A Brief Introduction To
Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy
By Wayne Froggatt
Third Ed.(this version Feb 2005)
Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) is based on the concept that emotions and behaviours result from cognitive processes; and that it is possible for human beings to modify such processes to achieve different ways of feeling and behaving. REBT is one of a number of therapies that come under the heading ‘cognitive-behavioural’.
In the mid-1950’s Dr. Albert Ellis, a clinical psychologist trained in psychoanalysis, became disillusioned with the slow progress of his clients. He observed that they tended to get better when they changed their ways of thinking about themselves, their problems, and the world. Ellis reasoned that therapy would progress faster if the focus was directly on the client’s beliefs, and thus was born the method now known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. REBT was originally called ‘Rational Therapy’, soon changed to ‘Rational-Emotive Therapy’ and again in the early 1990’s to ‘Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy’. REBT is one of a number of ‘cognitive-behavioural’ therapies, which, although developed separately, have many similarities – such as Cognitive Therapy (CT), developed by Psychiatrist Aaron Beck in the 1960’s. REBT and CT together form the basis of the family of psychotherapies known as ‘Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy’. Over the past halfcentury, REBT has developed significantly, and continues to change.
(about themselves, other people, and the world in general). It is what people believe about situations they face – not the situations themselves – that determines how they feel and behave. REBT, however, also argues that a person’s biology also affects their feelings and behaviours – an important point, as it is a reminder to the therapist that there are limitations to how far a human being can change. A person’s belief system is seen to be a product of both biological inheritance and learning throughout life. A useful way to illustrate the role of cognition is by using Ellis’ ‘ABC’ model. In this framework ‘A’ represents an actual event or experience, and the person’s ‘inferences’ or interpretations as to what is happening. ‘B’ represents the ‘evaluative’ beliefs that follow from these inferences. ‘C’ represents the emotions and behaviours that follow from those evaluative beliefs. Here is an example of an ‘emotional episode’, experienced by a person prone to depression who tends to misinterpret the actions of other people: A1. Activating event – what happened: Friend passed me in the street without acknowledging me. A2. Inferences about what happened: He’s ignoring me. He doesn’t like me. B. Beliefs about A: I’m unacceptable as a friend – so I must be worthless as a person. (Evaluation) C. Reaction: Emotions: depressed. Behaviours: avoiding people generally.
Theory of causation
REBT is not just a set of techniques – it is also a comprehensive theory of human behaviour. REBT proposes a ‘biopsychosocial’ explanation of causation – i.e. that a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors are involved in the way humans feel and behave. The most basic premise of REBT, which it shares with other cognitive-behavioural theories, is that almost all human emotions and behaviours are the result of what people think, assume or believe
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Note that ‘A’ alone does not cause ‘C’ – ‘A’ triggers off ‘B’, and ‘B’ then causes ‘C’. Also, ABC episodes do not stand alone: they run in chains, with a ‘C’ often becoming the ‘A’ of another episode – we observe our own emotions and behaviours, and react to them. For instance, the person in the example above could observe their avoidance of other people, interpret this as weak, and engage in self-downing. Note, too, that most beliefs are outside conscious awareness. They are habitual or automatic, often consisting of underlying ‘rules’ about how the world and life should be. With practice, though, people can...
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