Therapists practicing rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) believe that individuals have the potential for rational thinking. Self-talk is the source of emotional disturbance.

Rational emotive behavior therapy, developed by Albert Ellis in the 1950’s, envisions emotional consequences as being created by an individual’s belief system, rather than by significant causal events, with individual intrapersonal and interpersonal life being the source of growth and happiness. Each of us is born with abilities to create or destroy, to relate or withdraw, to choose or not choose, to like or dislike, all affected by our individual culture and environment, family, and social group. The counselor’s aim is to use rational emotive methods to help the client to desire rather than demand, positively change those parts of himself/or herself that the client wants to change, and accept what cannot be changed.

Ellis proposed the “ABCDE” mnemonic to describe the basics of his theory:

A – Activating event (induces the stress)

B – Belief (what the client thinks about the event)

C – Consequences (how the individual responses to the event)

  • D – Disputing of the irrational belief (attempting to replace negative irrational beliefs with positive rational ones)

E – Effect (the new beliefs if REBT has been effective)

According to Ellis, people possess innate capacities for self-preservation and self-destruction, rationality and irrationality. Since others’ influence is strongest during the early years, individuals’ early family environments are of major importance. Individuals can and do perceive, think, emote, and behave at the same time, meaning that cognitive, connotative, and motoric behaviors co-exist. Perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and actions (from which spring both normal and abnormal behaviors) are all key elements in the rational emotive client/counselor relationship. The counselor also must remain accepting of the client, and at the same time critical of that client’s negative behavior, when necessary illustrating deficiencies, and, if the client remains dependent, emphasizing independent self-discipline. Because of its cognitive core, rational emotive therapy does not require a “warm” relationship between counselor and client.

Rational emotive behavior therapy employs various methods to help clients achieve basic cognitive changes that can mean changes in an individual’s belief system and values. Among these techniques are didactic discussion, behavior modification, bibliotherapy, audiovisual aids, activity-based homework, role-playing, assertion training, desensitization, humor, operant conditioning, suggestion, and emotional support. Usually, general rational emotive therapy (learning appropriate behaviors) is included in preferential rational emotive therapy (learning to internalize logic and empirical thinking to counter irrational ideas and behaviors). Since in this model the true cause of an individual’s problems is adherence to dogmatic and irrational beliefs, he/or she needs to see that the difficulty results from those beliefs (instead of antecedent causes and conditions), that problems will not go away by themselves, and that those problems can be eliminated or minimized through rational emotive thinking and action.

The active-directive approach of rational emotive therapy treats the client holistically, with emphasis on the biological factors of personality development. In order to help the client replace self-defeating outlooks with a realistic and acceptable worldview, rational emotive therapists identify and strongly challenge those clients’ irrational beliefs.

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