What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, And How Can It Support Me?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 31, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

According to the American Psychological Association, rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) is defined as “a form of cognitive behavior therapy based on the concept that an individual’s self-defeating beliefs influence and cause negative feelings and undesirable behaviors.” If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

As the psychological industry grows, over 400 therapeutic modalities have arisen for clients to take advantage of in their mental healthcare journeys. One such method is rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), a therapeutic modality focused on maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. 

REBT is often employed in the treatment of substance use disorders,* but it can be used for a variety of mental health challenges. Below, we’ll explore REBT, its structure, core concepts, and some of the possible benefits of REBT. 

*If you are experiencing substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

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What is rational emotive behavior therapy?

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is a therapeutic modality inspired by cognitive-behavioral therapy, and it’s often used to treat substance use disorders. It was developed by psychologist Albert Ellis in the 1950s and focuses on helping individuals cope with maladaptive underlying beliefs, thoughts, emotional distress, and behaviors. 

The difference between REBT and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – one of the most widely used and most researched psychotherapy treatment approaches – is that REBT tends to focus on unconditional self-acceptance, which is a concept of accepting yourself as you are while understanding the difference between who you are and the behaviors you choose to participate in. This modality is an action-based approach to treatment and may be more short-term than other formats. 

What is a session of REBT like? 

When you first meet with an REBT therapist, you and your provider may discuss your treatment goals, past treatments, and any diagnoses you might have. If you have a specific goal, your therapist can help you develop a treatment plan for future sessions. The first session is often reserved for answering questions about the therapy process and your provider’s policies and approaches. 

After a few sessions, you might start working through REBT exercises. Your rational emotive behavior therapist might use worksheets, role-play, mood-tracking apps, or other behavioral techniques to help you achieve your goals. REBT often focuses on cognitive restructuring (molding your thoughts) and techniques like unconditional or radical acceptance

As you master these skills, you may find that you are closer to achieving your goals. Your therapist can also check in with you every few months to see if you feel the treatment is working. If it isn’t, they may adjust their strategies or refer you to someone better suited for your needs. 

The three core beliefs of REBT 

Three core beliefs in the REBT framework of clinical psychology drive many behavioral techniques you may learn in therapy. These three tenets are unconditional self-acceptance, unconditional other-acceptance, and unconditional life-acceptance. According to the REBT Network, each of these three concepts has three core affirmations, including the following. 

Unconditional self-acceptance

  1. According to the REBT Network, unconditional acceptance has three core concepts within it, including the following affirmations: “I am a fallible human being; I have my good points and my bad points.
  2. There is no reason why I must not have flaws.
  3. Despite my good points and my bad points, I am no more worthy and no less worthy than any other human being.”

I am a fallible human being; I have positive and negative aspects. 

  • There is no reason why I must not have flaws.
  • Despite my positive and negative aspects, I am no more worthy and no less worthy than any other human being. 

Unconditional other-acceptance

  1. “Other people will treat me unfairly from time to time.
  2. There is no reason why they must treat me fairly.
  3. The people who treat me unfairly are no more worthy and no less worthy than any other human being.”
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Unconditional other acceptance involves the acceptance you hold for others, including strangers. Some of the key points include: 

  • Other people will treat me unfairly from time to time.
  • There is no reason why they must treat me fairly.
  • The people who treat me unfairly are no more worthy and no less worthy than any other human being. 

Unconditional life-acceptance 

  1. “Life doesn't always work out the way that I'd like it to.
  2. There is no reason why life must go the way I want it to.
  3.  Life is not necessarily pleasant but it is never awful and it is nearly always bearable.”

Finally, unconditional life acceptance involves how you feel about life and the universe. The core concepts include: 

Life doesn’t always work out the way I want it to.

  • There is no reason why life must work out the way I want it to.
  • Life is not necessarily pleasant, but it is never awful and nearly always bearable.

What do these core concepts mean? 

The three core concepts of REBT are a framework for you to work around. You do not have to believe in them, but your therapist may remind you of them throughout your work. Often, these concepts help people remember that they are part of a more significant world of shared humanity and are worthy of love, care, and acceptance at the same level as others. 

What are the ABCs of REBT? 

REBT also involves a few principles called the ABCs. They involve the following: 

  • Activating Events: A situation that incites an adverse response or maladaptive thought or behavior
  • Beliefs And Thoughts: A maladaptive belief, such as, “I’ll never be loved again” 
  • Consequences: Potentially distressing emotions or the choice to partake in maladaptive behaviors to cope with the irrational belief or challenging event 

What conditions does REBT treat?

REBT can treat many mental health conditions and concerns, although it may be popularly used more for substance use disorder treatment. In addition to substance use disorders, REBT may treat the following conditions: 

  • Depressive and anxiety disorders
  • Specific phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Chronic stress
  • Negative emotions 

Talk to an REBT therapist about your goals and diagnoses to learn more about how this therapeutic modality might serve you. If you or someone you know is having thoughts about self-harm or behaving in ways that harm themselves or others, it is critical to reach out for help, which can be accessed 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

How can REBT benefit me? 

REBT has a few benefits for those seeking a cognitive behavioral approach involving acceptance principles. Below are a few of these benefits. 

Optimism

Understanding one’s pessimistic thoughts and disputing irrational beliefs may make one more capable of restructuring maladaptive ideas into optimistic ideas. Optimism can come from accepting a situation and understanding that the future can be more productive. 

Acceptance

The three core beliefs of rational emotive therapy focus on self-acceptance and the acceptance of others and your life. Self-acceptance can help individuals see themselves as human, with common shared traits with those around them. People who have perfectionistic ideals or believe they must hold up to societal standards may benefit from understanding that mistakes and failures are common and that they aren’t alone in their experiences. 

Less time in therapy

REBT is often a short-term treatment, which may be concluded within a year in some cases. As it is action-focused, clients can start taking part in worksheets, activities, and coping mechanisms almost immediately, learning new skills and practicing them at home. This approach may reduce the time needed to attend to reach their goals. 

A sense of self-empowerment and resilience 

Learning to respect yourself and others and see the humanity in all may give you a sense of self-empowerment and resilience. In addition, as you start to develop more coping mechanisms and practice them at home, you can see that you can create results in your life that are lasting and under your control. 

Healthier behaviors 

REBT focuses on the theory that cognitions (thoughts) are directly related to your behaviors and emotions. For example, you may be more likely to skip a test if you keep thinking and telling yourself, “I’m a failure and will never succeed.” 

If you can recognize that thought as inaccurate and reframe it to “I’m nervous about this test, but just like everyone else, I can study and succeed,” you may feel more likely to show up to that test and try your best. Negative thoughts and rumination can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. Positive thoughts that reduce irrational beliefs can nurture empathy, self-compassion, and happiness. 

Find an REBT therapist

If you’re interested in REBT, you might find a therapist who practices this approach in your local community. REBT is just one therapeutic modality available to you. However, if you can’t find a therapist in your area, you might search online for therapists with experience in REBT. If you’re struggling to find a therapist that practices this modality, you may try your luck online through a platform like BetterHelp.

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Online therapy allows your clients to connect with a network of thousands of therapists, each with unique specializations. When you sign up, you may be able to specify that you’re looking for an REBT therapist and note your goals for treatment. Some platforms offer a match with a therapist within 48 hours. After you find a therapist, you can choose between communicating with them via phone, video, or live chat at a time that works for you.

Research shows that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of mental health challenges. Studies also back up the effectiveness of online therapy. One study published in Galen Medical Journal found that online REBT over the phone could be more effective than in-person therapy. was effective when provided in an online format. Clients addressed sexual challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and found significant improvements in performance and emotional coping after the study. 

Takeaway 

Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) is a popular therapeutic approach for those looking for CBT-like practices emphasizing self-acceptance. If you are interested in learning more about REBT, you may benefit from speaking with a licensed online therapist, whether in your community or online. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience with REBT and any specific concerns you’re facing. Take the first step toward getting support and contact BetterHelp today.

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