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Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy: What is it?

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy or REBT as I’ll refer to it as, is a third wave or extension of cognitive behavioural therapy designed by Albert Ellis. While it stands by the premise of ABC (activating event, belief, consequence) model of Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), it delves into why and what type of beliefs are detrimental to mental health issues. This post will give a very basic description of what REBT is and how to use it.

Let’s give an example of a former client I had. John (name changed for confidentiality purposes) was a sales representative for a big multinational company in London and he was excellent at his job. He saw the person at the other end of the phone as a puzzle that needed to be solved and he would work hard to figure out the puzzle and subsequently sell as a result. These outcomes were supported by his 4 promotions in three years. He put his smooth talking to use on the weekend too, where he had several sexual partners and a huge network. However, he was miserable and had several anger issues. He would often end up in fights on the weekend and could never sustain a romantic relationship. When he first sought therapy, he stated that he had hit a plateau at work (Activating event) and wasn’t enjoying it anymore. He believed that if he as stuck in this job forever, it would cause him (Belief) to become depressed and angry (Consequence).


As it’s an extension of CBT, REBT would state that it is not A (activating event of his work struggle) that is causing John’s disturbance (consequence of anger and sadness) but instead, it is his beliefs about A (B). Therefore, we want to help John identify his irrational beliefs and then replace them with rational beliefs, hence the R in REBT.

REBT states that there are four main irrational beliefs that people have a tendency to take on:


1) Musturbation: No not that. Read it again. MUSTurbation refers to our tendency to believe that things must be the way I want it. We put absolutistic demands on failure (I must not fail), rejection (I must not be rejected) and others (she must meet my standards). These are irrational thoughts because we can’t control every single situation so Musturbating is going against this philosophy.


2) Awfulising: Similar to catastrophising, which we have spoken about before, this involves telling ourselves that something is 100% awful and they couldn’t be any worse. This leads to avoiding situations and only seeing the negatives of the situation.



3) I can’t stand it-itis: Being unable to stand particular situations. This is referred to as low frustration tolerance (LFT). Again, we cannot avoid uncomfortable feelings and situations so if we can’t tolerate them, it’s going to have negative consequences.

4) Damnation: When a person thinks they are godlike and both they, others and the world has to be the way they want it. This is unrealistic but for some reason, people are made to believe that they are special and entitled to something when that is not the way the world is.

Now let’s apply these to John’s situation. As John attends more therapy and is made more aware of his beliefs, he begins to realise that he feels he must continue to move up the company ladder in order to be happy (musturbation). When he is not progressing, as is the current case, this leads to negative consequences such as anger and sadness. He thinks it would be absolutely awful if he has to spend another year at the company without getting another promotion (awfulising) and he can’t stand his colleagues moving ahead of him (I can’t stand it itis). Finally, he feels he works harder than anyone else there so he thinks it is unfair. This sometimes comes out in his passive aggressiveness towards others (damnation).

The first step to REBT is helping John identify these, so he’s moving in the right direction. The next step is to then make him replace these irrational beliefs with rational beliefs, which is known as Disputing. Let’s take a look at alternatives: 1) Desiring rather than musturbating: Acknowledging that we all have goals that we want to achieve but we don’t always have to or end up achieving these goals and that is ok. If we fail, we try again or we re-evaluate.

2) Rating as bad rather than awfulising: Seeing awful and bad on two different continuums, whereby something could be 80% bad but not absolutely awful.

3) Tolerating rather than I can’t stand it itis: Acknowledging that a negative event has happened, rating it as bad and determining whether change is possible.

4) Acceptance rather than damnation: Recognising that we are all humans that make mistakes and we cannot prevent these mistakes. We are not entitled to anything and we can’t do anything about that.



As John began working on replacing his irrational beliefs with Effective rational beliefs, he now welcomed his plateau. He realised that he would very much like to continue moving up the ladder but if he doesn’t, he can focus on his other goals such as spending more time with his parents and working on his cartoon animations. When he was stuck in his job without progression, he said it wasn’t a great situation but it wasn’t the end of the world. He didn’t like it but he could tolerate it. After all, he was working with plenty of others who were in the same boat. He could also now accept that he is a human who has made mistakes and will make mistakes but he isn’t owed anything. His ability to remove his sense of entitlement has made him more enjoyable to be around and more relaxed in general. If he continues to develop these rational beliefs, he will continue to have better emotional and life consequences.


And there you have it. How to understand and use REBT in a real life case. Of course, this is an extremely simplistic explanation of the theory behind REBT but it does include the basics and differentiates it between general CBT and other third wave forms of CBT. Remember, you MUST not understand it, but it would be BAD if you did not understand it. We all make MISTAKES but if we can TOLERATE the uncomfortable consequences of this, we will start to live more rationally and as a result, live better. Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.

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