How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Works
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, also known as REBT, is quite a self-explanatory term.
Having analyzed parts of its name, it can be concluded that it is a psychotherapy that leads you to analyze one’s feelings and thoughts (hence ‘emotive’ and ‘rational’) and how they influence their actions (hence ‘behavior’).
It should be clear that this therapy does not have the ultimate aim of solely analyzing the aforementioned items, but that the aim is to transform those destructive thoughts and feelings into beneficial ones.
There are negative feelings that all people experience, more or less often and more or less intensely.
These include (but are not limited to) anger, anxiety, guilt, depression, aggression, sleep problems, addictive behavior, phobias, etc.
Even though people sometimes deny, or are not aware, these inevitably affect the current mental state of a person, including their thoughts and behavior and some often need help when dealing with it.
Certainly, they are not always destructive to one’s mental health, and they will not cause huge problems right away.
It is important that a person recognize the moment when it gets hard to deal with these feelings and when they need help to deal with them without causing harm to their own self and the personal and business relationships they have with other people.
Some negative behaviors that may result from the above mentioned negative feelings are aggression, procrastination, unhealthy eating habits, or loss of appetite.
However, there are some tricks that we can use for dealing with all of these, and here are some good ones to help you with efficient time management.
All of the above mentioned may prove to be very powerful at hindering a person from establishing good relationships and achieving their life goals, be they personal or career-related.
So if you need some help in that field, you can always give a look at examples of someone else’s life goals, to get yourself inspired.
HISTORY OF RATIONAL EMOTIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY
Several decades ago, a young man by the name of Albert Ellis had a great fear of talking with women.
One day, he decided to start dealing with this problem by means of an experiment.
For one month, he went to a park and made himself to talk with 100 women.
As the number of these women approached the desired number, he noticed that he found it considerably easier to talk with them.
This experiment was the basis for his theory.
Albert Ellis, now a psychiatrist working with many patients, realized that the traditional psychological methods used at the time when he started working did get people aware of the problems they had, but did not enforce the necessary changes in behavior.
He hence concluded that it is not enough to simply become conscious of the issue.
By the 1950s, he had started working on various therapies in order to find the best solution for the problem that he noticed.
He was influenced by behavioral therapists and thus was leaning towards forming a special action-related approach that would fulfill the conditions which are not met by the traditional psychological methods.
He created Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy in the mid-1950s.
It was the original form of what is now the cognitive-behavioral therapy.
The basic idea that Ellis had was that the majority of people are not aware that a great number of their thoughts about themselves are actually irrational and have a bad influence on their behavior.
According to him, these thoughts affect one’s emotions and consequently, relationships and behavior in different situations.
“We teach people that they upset themselves. We can’t change the past, so we change how people are thinking, feeling and behaving today.” – Albert Ellis
One more difference between his approach and the traditional ones is the focus on the present.
He believed that though our past has an influence on our present, it is irrational to hold on to previous life experiences. He wanted his patients to let go of this grip.
To put it more simply, the majority of emotional and behavioral problems stem from the way one perceives their experiences, rather than from the experiences themselves.
Nevertheless, he also believed that people, provided that they are willing and compliant, are capable of understanding that the identified thoughts are potentially harmful.
He thought that they are able, with some effort, to change these negative and irrational thoughts into more positive and rational ones, thus changing their emotional responses and behavior.
REBT is designed to help one deal with these irrational thoughts.
They find recurring patterns and change them.
The final result is not supposed to be just a change in a few thought patterns or dealing with some situations.
One is expected to reach a new perspective on life and in this way to start functioning in a more healthy way.
THEORETICAL BASIS OF RATIONAL EMOTIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY
One theory that served as a basis for REBT is that humans are not completely rational beings. Computers take input, read it, and produce a logical output.
Unlike computers, people do not always use the sole logic in their processing.
The human internal processing is very complicated, influenced by many factors, many of which are not exclusively logical. Hence the infinite number of possible outputs.
Despite this huge irrationality, all people are equipped with, Ellis believed that a more rational approach to one’s problems may impact dysfunctional emotions and behaviors. Logically, the way to achieve this is to enforce more rationality in a person.
According to Ellis’ theory, many emotional and behavioral problems come from certain basic irrational assumptions.
They are not completely realistic and therefore the belief which stems from them is sterner than what is suitable for a healthy individual.
THE ABCDE MODEL
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”
– Albert Ellis
Ellis claimed that people believe that external events are the reasons for their unhappiness and that they are wrong.
If a person does not accomplish a goal or fulfill a desire, they form irrational beliefs about it to explain what happened.
According to him, the real reason for their dissatisfaction is these beliefs. He explained this phenomenon using the so-called ABCDE Model of Emotional Disturbance.
Let us take a look at an example. A student had an exam. He had attended the lectures regularly, done all the assigned homework, participated in projects, and studied hard.
However, he got a bad grade.
The rational way would be to accept that maybe he did not prepare for the exam as well as he had thought or that the construction noise from outside had hindered his concentration.
However, the feeling of disappointment would probably lead him to think that the professor did not like him or gave him a bad grade just because they are mean.
It is clear that these thoughts are irrational and that they do not allow the student to come to terms with the failure.
In the continuation, we will use this example to explain the ABCDE model.
- Activating Event / Adversity – something happens in a person’s environment and triggers an irrational thought. The thought is created as a help to deal with the unpleasant event. In our example, that event is getting a bad grade.
- (Irrational) Beliefs – The person holds some irrational beliefs regarding the situation in question. Their function is to help the person come to terms with what happened. They form very easily and are based on one’s emotions rather than logical reasoning. Even though they are irrational and wrong, they are a better comfort than having no idea why something happened. The beliefs from the example are that the professor does not like the student and that the professor is a mean person.
- (Emotional and Behavioral) Consequences – The person has a reaction to the situation. This reaction may be an emotional one, a behavioral one, or a combination of the two. In the above example, an emotional response would be the fall of self-confidence in the student. The behavioral response would be an angry complaint to the professor. A combination of the two may be ceasing to study for the other exams as the student does not feel capable enough to be successful in his studies.
- Disputes (Arguments) – At a certain moment, one may come to realize that the situation may not be exactly the way they see it. This realization may occur independently or with the help of a therapist, a friend, a member of the family, or even a stranger. The student may realize that it is not the end of the world to do badly in one exam. They may realize that he is not such a bad student after all. He passed other exams with flying colors. He helps his friends with the subjects they do not understand well. These are the disputes he needs to challenge the irrational beliefs he formed previously.
- Effect – Disputing the wrong beliefs inevitably has positive effects. When the destructive thought pattern is broken, the person has new and better paths open up for them. These positive effects include holding more positive and rational beliefs. This will affect how one handles similar future situations and how they deal with the one in question. The student from the example may study even harder for the rest of the exams or even decide to invalidate the grade and take the problematic exam again, attempting to do better.
THE THERAPEUTIC PROCESS
For a better understanding of the process of REBT, we will explain its basic steps and functioning.
Step 1: Identifying Irrational Thoughts and Beliefs
“There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” – Albert Ellis
The first thing one needs to do with the help of their therapist is to identify those thought patterns and beliefs that are potentially harmful to their mental state.
These are very often formulated as absolutes, starting with ‘I must’, ‘I must not’, or ‘I cannot’.
Thoughts that are absolute like this are quite harmful because they do not allow for any variation in performance – it is either acceptable or not.
This kind of thinking leads to negative emotions such as disillusionment, disappointment, a decline in self-esteem, regret, anxiety, etc.
Some of these beliefs are:
- That one must be 100% successful; otherwise, they consider to have failed.
- Upset when someone else makes a mistake or misbehaves.
- That one would be happier if they avoid difficulties and problems instead of dealing with them.
- Lack of control over one’s own happiness.
Such absolute beliefs, which are also focused on the negative, prevent a person from reacting in appropriate and psychologically adequate ways.
They are left feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied.
In addition, it is hard for them to accept that events and actions do not have to be perfect necessarily.
This impedes their overall life – both personal and business affairs.
Step 2: Challenging the Irrational Thoughts
After having identified the irrational thoughts and understanding that they are mistaken, one needs to challenge them, which is the next step toward changing them and not letting them interfere in the future.
The therapist, according to Ellis, needs to be direct and straightforward.
Challenging faulty beliefs should not be done gently and supportively, but honestly and bluntly.
This is the push one needs at this moment, and it will direct them to the right path.
Step 3: Changing
Accepting one’s beliefs as unhealthy, especially after they have been a part of one’s mindset for years and even decades is not as simple as it may sound. But a difficult step is yet to come.
The sole change, when its time comes, seems extremely hard to achieve, the path is full of hardships, feeling upset, maybe even thinking that it is impossible to succeed.
It is normal to feel upset when one makes a mistake, taking it too emotionally may prove to be very harmful.
The Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is designed to help one adjust their emotional reaction and to respond rationally to those situations.
When a mistake is made, the appropriate, psychologically healthy response would be to acknowledge that it would be perfect if the work had been done without the mistake, but that making mistakes is normal and if one has put enough effort, which is what actually matters.
Also, it is not realistic to expect the perfect performance and outcome of every single endeavor one does.
What one can do in a problematic situation is to handle it and learn from it.
“People are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” – Albert Ellis
Therapists use a wide variety of exercises and techniques which are grounded in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
Many of these can be used individually if a person is not seeing a therapist. We will explain a few exercises that the readers may try on their own.
1. Dysfunctional Thought Record
This exercise is used often in REBT and in many kinds of cognitive-behavioral therapies. It targets the root of problems – the irrational belief.
It is a thought journal where a person records their thoughts and tries to notice potentially harmful patterns (here is a useful form if you would like to try it out).
There are seven columns to fill in for each irrational thought.
- Date and time (and/or place) – the date, time, and the place of the problematic situation.
- Description of the situation – a short summary of the event.
- Automatic thoughts that arose – what one instinctively thought about it (the irrational thoughts).
- Associated emotions – what one instinctively felt.
- Cognitive distortions – why the latter two were wrong.
- Alternative thoughts – what one may have thought instead (the rational) thoughts.
- Outcome of the situation – what happened in the end.
This exercise makes understanding and identifying irrational thoughts easier.
While writing it, a person analyses the situation and is led to think about it more rationally.
If one is persistent enough, this can prove to be a very useful practice that helps a person become independent in dealing with a negative situation in a more healthy way.
2. Analysis of Consequences
People are sometimes more focused on the present situation and they often neglect to take into consideration the future results a decision or a reaction may provoke.
This exercise aims at completing one’s understanding of the problematic situation and its consequences, thus enabling proper reaction and conduct.
It manages the source of the problem directly instead of dealing with the symptoms and is thus quite efficient.
“By encouraging them to do clear-cut cost-benefit analyses in writing, and by their making themselves much more conscious of the harm they are wreaking, their changing becomes more likely. Of course, even when clients are fully conscious of the hazards of their dysfunction, they still may perversely resist giving it up. But awareness often increases the chances of their fighting against their resistance.” – Albert Ellis
This exercise is also in the form of a table to be filled. It consists of four main parts.
- Target – This part targets the salient issue. It should be filled with a short description of the problem and the most important values and goals a person has regarding the situation.
- Short-term consequences – This part is divided into two sub-sections: benefits and costs. They are filled by the short-term gains and harms of continuing the current behavior. Additionally, both sub-sections are to be evaluated numerically on the scale of 0 to 100.
- Long-term consequences – This has the same form and function as the previous one. The difference is that long-term results are evaluated.
- Best long-term solution – before writing anything here, the previous parts should be looked at and evaluated. One should weigh continuing the current behavior and making some changes and write the best solution for the situation in question.
3. Replacing Negative with Positive Thoughts
This is a very simple exercise. The name already suggests what is done there.
A person is challenged to replace negative, irrational, destructive thoughts and beliefs with more rational and functional ones that might help in reducing stress.
There are three parts of this form. The first one is a place to write a negative thought that occurred at a certain moment in relation to a certain situation.
The next space is for a new, more rational thought regarding the same situation.
The third place is a list with 10 spaces which are meant for evidence that challenge the old belief and support the new one.
The evidence may be something that someone told, a past experience, or any other thing that supports the new belief.
4. Problem Formulation
This exercise is designed for comparing the outcome of a situation which occurs after a usual response with the outcome of a situation which would occur after a more positive response.
The objective is that a person learns the difference between a healthy and unhealthy response and recognize the best way to act in a similar situation.
The form for this exercise has many parts divided into three main groups: the activating event, problematic response, target response.
The first part has 4 sub-sections, all designed to take information about different aspects of the activating event (the A part of the ABCDE model).
These 4 pieces of information are:
- Describe the situation.
- Isolate the critical factor (what it was about the event that affected you).
- Notice and accept bodily sensations.
- Invent a symbol/metaphor for the experience (one that explains how it felt).
The second part of the form is aimed at analyzing the problematic response which usually occurs in reaction to a salient situation.
They are the B and C parts of the ABCDE model. The three pieces of information written here are:
- Name the emotion.
- Thoughts and images (cognitive symptoms) – what was happening in one’s mind when the event happened.
- Actions and intentions (behavioral symptoms) – how one reacted or how they wanted to react.
The last part is the healthy, more appropriate response – the E part of the ABCDE model. Again, there are three sub-sections here:
- Name the desired emotion.
- Cognitive objectives – how one needs to think in order to feel the desired emotion.
- Behavioral objectives – what one needs to do in order to feel the desired emotion.
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy was created by psychologist Albert Ellis in the 1950s.
The main idea was that a person’s problematic behavior is closely connected with their irrational thoughts that originate in their subjective view of a salient situation.
By challenging these thoughts and changing the view of the situation, one is capable of reaching a higher level of understanding and eventually responding to a similar future situation in a more healthy and rational way.
REBT is used to treat a number of issues, such as anxiety, depression, phobias, guilt, and many more.
This theory uses the ABCDE model to explain the process of reaching a healthy response. An (A) adversity happens, and it triggers an irrational (B) belief which has emotional and behavioral (C) consequences.
The person is then confronted with (D) disputes which should lead to the new (E) effect of understanding the situation in a more rational way. This is the path of the desired change.
There is a number of exercises that one can do either with a therapist or on their own.
They are designed to lead the person to cognizance and switching to a rational response without causing psychological damage.
“Rational beliefs bring us closer to getting good results in the real world.” – Albert Ellis