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

Updated June 14, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
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No matter who you are, no matter what kind of help you're seeking, some type of therapy can likely benefit you. One therapy that can help you change stubborn core beliefs and deal with the problems at hand is rational-emotive therapy, also known as rational emotive behavior therapy or REBT.

 What is rational emotive behavior therapy?

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REBT aims to address painful emotions and maladaptive behaviors by learning techniques to solve problems practically. Another goal is to grow as a person and develop a reasonable, rational personal philosophy that allows you to work effectively toward the life you want.

 REBT therapy vs. cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is similar to rational emotive behavior therapy in that they both address distorted thoughts. However, there are some important differences between the two.

  • REBT looks at the philosophic bases of emotional problems, while CBT works to change the behavior.
  • REBT emphasizes secondary disturbances such as anxiety about being anxious, while CBT does not.
  • CBT promotes self-rating, while REBT promotes unconditional self-acceptance.
  • REBT, unlike CBT, recognizes that certain negative emotions, such as grief, are helpful and seeks to change only unhelpful negative emotions.
  • In REBT, all anger is considered inappropriate, but in CBT, some anger is considered healthy.

 Elements of rational-emotive therapy

Certain key elements of rational emotive behavior therapy set it apart from other behavioral therapies.

 Philosophical and empirical

REBT has a philosophical component. The goal is not just to change one behavior but to change the philosophy behind choosing behaviors. This involves disputing core beliefs and developing a more helpful philosophy.

REBT also has an empirical component in that its techniques are scientifically proven in research studies and in that you use evidence from your life to determine what has been both true and helpful in your life.

 Fundamental musts

Rational-emotive therapy identifies three types of unrealistic expectations. We expect ourselves, other people, and the world, in general, to meet our demands and become emotionally upset when they don't. REBT seeks to dispute the following "musts" to give us a more realistic attitude.

  1. I must be competent, loveable, and a winner at all times. If I'm not, I'm worthless.
  2. Other people must treat me well. If they don't, they're a bad person.
  3. I must get what I want. If I don't, it would be terrible.

 Relationship of thoughts, emotions, and behavior

Rational emotive behavior therapy uses the ABC Model to show how misinterpretations of events lead to unhappiness.

  • A is the activating event that happens in your life.
  • Bis your belief about the event.
  • C is the consequences of your belief (not of the event itself).

By disputing and changing your belief about the event, you can change how you feel about it, even if you can't change the event itself.


REBT is action-oriented in two ways. First, the therapist is actively engaged in your process of disputing your beliefs about events. They're more than a listening ear. Second, you don't just talk about what's happened to you. Instead, you identify problems with your thinking and work during your sessions and in homework assignments to solve them.


The focus of rational-emotive therapy is at the present moment. You examine and challenge the beliefs you hold right now. These beliefs may have come from traumas in your distant or recent past. Or, they may come from the environment you were raised in or the relationship you're currently in.

The source of your thoughts is only important if it can help you in the here and now. For instance, if your parents abused you, you might benefit from recognizing that your current beliefs are based on bad parenting. However, the focus in REBT is not on the past but your current maladaptive beliefs about it.

 REBT therapy techniques

REBT therapy uses several techniques that are the same as other therapies use. In rational emotive behavior therapy, though, the techniques are aimed at changing current beliefs. Also, some special techniques are usually used only in REBT therapy.

 Disputing irrational beliefs

Disputing irrational beliefs is a cornerstone of rational emotive behavior therapy. When you bring up a situation that's causing you emotional turmoil, the first step is to identify the beliefs behind that emotional response. Then, you question whether that underlying belief is helpful for you.

You may notice that a belief can be true without being helpful. In this case, you can either change what you do to cause it or have no control over it; you can change the core beliefs behind your reaction to it.


When you think a belief might be irrational, you look for evidence supporting that belief or proving it wrong.

 Identifying and changing self-talk

Everyone has self-talk of some kind. You might tell yourself you're a total failure, or you might tell yourself it's okay to make a mistake. A part of REBT is changing the self-talk so that it is helpful rather than self-defeating.

 Thought-stopping technique

Thought-stopping means learning to break the flow of negative thoughts as soon as they come to you. Dwelling on irrational thoughts can cause you misery, anxiety, depression, or rage, but disrupting that train of thought can help you gain composure.

 Finding a new perspective

When you identify a thought that's inaccurate or distorted, you may be left wondering what the real truth is. So, the therapist helps you find a new way to look at the more accurate and helpful event by reframing it in a new light.

 Finding humor

Humor can be a useful way of dealing with negative feelings or difficult events. In REBT, it's common to look at a situation in a humorous way. This can bring acceptance of yourself, others, and events that happen to you.

 Role-playing exercises

You might use role-playing in your quest to find evidence supporting or refuting your belief. As you act in someone else's role, you may discover a new perspective on the situation. You may realize that the belief is distorted or inaccurate.


Your therapist might guide you through exercises meant to get past the shame, accept yourself, and make better choices.

 Learning to be assertive

Rational emotive behavior therapy is well-suited to learning assertiveness skills. When you have realistic expectations, manageable emotions, and positive core beliefs, you can truly understand what it means to treat both yourself and others with respect using assertiveness techniques.


An REBT therapist usually gives you homework to do between sessions. This is a part of learning to take care of your own needs when you're on your own.

 Relaxation techniques

Many different types of therapy use relaxation techniques. In REBT, you might use deep breathing, systematic muscle relaxation, or meditation to calm yourself down. Then, you can think rationally and make a decision that helps you achieve your goals.

 Systematic desensitization

If something is causing you extreme anxiety or distress, your therapist might guide you in exposing yourself to that stressor a little at a time until you feel more comfortable with it.


When writing in your journal for rational-emotive therapy, you write down your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In REBT, you also use journaling to practice the techniques you learn in therapy, such as identifying and disputing beliefs.

 Mental health education

Improving your mental health is an important part of the process. In REBT, you find out about your mental conditions or personal challenges through educational materials and research assignments given to you by your therapist. This helps put you in an active role in the therapy process.

 How can REBT therapy help me?

It's interesting to learn about rational-emotive therapy. Knowing about it can only get you so far. If you want it to help you, you'll need to practice its techniques, usually with the help of a therapist. That involves a certain level of commitment, so it's important to understand the benefits you can receive from the therapy. Below are just a few of them.

 Overcome mental conditions

REBT therapists can help you deal with a variety of mental conditions as well as unhelpful behaviors. It can also help you deal with the challenges you face. These conditions, behaviors, and challenges may include:

  • Depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Trauma from abuse, grief, or losses of any kind.
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, or phobias.
  • PTSD
  • OCD
  • Eating disorders
  • Autism disorders
  • Behavioral problems in children
  • Addictions such as substance abuse, alcoholism, porn addiction, or gambling addiction.
  • Impulsivity
  • Personality disorders
  • Relationship issues, marital issues, and family conflicts.
  • Anger and aggression
  • Sleep problems, pain management, or other physical problems
  • Dealing with health problems
  • Procrastination
  • Extreme guilt
  • Self-sabotage
  • Extreme stress
  • Life transitions

 Accomplish goals

When you clear away the confusion and maladaptive behaviors generated by unhelpful core beliefs, you can focus more on achieving your goals.

 Accept responsibility for your feelings and behaviors

You can't change what you don't own. REBT therapy helps you take responsibility - not for what happened necessarily, but for the way you responded to it. This amounts to giving you the freedom and the power to make the changes that will help you survive and thrive.

 Discover new core beliefs that work better for you

You may have always thought that there was only one acceptable belief. Through rational emotive behavior therapy, you can find out why the beliefs you hold aren't working for you. You can discover new core beliefs that help you achieve your goals while still making sense to you.

 Lessen the emotional impact of negative situations

Life is hard at times for most people. You might change some situations, but there will be other events that you have no control over. What you can change, though, is your reactions to events. When you find more adaptive ways of responding to negative situations and events, your feelings become more bearable.

 Develop resiliency

Through this therapy, you can develop the ability to face new situations in healthier ways. When you do, you become more resilient to emotional problems and more tolerant of frustration.

 Become more realistic

Therapists often walk a fine line trying to make you feel better without encouraging you to hold false opinions. Rational-emotive therapy is different from most therapies in that it encourages you to accept negative information. After all, you might be right. Maybe someone doesn't like or accept you. Fortunately, REBT therapy also helps you find more helpful ways to respond to negative facts and feel better about them.

Exploring online therapy options

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REBT therapy is one of many therapies that you may find beneficial. If you’re considering accessing the services of a mental health professional, you may want to consider online therapy in your search for a therapist. Online therapy has become increasing popular in recent years, and many are drawn to the scheduling flexibility and access to a greater number of practitioners than what is available locally. Many people have also found that online therapy provides a more affordable option than in-person options.

The surge in online therapy’s popularity spurred a wave of empirical research to determine if therapy delivered remotely works as well as therapy delivered in an office setting. Online therapists use the same evidence-based techniques as traditional therapists, and evidence suggests that those techniques, in most cases, are just as effective when administered online as in-person.

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