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Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

What is the true study of modern human emotion, thought, and behavior, psychology, or philosophy? This question’s answer does not come easily to its solicitor; in fact, the two seemingly different subjects have a distinct and discernible relationship to one another. “Some things are up to us and some are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, our impulses, desires, aversions, in-short whatever is our doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or that is, whatever is not of our own doing (Epictetus 1).” This citation, from a philosopher who lived around 100 B.C., illustrates the relationship between psychology and philosophy. When one examines the language housed within the passage he will understand, in order to lead a blissful life, one must have power over his reaction to an event and not let the event have power over his reaction.

This effortless Stoic belief has lead to the development of a modern psychological therapy known as Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy. This therapy uses a logical approach in order to solve problems with the human psyche. If one were to scrutinize the word “Psychological,” he will notice the word “Psycho” which is related to the word “Psyche,” which, in turn, means the human mind and its perception of consciousness. Upon further study of the word “Psychological,” the person in question will notice the latter part of the word is “Logical” which deals with the processing and the capability of rational human thought; therefore, one can infer that a psychological therapy must deal with the awareness of the subject of his situation and his ability to rationalize his thoughts of such events. Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy executes this conjecture to the letter. REBT is a reflexive approach to psychology that is gaining popularity.

Today, REBT uses can be seen in everything from combating unhealthy emotional outbursts, solving chemical dependencies, and improving a person’s overall mental self-image. Foremost, one must understand Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy in order to apply REBT to the above-mentioned modes of use. REBT is a therapy residing in a subdivision of psychological therapies known as Cognitive therapy, or an assumption-based therapy relying on the premise that psychological problems are due to maladaptive patterns of thinking (Hockenbury and Hockenbury 523). Gerald Metalsky Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at Wisconsin’s Lawrence University, explains cognitive therapy to be the process of “Identifying depressogenic thoughts, evaluating these thoughts, and challenging the cognition of these thoughts in order to reduce future depressions (Metalsky 23).”

In other words, perception of life’s events dictates emotion; however, perception is not always reality, cognitive distortions within one’s mind are the actual culprit. Dr. Metalsky continues to explain with a model he uses to clarify the therapy to new patients. “We take the ABC approach, which “A” is the antecedent event, “B” Is the belief one has regarding what has just transpired, and “C” is the consequence of the belief (Metalsky 23).” This model shows the basic structure of all Cognitive therapies. For example, when a student fails an exam and the student concludes that he or she must be stupid. This is a classic example of an external event, interpreted incorrectly, creating a cognitive distortion in the mind of that individual.

By understanding the outlining concept of Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy, known as Cognitive Therapy, one is now ready to move on to the subject of REBT itself. What is REBT? Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy, or commonly known as REBT, is a practical, action-oriented approach to coping with problems and enhancing personal growth. The premise for Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy is that a person’s difficulties are the result of his or her faulty expectations and irrational beliefs (REBT facts 2). In order to restore emotional heath to the life of the individual one must utilize REBT. The therapy itself does not eliminate emotion; in fact, it emphasizes emotional involvement in every aspect of our thinking and our actions (Metalsky 24). The therapy requires the patient to look at his situation and evaluate the emotion this situation evokes. When human emotion becomes too intense, as it often does, the person this emotion belongs to becomes unhappy. The quality of his or her life begins to deteriorate.

It is at these times, the logical region of human thought changes, and the individual begins to take things over-personally, blow things out of perspective, condemn others for wrongful deeds, and become less tolerant of life’s little hassles (REBT facts 2). By logically reasoning emotion, one will begin to realize that emotion is the consequence of rational thought; however, the opposite is true as well, irrational belief is the preceding consequence of self-indulgent emotion. Identifying the core irrational beliefs a person has is the most important step in REBT (Hockenbury and Hockenbury 523). Such beliefs often reflect certain “Musts” or “Shoulds” people place upon themselves; for example, many people hold the cognitive distortion of “I must be loved and accepted by virtually everyone in order to be happy and deemed to have worth (Hockenbury and Hockenbury 524).” To state it simply, this external attempt to define one’s value and place in society will eventually lead its owner to disappointment because he or she is identifying importance by that which the individual cannot control, the judgment and reaction of another.

By understanding the basics of Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy, an individual can now study the prolific creator of this innovative therapy, Dr. Albert Ellis. Albert Ellis was born in Pittsburgh in 1913 and was raised in New York City (Sketch 1). Ellis was born with a serious kidney disorder and was forced to place his attention on books rather than sports. As a young man, Ellis lived a tumultuous life, living through financial hardships because of the great depression. Because of his financial adversity, Ellis gave up his dream of becoming a great American writer (Sketch, 1). Dr. Ellis received his degree from the City College in accounting and began a clothing business with his brother. After some time, Ellis began to tire of the business and decided to enroll in the University Of Columbia in the fall of 1942. Ellis received his doctorate in psychology and became a Psychoanalytic psychologist (Sketch 1). While practicing psychoanalysis on numerous amount of subjects, Ellis began to notice his patients were progressing at the same rate whether he saw them weekly or daily. It was with this realization Ellis ’ faith in psychoanalysis began to rapidly crumble.

Dr. Ellis began to teach his patients the philosophical views of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Spinoza because he, himself, had used these philosopher’s teachings to deal with problems in his own life; thus, in 1955 REBT was born. Albert Ellis’s practice concentrated on changing a person’s behavior by confronting a patient with his or her irrational beliefs and persuading the individual to adopt a rational sense of awareness (Sketch 2). “Remember that what is insulting is not the person who abuses” you or hits you, but the judgment about them that they are insulting. So when someone irritates you be aware that what irritates you is your own belief. Most importantly, therefore, try not to be carried away by appearance, since if you once gain time and delay you will control yourself [and your emotions] more easily (Epictetus 20)” The above quote from the teachings of Epictetus leads an individual to the understanding of using Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy to control unhealthy emotional outbursts.

Notice the quote advises its reader not to view a person as insulting; however, it reminds the person to examine the judgment of insulting. Once again, this ancient philosopher exemplifies the basics of REBT. The excerpt informs the reader that a person cannot directly irritate another without the irrational belief that irritation is the fault of another and not the participant’s perception of irritation. To further explain REBT and the steps involved in controlling unhealthy emotions, one can use the debilitating emotion of anger. In a book written by Albert Ellis entitled How to Live with and without Anger. Ellis uses a poignant example in order to explain and combat the dangerously unstable emotion of anger towards another. The premise of the example is two friends agree to share an apartment, person X goes to a considerable amount of trouble to fix the apartment and pay his share of the rent. While the other person, person Y, decides not to move in with person X and refuses to give person X any money for the expense he has caused (Ellis 125).

Person X becomes very angry at his friend and demands payment. One can refer to the ABC model mentioned previously in order to chart this occurrence: (A) being the preceding event of Mr. Y backing out on his end of the deal with Mr. X, (B) is Mr. X’s belief that Mr. Y should treat him fairly and move in or pay him, and (C) is the anger Mr. X feels towards Mr. Y because of his perception of the event. This is now the time where person X must dispute his irrational behavior and replace it with a rational mental thought process (Ellis 127). This mode of disputing irrational thought is done with a series of questions. One can use the above-mentioned conflict as a reference. Replace Person X with “I” and replace person Y with “He.” “What irrational belief do I want to dispute or surrender? ‘“He should have treated me fairly.’” Can I rationally support this belief? ‘“No I cannot.’” What evidence do I have for the falseness of my belief? ‘“Assuming that I can prove he did act in an unfair or wrong way, what law of the universe says he should or must treat me this way? None! Although others and I would find it proper for him to act fairly he definitely doesn’t have to do so (Ellis 127).”

This example provides the steps in controlling outbursts of anger and any other debilitating indulgent emotion. Through disputing strongly, intensively, and persistently, irrational beliefs become less absolutistic and more problematical to its owner; furthermore, via examining the perception of the emotional state of thought, the analytical mind will realize the maladaptive behavior associated with emotions. “It shows a lack of natural talent to spend time on what concerns the body, as in exercising a great deal, eating a great deal, drinking a great deal, or copulating a great deal. Instead, you must do these things in passing, but your whole attention toward the faculty of judgment (Epictetus, 41).” Once again, Epictetus has provided a rationally induced thought in order to cope with one of America’s largest Psychological problems, that of chemical dependency.

Briefly stated, Epictetus explains to the reader that he must place all his attention on the judgment of pleasure that certain activities provide the body and not the actions themselves; to further explain, a person must make the judgment of pleasure in order to experience a pleasure. An external event’s pleasure is negated without the individual’s perception of its gratification. In order to fight the relapse of a chemical-dependent person; one can use Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy. Relapse, by definition, involves a failure to maintain behavior change (Annis and Davis 83). REBT uses the basis that behaviors are maladaptive; therefore, the addict must sustain certain beliefs in order to maintain change, or else he will experience a relapse. One widespread addiction in today’s society is alcohol addiction. One can refer to an alcohol-dependent person to facilitate an example.

Mr. F has engaged in a steady drinking pattern for many years. He drinks about seven alcoholic beverages a day and his loved ones feel he is addicted. At the advice of his family, Mr. F decided to obtain help in order to stop his drinking. Mr. F will need to assess his behavior and beliefs in an attempt to create a coping strategy. This is where Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy comes in (Annis and Davis 96). Upon examining his actions, Mr. F will find that he must adapt his behavior in certain drinking situations; thereby, causing an alternative to alcohol. How will Mr. F adapt his behavior? The answer is simple; he must take an inventory of his greatest drinking situations or IDS (Annis and Davis 96). After he has completed IDS, he may now evaluate the situations and examine the beliefs associated with his circumstances. Following the examination of his irrational beliefs, MR F can ask himself the series of questions outlined above.

This method of treatment will allow the patient an alternative to a public support system involving a matter he may want to keep private. By internally questioning through the implication of rational thought, Mr. F will be able to give up his addiction and the irrational beliefs associated with it. “Theses statements are not valid inferences: “I am richer than you; therefore, I am superior to you,” or “I am more eloquent than you; therefore, I am superior to you.” But rather these are valid: “I am richer than you; therefore, my property is superior to yours, or “ I am more eloquent; therefore, my speaking ability is superior to yours.” But you are identical neither with your property nor with your speaking (Epictetus 44).” Taken from Epictetus once again, the above quote helps illustrate an additional use of Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy, which is that of improving a person’s overall self-image. Epictetus advises the onlooker to examine his irrational inferences. For example, one cannot identify his importance or superiority merely based on things that are not of him.

For the reason that, if the person who places value on these “So-called” self-defining processions, no longer processes the objects upon which his validity is defined he will become unhappy; thus, in his mind, he will no longer be valuable. Emphasizing the relationship between REBT and a positive self-image once more, one can refer to an essay on self-esteem written by David Mills. The essay outlines the importance of having a positive self-image but the damaging effects of high self-esteem. For example, a businessman may enjoy self-esteem because he is successful and he treats his family well. A teenage girl boasts self-esteem because she has made straight A’s and made the varsity cheerleading squad. A politician may feel self-esteem because he has won a lopsided victory in the last election. No matter what the situation, people, nearly always, rate or esteem themselves based on achievements (Mills 2). This is a dangerous and irrational thought pattern because it leads to the belief that self-esteem must be earned and reinforced through future successes.

A person will begin to believe the falsity, if he can gloriously achieve X or Y in a lifetime, then he will forever rid himself of all feelings of inadequacy (Mills 2). This is simply propaganda people uncover within themselves. For instance, a person can recall his greatest three accomplishments over his entire life. When asked how he felt at those particular moments, he will surely respond, with great enthusiasm, it felt as if he were on the top of the world (Mills 3). Posed with a second question, how long did that feeling last. He will, more than likely, say not very long (Mills 3). It is this example that proves a person cannot define his self-worth on the irrational belief that an external experience has made him significant. A person now may be asking, what is the solution, and how can I achieve the reality of self-worth. The answer is simple; one needs to give up the irrational “Musts” and “Shoulds” placed upon himself. It is after this he will learn to accept himself, his existence, and his humanity whether or not he performs well, whether or not he is loved by others, and whether or not he excels at school, work, or sports.

“ The position and character of a non-philosopher: he never looks for benefit or harm to come from himself but from outside things outside. The position and character of a philosopher: he looks for all benefit and harm to come to form himself (Epictetus 48).” Upon culmination, one can tackle a last quote from the great philosopher Epictetus. The passage above captures the essence of the entire complex therapy and sums it up in a nice-and-neat package. To explain, the unenlightened person will always look for emotions to come from an external experience; whether it is happiness or sadness, the sensations will always be the fault of the uncontrollable. In retrospect, the enlightened person will only allow emotion to come from that which he can control, himself; thus, giving him power over his life and his reactions. Rational-Emotive-Behavior-Therapy is an obvious choice to an individual who demands control in his life. The individual can use this powerful therapy in every aspect of his life; including, but not limited to, controlling negative emotions, fighting dependencies of any kind, and becoming happy with his or her self in every state of affairs.

To further reiterate why REBT is the common-sense choice to dealing with psychological disorders, a quote from a modern film comes to mind. “ We were raised on television to believe that we’d all be millionaires, movie gods, rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re starting to figure that out (Fight Club)” This line, attributed to Tyler Durden acted by Brad Pitt in the movie Fight Club, depicts a modern irrational belief society maintains, once again. Upon the realization that the majority of people will not be great by society standards, the irrational individual will try to overcompensate for his feeling of inadequacy. Modern-day entertainment is tackling the subject of REBT; in order to teach people the dangers of a faulty pattern of socially accepted wisdom. When one thinks about it, what REBT sets out to accomplish sounds pretty ambitious: its goal is changing core irrational beliefs a person has spent his whole life accumulating, feeling, and living. Yet, the positive aspect of this laborious task, it shows a person new ways of feeling and behaving, so, that he may take charge of his own direction in life.

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Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. (2021, Mar 18). Retrieved September 10, 2021, from