Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy


Rational-Emotive behavior therapy is a form of cognitive behavior therapy. This essay aims to explain the theoretical foundations of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and outline rational-emotive behavior therapy (REBT) as a variant of cognitive-behavior psychotherapy.


Human behavior became the focus of psychological research since the late 19th Century. To understand how individuals think and behave, research extended to include intelligence, perception, and cognition. Further, personality became a popular study area with new theories emerging to explain personality dynamics. In response, exceptional therapies emerged aiming to explain individual dissimilarities in personalities and how these dissimilarities happen (Spencer, 2005). The essay aims at explaining the theoretical foundations of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and outline rational-emotive behavior therapy (REBT) as a variant of cognitive-behavior psychotherapy.

Theoretical foundations of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy (CBT)

Grazebrook and Garland (2005) defined cognitive behavior psychotherapy as an array of interventions founded on ideas and principles based on psychological models of human behavior and emotions.

As the name suggests, CBT is founded on behavioral and cognitive theories. Behavioral theories highlight recognizable external behaviors and take no notice of internal mental processes. In other words, behavioral theories ignored the mental faculty of acquiring knowledge by reasoning, perception, or instinctive beliefs in developing emotions. Cognitive theories, on the another hand, are based on the philosophical concept that an individual’s view of the surrounding world molds the reality of that individual’s experiences. Cognitive theories emerged as a reaction to the narrow scope of behavioral psychology mainly to highlight the importance of internal thought processes. The idea that thoughts control feelings lead Albert Ellis to develop rational-emotional therapy. It is an important predecessor to the works of Aaron Beck applying cognitive models to treat depression and George Kelly who developed the personal construct theory. As behavioral and cognitive therapies continued to develop, the two approaches converged into cognitive behavior psychotherapy, which aims at stimulating the patient’s resources in managing the problem (Milkman and Wanberg, 2007).

Theory of rational-emotive behavioral therapy

Froggatt (2005) discussed the fundamental theories supporting rational-emotive behavioral therapy (REBT). First is the causation theory, based on the notion that REBT is an inclusive theory of human behavior rather than a psychotherapy technique, REBT suggests a biopsychosocial justification of causation. It means that biological, psychological, and social causes interact to influence how individuals feel and think. The basic argument of REBT is human emotions and behaviors emerge from what individuals think, suppose, or believe about themselves and others (Froggatt, 2005). Second is the theory of change, as an individual’s thinking occurs at three levels; inferences, evaluations, and core beliefs, change can be in one of three forms. A superficial change influenced by exercise, diet, or medication; a deeper change of inferences about certain circumstances, or a lasting change that is a change of core beliefs. Based on REBT principal ideas, problematic (irrational) thinking is the one that prevents an individual from achieving aims, deforms reality, and includes illogic evaluation of oneself or others (Froggatt, 2005).

Principles of rational-emotive behavioral therapy (REBT)

REBT is more like an education where patients learn to recognize and argue their irrational thinking and beliefs. According to Ellis, REBT has six principles: first, cognition is the primary determinant of emotion; second, irrational thinking is the most significant determinant of distress. Third, there are many interacting causes for irrational thinking; fourth to change thinking is the best way to change determinants of distress. Fifth, REBT stresses the present influences on behavior; finally, core beliefs are the ultimate change needed. In the 1950s, Ellis put his ABC hypothesis, which states that when individual’s aims are dissatisfied, they construct consequences (A) that are in the form of actions or feelings (C), and they commonly do this following rational thinking and less commonly following irrational thinking (B). REBT therapy consists, therefore, of D (disputing), E (replacing the self-defeating belief with a rational belief), and F (adding a new set of feelings) (Rhena and Dryden, 2008).

Deficits of rational-emotive behavioral therapy

Haaga and Davison (1989) discussed criticism of REBT in adults, they suggested the technique enacts many theoretical assumptions, and it can be critical and judgmental. Some clients may find the term irrational thinking corrective or expressing examination of values and qualities. This is the reason Beck prefers the term distorted thinking. REBT asserts unconditional positive regard for the client as a fundamental facet in management. This needs certain therapist qualities and training. Spencer (2005) suggested as core irrational beliefs are based on individuals’ understanding and analysis to events occurring to them, this needs and interaction among cognition, emotion, and behavior. This may represent a difficulty when applying REBT to children whose abilities to be self-reflecting and internally mindful are not well developed.


Rational-Emotive behavior therapy is a form of cognitive behavior therapy. Its basic concept is emotions result from beliefs. It is an educational process where the therapist enacts as a teacher helping the client to recognize irrational beliefs, argue them, and replace them with rational beliefs. Once this is achieved, emotional difficulties and problematic behavior subside.


  1. Froggatt, W. (2005). A Brief Introduction to Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.
  2. Grazebrook, K., and Garland, A. (2005). What are Cognitive and/or Behavioral Psychotherapies.
  3. Haaga, D., A., and Davison, G., C. (1989). Outcome Studies of Rational-Emotive Therapy (Chapter 9) [In Diguiseppe, M., E., and Bernard, R. (Eds). Inside Rational Emotive Therapy: a Critical Appraisal of the Theory and Therapy]. Academic Press. London (155-259).
  4. Milkman, H., and Wanberg, K. For the U.S. Department of Justice. (2007). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment: A Review and Discussion for Corrections Professionals. Washington, DC: National Institute of Corrections.
  5. Rhena, B., and Dryden, W. (2008). Fundamentals of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy: A Training Handbook. New York: Wiley.
  6. Spencer, S. (2005).Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: It’s Effectiveness with Children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Graduate School: University of Wisconsin.