able to accept one’s self and others. In turn, they will live happier lives.

What to Look for in a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapist

Look for a licensed mental health professional with training in cognitive-behavioral and rational-emotive therapy. In addition to checking credentials, it is important to find a rational emotive behavior therapist with whom you feel comfortable working.

The Albert Ellis Institute.  
Albert Ellis “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.” Encyclopedia of Psychotherapy. Vol. 2. p. 483-487. 2002 Elsevier Science USA.  
Dryden, Windy. “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.” Encyclopedia of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Springer US 2005. 321-324.