Tag: rational emotive behaviour therapy

What is Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy?

What is Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy or REBT?

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, also known simply as REBT, is a type of psychotherapy and a philosophy of living created by the well-known and renowned psychologist Albert Ellis in the 1950s.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy’s (REBT) roots are based on the concept that when we become upset, it is not the actual event taking place that upsets us, but rather the beliefs that we hold that cause us to become depressed, anxious, furious… and so on. In other words we are upsetting ourselves. Think of a recent example where you were upset or angry? What were you telling yourself about the situation? What were you ‘demanding’ of yourself…? Or someone else…?

The idea that our beliefs upset us was first articulated by Epictetus around 2,000 years ago when he said: “Men are disturbed not by events, but by the views which they take of them.”

The Goal of Happiness

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy

According to Albert Ellis (pictured left) and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), the vast majority of us want to be happy.

Who wouldn’t? We all want to be happy whether we are alone or with others. We want to get along with others — especially with one or two close friends. We want to be well-informed and educated. We want a good job with good pay. We want to enjoy our leisure time…

Unfortunately, as most of us know, life doesn’t always allow us to have what we want or go in the direction we would like.

And life is so often ‘not fair’. Our goal of being happy is often compromised by, as Hamlet states so well, the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’

However, when our goals are blocked we still have a choice: we can respond in ways that are healthy and helpful, or we can react in ways that are unhealthy and unhelpful.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a belief, or a thought, healthy or unhealthy…

The ABC Model in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

Albert Ellis and REBT suggest that our reaction to having our goals blocked (or even simply the possibility of having them blocked) is determined by our beliefs. To illustrate this, Dr. Ellis developed a simple ABC format to teach people how their beliefs cause their emotional and behavioural responses:

A. Something happens.
B. You have a belief about the situation.
C. You have an emotional reaction to the belief.

For example:

A. Your employer falsely accuses you of taking money from her purse and threatens to fire you.
B. You believe, “She has no right to accuse me. She’s a bitch!”
C. You feel angry.

If you had held a different belief, your emotional response would have been different:

A. Your employer falsely accuses you of taking money from her purse and threatens to fire you.
B. You believe, “I must not lose my job. That would be unbearable.”
C. You feel anxious.

The ABC model shows that A does not cause C. It is B that causes C. In the first example, it is not your employer’s false accusation and threat that make you angry; it is your belief that she has no right to accuse you, and that she is a bitch. In the second example, it is not her accusation and threat that make you anxious; it is the belief that you must not lose your job, and that losing your job would be unbearable.

The Three Basic Musts

Although we all express ourselves differently, according to Albert Ellis and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), the beliefs that upset us are all variations of three common irrational beliefs. Each of the three common irrational beliefs contains a demand, either about ourselves, other people, or the world in general. These beliefs are known as The Three Basic Musts.

  1. I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances or else I am no good.
  2. Other people must treat me considerately, fairly and kindly, and in exactly the way I want them to treat me. If they don’t, they are no good and they deserve to be condemned and punished.
  3. I must get what I want, when I want it; and I must not get what I don’t want. It’s terrible if I don’t get what I want, and I can’t stand it.

The first belief often leads to anxiety, depression, shame, and guilt. The second belief often leads to rage, passive-aggression and acts of violence. The third belief often leads to self-pity and procrastination. It is the demanding nature of the beliefs that causes the problem. Less demanding, more flexible beliefs lead to healthy emotions and helpful behaviors

Disputing

The goal of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) is to help people change their irrational beliefs into rational beliefs. Changing beliefs is the real work of therapy and is achieved by the therapist disputing the client’s irrational beliefs. For example, the therapist might ask, “Why must you win everyone’s approval?” “Where is it written that other people must treat you fairly?” “Just because you want something, why must you have it?” Disputing is the D of the ABC model. When the client tries to answer the therapist’s questions, s/he sees that there is no reason why s/he absolutely must have approval, fair treatment, or anything else that s/he wants.

Insight

Albert Ellis and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) contend that although we all think irrationally from time to time, we can work at eliminating the tendency. It’s unlikely that we can ever entirely eliminate the tendency to think irrationally, but we can reduce the frequency, the duration, and the intensity of our irrational beliefs by developing three insights:

  1. We don’t merely get upset but mainly upset ourselves by holding inflexible beliefs.
  2. No matter when and how we start upsetting ourselves, we continue to feel upset because we cling to our irrational beliefs.
  3. The only way to get better is to work hard at changing our beliefs. It takes practice, practice, practice…

Acceptance

Emotionally healthy human beings develop an acceptance of reality, even when reality is highly unfortunate and unpleasant. REBT helps you develop three types of acceptance: (1) unconditional self-acceptance; (2) unconditional other-acceptance; and (3) unconditional life-acceptance. Each of these types of acceptance is based on three core beliefs:

Unconditional self-acceptance:

  1. I am a fallible human being; I have my good points and my bad points.
  2. There is no reason why I must not have flaws.
  3. Despite my good points and my bad points, I am no more worthy and no less worthy than any other human being.

Unconditional other-acceptance:

  1. Other people will treat me unfairly from time to time.
  2. There is no reason why they must treat me fairly.
  3. The people who treat me unfairly are no more worthy and no less worthy than any other human being.

Unconditional life-acceptance:

  1. Life doesn’t always work out the way that I’d like it to.
  2. There is no reason why life must go the way I want it to
  3.  Life is not necessarily pleasant but it is never awful and it is nearly always bearable.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) Today

Clinical experience and a growing supply of experimental evidence show that REBT is effective and efficient at reducing emotional pain and is particularly effective for treating anxiety disorders. When Albert Ellis created Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) in the 1950s he met with much resistance from others in the mental health field. Today, it is one of the most widely-practiced therapies throughout the world. In the early days of REBT, even Dr. Ellis did not clearly see that consistent use of its philosophical system would have such a profound effect on the field of psychology or on the lives of the millions of people who have benefited from it.

Events Don’t Upset You — Your Beliefs Do

events and beliefs

We all like a bit of ancient wisdom. But how many of us have actually read any of the Classics? How ancient wisdom, the Stoics and Albert Ellis can help you

The funny thing is, we’re more likely to live happier lives if we visit the classics section of the book store than the self-help aisle. So, if we don’t read the classics, how can we learn what one group of brilliant dead blokes —The Stoics — had to say? Well, let’s have a go…

Events Don’t Upset You — Beliefs Do

So, you get dumped by someone you’re totally in love with. Feel sad? Yes. The world feels like it’s going to end. I think we’ve all been there… Let’s move on… Same scenario, but afterwards you find out that person was actually a psychopath who killed their last three partners. Feel sad you got dumped? No, you’re thrilled…

So, clearly getting dumped isn’t the important issue here. What’s changed? Actually, nothing other than your beliefs.

If you lose your job and you believe it was a lousy job anyway, and you also believe it won’t be hard for you to get a better job, you’re likely not going to be too bothered.

However, if you believe it was the greatest job ever and believe you’ll never get another one that good — you’re devastated. Emotions aren’t random. They follow from beliefs.

So, let’s move on to the Stoics. They believed there are no good or bad events, there’s only perception. Shakespeare put it well when he said: “Nothing is either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” What Shakespeare and the Stoics are saying is that the world around us is indifferent, it is objective. The Stoics are saying: “This happened to me,” is not the same as, “This happened to me and that’s bad.” They’re saying if you stop at the first bit, you will be much more resilient and much more able to make some good out of anything that happens to you.

Does this sound too simple? Well, yes, actually it is that simple. But this philosophy is what led renowned psychologist Albert Ellis to develop Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (or REBT) which was the first form of the more-widely known Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) pioneered by Aaron Beck and now well accepted as one of the most effective treatments for depression, anxiety and other disorders, including disordered eating.

Most Bad Feelings Are Caused by Irrational Beliefs

Next time you’re feeling negative emotions, don’t focus on the event that you think ’caused’ them. Ask yourself what belief you hold about that event. And then ask yourself if it’s rational:

  • “If my partner dumps me, I’ll never get over it.”
  • “If I lose my job, my life is over.”
  • “If I don’t finish reading this post, the writer will hate me forever.”

Only the third one is true. The other two are irrational. And that’s why you get anxious, angry or depressed.

Revise your beliefs and you can change your feelings: “Even if I lose my job, I can get another one. It’s happened before and I was fine.”

So, you’re revising your beliefs to overcome sadness and anger. Great. But what about when you’re unhappy because you’re worried about the future?

In the next article, Control What you Can and Ignore the Rest, we’ll look at the Serenity Prayer, the Buddhist angle and more about the Stoics…