What Is Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT is a therapy that looks into our thought and belief system in order to deal with our behaviors. Sometimes viewed as being closely linked to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, here’s how REBT works. 

What is Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT)?

Developed by Albert Ellis, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) is an action-oriented approach used to help individuals deal with irrational beliefs. Patients are taught how to manage their thoughts and emotions, affecting behaviors in a healthy and realistic way. 

REBT recognizes that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are connected. As such, REBT aims to help people spot and alter negative thinking patterns to overcome psychological issues and mental distress. 

Emotive Behavioral Therapy
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What can REBT treat?

REBT can be very useful for people struggling with

  • Anxiety and distress
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Disruptive behavior in children
  • Eating disorders
  • Phobias
  • Procrastination
  • Overwhelming or extreme feelings of anger, rage or guilt
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Sleep problems
  • Social anxiety disorder

Key concepts of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy

The key concept of REBT is that it is our view of an event that makes us disturbed. It is not the event itself. The ABC model explains this concept well. As such, REBT is sometimes referred to as the ABC theory of personality or simply, the ‘ABC Model’.

REBT Techniques

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy is very much based on the idea that people generally want to succeed in life. However, sometimes irrational thoughts and emotions get in the way. 

These irrational beliefs can negatively influence our perceptions of events and circumstances. The ABC model of emotional disturbance illustrates this:

The ABC model

This model is highly effective when it comes to tracing the development, and challenging irrational beliefs. In this model,

  • A refers to the Activating Event / Adversity that triggers the formation of a negative reaction or irrational belief. This is the first step to irrational thoughts that are formed to help you cope with an event that did not go your way. 
  • B refers to irrational beliefs of thoughts formed as a response to the activating event. Irrational beliefs are used to cope with the event. They are easy to develop and can even be comforting because they give an explanation to the activating event. For example, if you did not get hired for a job (activating event), irrational thoughts such as ‘I’m a loser’ or ‘I’m not cut out for this job anyway’ can help you deal with the event, although these beliefs are hurtful and untrue. 
  • C refers to the consequences of irrational beliefs. Irrational beliefs always lead to emotional and/or behavioral consequences. For example, emotional consequences from the irrational belief of ‘I’m a loser’ may be that you feel sad and lose self-confidence. Behavioral consequences might be that you stop looking for jobs. 
  • D refers to disputes. You may come to a realization that irrational beliefs have brought about several problems. You start arguing against such beliefs. An REBT therapist will help you develop this argument and come up with evidence to fight it. For example, ‘I have amazing friends. I wouldn’t have amazing friends if I’m a loser therefore, I am not a loser’
  • E refers to the new effect that takes place once you have successfully disputed the irrational belief. For example, the effects, in this case, might be that you have increased self-confidence and start applying for jobs. Positive effects come from rational thoughts that replace irrational beliefs.  

REBT therapists use 3 main types of techniques to help patients overcome irrational beliefs and its consequences. 

Problem-solving techniques

Problem-solving techniques help in addressing the activating event. Patients are encouraged to develop:

  • Assertiveness
  • Decision-making skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Communication and social skills

Cognitive restructuring techniques

Cognitive restructuring techniques are often used to challenge irrational beliefs. They include:

  • Reframing – alternate ways to look at an event
  • Disputing irrational thoughts
  • Logical and rationalizing techniques
  • Visualization or guided imagery
  • Exposure to situations that are feared
  • Humour and irony

Coping techniques

Coping techniques are used to help patients manage the emotional and behavioral consequences of irrational beliefs. They may include:

  • Relaxation strategies
  • Hypnosis
  • Meditation
  • Breathing techniques

Benefits of REBT

REBT offers several key benefits, such as:

  • It allows individuals to have a strong involvement in the process.
  • Addresses underlying issues that trigger self-destructive behaviors.
  • It helps educate and encourage patients to adapt their thinking, resulting in long term emotional health.
  • Behavioral benefits such as reduced anger, depression, anxiety and distress. 
  • Improves health and therefore, increases quality of life. 
  • Improves school performance as well as social skills. 
Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash

What is the difference between REBT and CBT?

REBT is viewed by some as a type of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) while others argue that both REBT and CBT are very distinct approaches. Both these views are true. REBT and CBT are both based on similar principles, but they have a number of key differences. 

Both aim to help patients accept and change irrational thoughts that result in psychological issues and mental distress. However, REBT emphasizes more on the acceptance part of the process. Indeed, unconditional self-acceptance is central to REBT. 

Patients are encouraged to recognize that everyone makes mistakes and that self-judgement would only result in negative thoughts and emotions. 

Another unique point of REBT is that it occasionally uses humour in the therapeutic process. This enables patients to take things less seriously or to have an alternate view of the issues at hand. 

Besides this, REBT also aims to address secondary symptoms. For example, the therapist helps patients to recognize that they are feeling anxious or fearful about experiencing anxiety. 


REBT can be very effective for individuals who are plagued with irrational beliefs that are hurtful and untrue. Check with your mental health practitioner if you are considering REBT, he or she will be able to recommend a therapist near you. 

If you are an REBT therapist, A Space Between offers conducive therapy rooms of several sizes.

The article is a part of our comprehensive series on “Behavioural therapy

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Where private practice meets
A Space Between provides flexible co-working office spaces for rent to therapists and other professionals in Singapore.

A Space Between is a destination for mental health therapy activities. Counsellors utilise our many conducive therapy rooms for consultations. Located conveniently downtown and offering your independent therapists rent by the hour, we house many professional mental health practitioners, including LGBTQ+ friendly ones. To find out more about the therapists practising in A Space Between, write to us at [email protected].

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