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REBT and Buddhism: A Comparison

The concepts REBT and Buddhism share—and where they differ.

Benjavisa Ruangvaree Art/Shutterstock
Source: Benjavisa Ruangvaree Art/Shutterstock

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) was formulated by psychologist Albert Ellis beginning in 1953. It involved a paradigm shift in therapy for helping emotionally troubled individuals. At that time the theory traced emotional disturbance back to childhood experiences. In contradistinction, Ellis popularized the insight now current, that our emotions come from our thinking about events, not from the events themselves, even those events experienced in our childhoods.

Buddhism is a widespread Asian religion, practice, and philosophy founded by Siddhartha Gautama in northeastern India in the 5th century BC.

Similarities and differences

What are the differences and similarities between REBT and Buddhism? The two share some similarities in their approaches to dealing with human emotions and mental health, but there are also fundamental differences.


  • Both REBT and Buddhism acknowledge the role of irrational thinking in creating emotional disturbance and suffering. REBT posits that it's not the events themselves but rather it's our absolutistic beliefs about these events that lead to maladaptive negative emotions, while Buddhism teaches that attachment and craving, fueled by distorted perceptions, lead to suffering.
  • Both REBT and Buddhism emphasize the importance of accepting reality as it is. REBT encourages clients to accept what they cannot change and focus on what they can change, and Buddhism teaches that suffering can be reduced by accepting the impermanent and ever-changing nature of reality.
  • Both REBT and Buddhism promote the development of self-awareness and mindfulness as a means of achieving emotional regulation and personal growth.


  • REBT is a form of therapy that focuses on identifying and questioning irrational beliefs that lead to emotional distress, while Buddhism is a spiritual and philosophical tradition that aims to liberate individuals from suffering and achieve enlightenment.
  • REBT is based on rationality and cognitive-behavioral principles, while Buddhism is based on non-duality and the conception of the non-self.
  • REBT is more concerned with the practical application of its principles in daily life, while Buddhism involves a broader set of ethical and spiritual practices.
  • REBT encourages clients to change their thinking and behavior, while Buddhism encourages individuals to develop insight into the nature of reality and cultivate compassion and wisdom.
  • REBT sees no data supporting the view there is life in any form after death. After you die, that's it. No pleasure, no pain, no spiritual self manifesting in or outside some body, whereas Buddhists believe after you die you're reborn, reincarnated, and a person's spirit remains close by and seeks out a new body and new life.
  • REBT views Buddhist meditation largely as a distraction technique that enables you to think of something other than the thing you're anxious or depressed about.

In summary, REBT and Buddhism, in addressing human emotions and mental health, share some common ground in their approaches but they differ in much of their underlying philosophy, aims, and methods of practice.

More from Michael R Edelstein Ph.D.
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