Same-day admissions available. Call Now.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Written by Megan Hull

& Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Editorial Policy

Last Updated - 08/06/2021

View our editorial policy
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling 888-648-0738 now.

Updated 08/06/2021

Key Takeaways

  • REBT describes the process of developing behaviors using the ABC model: Activating Event, Behaviors, Consequences
  • In REBT, a person’s beliefs about a triggering event are more important than the event itself
  • REBT aims to help people change their behaviors by challenging irrational beliefs
  • REBT is effective, but may not be ideal for some situations
  • Therapy involving REBT will be different lengths for different situations

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) can help people identify the underlying, irrational beliefs that drive addiction and other mental health conditions.

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is a type of therapy used to help people overcome irrational beliefs, change negative thoughts and develop healthier beliefs. REBT is used as a type of therapy to help those who struggle with addiction or mental health challenges.

What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

Those learning about different types of psychological therapies will often ask, “What is REBT?” REBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that focuses on helping patients identify and challenge irrational or illogical beliefs, with the understanding that changing someone’s irrational beliefs will ultimately lead to a change in their behaviors.

REBT was developed in the 1950s by a psychologist named Albert Ellis, who was frustrated with the psychological therapies that were available at the time. He found that the therapies used by psychologists at the time were good at helping patients identify the underlying causes of their problems, but did little to help patients change their actual behaviors.

From his own clinical work, Ellis began to believe that the actual underlying causes of a patient’s problems weren’t as important as his patient’s, but perceptions and beliefs about these causes. Ellis found that by learning more about his patients’ beliefs and challenging any that were irrational, he could help his patients make positive changes.

The ABC’s of REBT

The REBT ABC model was developed by Ellis to explain the process by which someone’s interpretation of events could result in an illogical belief that would lead to negative behaviors. The steps of the ABC model are:

  • Activating Event: An event occurs in someone’s life
  • Beliefs: They develop a belief or set of beliefs about the event or situation
  • Consequence: The belief elicits an emotional response

An example of this could be someone who is involved in a fatal car accident that was not their fault (activating event). They could develop the belief that they are careless and that this caused someone’s death (belief). This could lead to emotions of guilt that can put stress on relationships, lead to alcoholism and cause suicidal thoughts and depression (consequences).

In this example, REBT would not focus on logically understanding that the car accident that caused a death that was not their fault. Instead, therapy would focus on addressing the belief that the death was the person’s fault because they are careless. If the irrational belief can be fixed, it can help the person involved avoid the consequences and negative emotions that can result from the irrational belief.

REBT Steps

REBT involves some basic steps that will be an important part of the therapeutic process, including identifying irrational beliefs and thoughts patterns, challenging irrational beliefs and recognizing irrational beliefs and thought patterns.

Identifying Irrational Beliefs & Thought Patterns

The first step is to identify irrational beliefs and patterns of thinking that lead to negative outcomes. This part may be difficult initially, as the person who is undergoing REBT will probably not be used to seeing their irrational beliefs as such. Identifying beliefs can also be more difficult than identifying feelings or events, and multiple therapy sessions may be necessary for the therapist to understand a client’s underlying beliefs.

Challenging Irrational Beliefs

Once the irrational beliefs are identified in the assessment step of REBT, disputing irrational beliefs will be next. This process involves both introspective insights from the client and guided external input from the therapist. The goal is not to tell the person undergoing therapy that their beliefs are incorrect, but to help them figure out for themselves that their harmful beliefs are not rational or useful.

Recognizing Irrational Beliefs & Thought Patterns

Once underlying irrational beliefs have been challenged, therapy focuses on helping the person seeking therapy recognize irrational beliefs or thought patterns as they arise. While they may understand the illogical beliefs they had prior to therapy, it will be important for them to recognize patterns and irrational beliefs that may develop later. Otherwise, they would need REBT the next time that an activating event occurred.

REBT Techniques

Rational emotive behavior therapy techniques help clients challenge irrational beliefs and promote logical beliefs. REBT therapy techniques focus on each component of the ABC model but are primarily concerned with managing belief systems and patterns. Some REBT therapy techniques include:

  • Problem Solving Techniques: Reduce the severity and impact of an activating event by solving problems as they develop
  • Cognitive Restructuring Techniques: Help people change the way they think about and perceive activating events so that they will not develop irrational beliefs
  • Coping Techniques: Make it easier to deal with the negative feelings that can arise from irrational beliefs as clients learn how to identify and correct these beliefs

What to Expect

REBT therapy is fairly straightforward and does not involve any sophisticated equipment or medications. You will meet with the REBT therapist, typically in an office setting, and speak with them for the duration of your session. Initially, there may be many questions about your background so the therapist can understand your beliefs and what situations caused them. Most of the REBT sessions will probably involve the therapist listening and encouraging you to follow certain lines of conversation. Expect to talk a great deal, and try to be as open as possible; this will increase the effectiveness of REBT treatment.

We are here when you are ready.

Speak with a Recovery Advocate today to talk about your treatment options.

Goals of REBT Therapy for Addiction Recovery

The goals of rational emotive behavior therapy are to understand, identify and challenge irrational beliefs to improve well-being and avoid developing additional irrational beliefs in the future.

While the main therapeutic goal of REBT is to change addictive and maladaptive behaviors, there are multiple smaller goals of REBT therapy that will be necessary to achieve before behaviors will start to change. By effectively reducing irrational beliefs, addictive behaviors driven by these beliefs will eventually change.

Benefits of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

REBT treatment has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression and other psychological conditions. Some of the other conditions that REBT has been helpful in treating include:

  • Anxiety
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Phobias
  • Uncontrolled feelings of anger, guilt or rage
  • Procrastination
  • Eating disorders
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Sleep problems

REBT has even been used for those without a psychiatric complaint who simply wish to improve their psychological well-being. While REBT has been shown to be helpful in the long-term treatment of many psychological problems or disorders, results may vary.

How Long Does Therapy Last?

REBT is designed to have a problem-focused approach. As such, the length of therapy will depend on the type of problem, how long it takes to treat it and how well the person seeking therapy responds to REBT. Therapy sessions are typically half-an-hour to an hour long and may last for several weeks.

Limitations of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Like any other type of therapy, there are limitations to REBT. REBT is not designed to replace medications for those who have a chemical imbalance that leads to addiction or psychological illness. While REBT may be a great addition to medications, there are situations where medications will be more helpful than REBT. REBT is also less likely to be effective with someone who is not sober, as a clear mind helps the therapy be more effective.

REBT will only be as effective as the work the person seeking therapy puts into it. Someone who is not open with their therapist, doesn’t do the homework assigned to them or who simply doesn’t respond well to REBT may require a longer course of treatment or other treatment approaches.

View Sources

Cherry, Kendra. “How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Works.” Verywell Mind, June 20, 2019. Accessed July 21, 2019.

Ackerman, Courtney. “What is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy? (+4 REBT Exercises, PDF).”, August 31, 2017. Accessed July 21, 2019.

GoodTherapy. “Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT).” July 3, 2017. Accessed July 21, 2019.

Legg, Timothy J. “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.” Healthline Media, September 13, 2018. Accessed July 21, 2019.

Zhaleh, Narges, et al. “Effectiveness of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy on the Level of Depression among Female Adolescents.” Journal of Applied Environmental and Biological Sciences, 2014. Accessed July 21, 2019.

Turner, Martin J. “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Irrational and Rational Beliefs, and the Mental Health of Athletes.” Frontiers in Psychology, September 2016. Accessed July 21, 2019.