Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), developed by Albert Ellis in 1955 and originally called rational therapy, laid the foundation for what is now known as cognitive behavioral therapy. REBT is built on the idea that how we feel is largely influenced by how we think. As is implied by the name, this form of therapy encourages the development of rational thinking to facilitate healthy emotional expression and behavior.

Reshaping Core Beliefs with REBT

“People are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.”Albert Ellis

Often, ways of thinking ingrained in our brains at an early age or resulting from painful or traumatic events continue to subconsciously influence our behaviors and perceptions into adulthood. REBT seeks to reshape these core beliefs in those experiencing a wide range of mental health conditions, thereby enabling them to live full, satisfying lives free from unnecessary psychological distress.

For example, say an individual feels continuously plagued by feelings of rejection. Rational emotive behavioral therapy might uncover that he or she harbors the following belief: “I am an outcast. Nobody likes me.” As a result, this person is likely to interpret a number of everyday occurrences in a negative light; a downcast expression seen on another’s face or a lack of positive feedback from a colleague becomes a direct reinforcement of that core inner concept. Naturally, this triggers a negative emotional response and increases the likelihood of depression, social anxiety, antisocial behavior, and/or low self-esteem, among other manifestations of the “nobody likes me” belief.

The ABCs of REBT

Based on the notion that we are typically unaware of our deeply imbedded irrational thoughts and how they affect us on a day-to-day basis, Ellis established three guiding principles of REBT. These are known as the ABCs: activating event, beliefs, and consequences.

  • Activating (or Adverse) Event. First, it is essential to identify the situation or event that triggers the negative emotional and/or behavioral response. In the case of the above example, the activating event is the downcast expression or lack of positive feedback from a colleague.
  • Beliefs. Second, the core beliefs that are attached to the emotional or behavioral response must be identified and examined. Again, using the above scenario, the core beliefs would be “I am an outcast. Nobody likes me.” A therapist employing REBT techniques would guide a person to explore where these beliefs originate and develop a plan for recognizing and replacing them with positive affirmations.
  • Consequences. The combination of the activating event and the core beliefs will produce a result or consequence, such as depression, social anxiety, antisocial behavior, or issues with self-esteem. Similarly, the deconstruction of these ingrained negative beliefs and integration of fresh, positive perceptions can drastically improve a person’s outlook and experience of life.

From Irrational to Rational: Practical Applications

Again, identifying the thought culprits is key to letting them go. Though the specific tasks used to alter irrational thought patterns vary from person to person, they often include a combination of journaling or some other form of introspective exploration, guided imagery, meditation, and/or emotional expression.

Understandably, rewiring years-old patterns of thinking is a work- and time-intensive process, so active participation and openness in the therapy process is essential to success. Along those lines, a practice of reciting daily mantras to continually replace negative beliefs is also encouraged. These mantras should reflect a shift in consciousness from negative, self-defeating views to ones that reflect rational acceptance of self, others, and the world.


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