REBT is an action-oriented psychotherapy that teaches individuals to identify, challenge, and replace their self-defeating thoughts and beliefs with healthier thoughts that promote emotional well-being and goal achievement.
Rational emotive behaviour therapy (‘REBT’) views that human beings strive to remain alive and to achieve some degree of happiness. However, it also holds that humans are prone to adopting irrational beliefs and behaviours which stand in the way of their achieving their goals and purposes. Often, these irrational attitudes or philosophies take the form of extreme ‘musts’, ‘shoulds’, or ‘oughts' and overshadow rational and flexible desires, wishes, preferences and wants. The presence of extreme philosophies can make all the difference between healthy negative emotions (such as sadness or regret or concern) and unhealthy negative emotions (such as depression or guilt or anxiety). For example, one person’s philosophy after experiencing a loss might take the form: “It is unfortunate that this loss has occurred, although there is no actual reason why it should not have occurred. It is sad that it has happened, but it is not awful, and I can continue to function.” Another’s might take the form: “This absolutely should not have happened, and it is horrific that it did. These circumstances are now intolerable, and I cannot continue to function.” The first person’s response is apt to lead to sadness, while the second person may be well on their way to depression. Most importantly of all, REBT maintains that individuals have it within their power to change their beliefs and philosophies profoundly, and thereby to change radically their state of psychological health.
External events do influence people; however psychological disturbance is largely a matter of personal choice in the sense that individuals consciously or unconsciously select both rational beliefs and irrational beliefs when negative events occur. Past history and present life conditions strongly affect the person, but they do not, in and of themselves, disturb the person; rather, it is the individual’s responses which disturb them, and it is again a matter of individual choice whether to maintain the philosophies at which cause disturbance. Hence modifying the philosophies requires persistence and hard work, but it can be done.
The main purpose of REBT is to help clients to replace their rigid beliefs, that are full of ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’, with more flexible ones; part of this includes learning to accept that all human beings (including themselves) are fallible and learning to increase their tolerance for frustration while aiming to achieve their goals.
The basic process of change which REBT attempts to foster begins with the client acknowledging the existence of a problem and identifying other problems about the problem, such as feeling guilty about being depressed. The client then identifies the underlying irrational belief which caused the original problem and comes to understand both why it is irrational and why a rational alternative would be preferable. The client challenges their irrational belief and employs a variety of cognitive, behavioural, emotive and imagery techniques to strengthen their conviction in a rational alternative.