Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Rational emotive behavior therapy (often called REBT) is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In fact, most forms of CBT are based on REBT.

REBT focuses on helping you learn to correct inaccurate or irrational thoughts that may be affecting your feelings. REBT is often described as action-oriented, which means that it focuses on making concrete changes in your thinking and/or behavior.

REBT is sometimes combined with CBT in practice, but it can also be used as a stand-alone treatment.

What can Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy help with?

REBT is generally helpful for anyone who wants to change specific problematic patterns of thoughts or behavior.

It may be particularly helpful for people dealing with the following mental health concerns:

Does Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy work?

There is extensive evidence that REBT is often helpful for a range of mental health conditions and symptoms.

Most recently, a 2018 review of over 80 different studies found that REBT often lead to decreases in irrational thinking and increases in positive outcomes. The studies reviewed included participants dealing with anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health conditions.

How does Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy work?

Like CBT, REBT is based on the idea that your thoughts play a big role in how you feel. The idea is to learn to interrupt and correct inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts that might be causing negative feelings.

More specifically, REBT uses the following “ABCDE” structure to help you learn this new skill:

  1. Activating Events: First, you identify what kinds of situations or events are upsetting or challenging for you when it comes to feeling and behaving the way you want to.
  2. Beliefs: Next, you look at the core beliefs that you tend to attach to activating events. For example, if your activating event is a friend turning down an invitation from you, the corresponding belief might be: “No one wants to spend time with me because I’m such a loser.”
  3. Consequences: Then, you identify the consequences of combining that event and that belief. This is usually a negative emotional experience.
  4. Disputes: With your therapist’s help, you’ll learn to argue against the core belief that creates a negative experience. For example, going with the above situation, you might ask yourself: “What about all the good times I’ve had with friends in the past?”
  5. New Effects: Over time, going through the above process helps you build new, more positive reactions that can interrupt the cycle of activating events and core beliefs.

How frequently are Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy sessions held?

REBT sessions are generally held on a weekly basis. However, some therapists may recommend more or less frequent sessions, based on your symptoms and treatment goals.

REBT can also be used as an additional technique to support other kinds of therapy.

How long does Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy treatment last?

There is no set course for REBT, but it is generally designed to be short-term, which means it may last for only a few weeks or months.

As with any therapy, your early sessions should include a discussion of about how long your treatment might last, as well as how you’ll know you’re ready to end treatment.

How are Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy sessions structured?

REBT is not a rigidly structured form of therapy. The structure of your sessions will depend on your needs and your therapist’s methods.

That said, REBT often follows these basic phases:

  1. Building rapport with your therapist. As with many kinds of therapy, you’ll start by filling your therapist in on why you’re seeking therapy and set some treatment goals together. Because REBT is action-oriented, this will usually mean identifying specific patterns of thought, emotion, or behavior that you would like to change.
  2. Learning and implementing new strategies. In the middle phase of REBT, your therapist will guide you through specific activities and techniques designed to help you learn the ABCDE structure outlined above and apply it to your target issue(s).
  3. Continued practice. As your sessions continue, you’ll continue to work with your therapist on these new strategies. It’s also common for REBT to include exercises between sessions as “homework.” Together, you and your therapist will examine how your therapy may be affecting your life outside sessions and your progress toward your goals.

What happens in a typical Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy session?

In REBT, your therapist will guide you through a number of different techniques and exercises as you learn the overall ABCDE process outlined above. Some common activities include:

  • Reframing experiences: REBT often includes looking at your life experiences to find alternative explanations for them. For example, you might find that you tend to blame yourself for things that are actually out of your control.
  • Identifying cognitive distortions: This is also called “reality testing.” The idea is that you look at your thoughts for places where you’re being illogical or inaccurate. Some common cognitive distortions include believing you know what other people think, believing that one bad event means that other bad events will follow, and believing that only perfection is acceptable.
  • Mindfulness practices: REBT sessions often include breathing exercises, meditation, visualization, and stress reduction techniques.
  • Worksheets and/or ratings scales: REBT often includes written tools to help you map out the process of learning to change your thoughts and emotions. For example, your therapist might use a rating system to evaluate the intensity of your feelings in response to a given situation.
  • Going over homework: Because at-home practice (such as trying out new behaviors in real-life situations) is such a key part of REBT, it’s common to spend some time in sessions discussing how this practice is going.

What should I look for in an REBT therapist?

Therapists who practice REBT may be social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, or another kind of mental health professional. No matter what kind of therapist you choose to work with, make sure that they meet the following criteria:

  • An advanced degree in a mental health field;
  • Licensure to practice in the state where you live;
  • Additional experience and/or training using REBT;
  • If applicable, experience working with people who share your specific concerns (if you’re dealing with a certain mental health condition) or identity (if you feel that any aspect of your identity may be relevant to treatment).

Although a specific certification is not required to practice REBT, some organizations (such as the Albert Ellis Institute) do provide training and certification specifically in REBT. Asking potential therapists about any trainings or certification in REBT can be a great place to start.

And remember, it’s important that you feel comfortable with your therapist, too! If you can, take the time to find a therapist who feels like a good fit for your unique needs and personality.

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.