Albert Ellis: Theory & Concept

Albert Ellis: Theory & Concept
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  • 0:01 REBT
  • 1:26 Three Basic Musts
  • 2:34 ABCDE Model
  • 5:29 Acceptance
  • 6:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Learn more about Albert Ellis, the father of cognitive-behavioral therapy and founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Learn about REBT theory and therapy, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Rational Emotive Behavior

Albert Ellis is known as the father of cognitive-behavioral therapy and founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Ellis began developing it because he was disappointed with psychoanalysis and did not feel it worked for everyone. His work was based on how an individual's beliefs strongly affect their emotional functioning and behaviors. Ellis called these irrational beliefs, because they made people feel depressed, anxious, and angry and led to self-defeating behaviors.

REBT is a humanistic approach that focuses on our ability to create our own positive and negative emotions. According to REBT, our belief system impacts whether we achieve success and self-actualization in our lives. The goal of REBT is to make changes to irrational thinking patterns, behaviors and emotional responses, using reasonable and rational thinking.

REBT can be used to treat people affected by disorders such as anxiety, depression and stress. An REBT therapist helps clients by disputing irrational beliefs, (the therapist points out how irrational it would be for a client to believe he or she had to be good at everything to be considered a worthwhile person), reframing (situations are viewed from a more positive perspective), problem solving, role-playing, modeling and humor. The client may also be requested to complete certain exercises at home in order to achieve a life of acceptance.

The Three Basic Musts

According to Albert Ellis and REBT, irrational beliefs are the source of psychological distress. Any irrational belief stems from a core 'should,' 'must,' 'have to,' or 'need to' statement. Ellis identifies three common irrational beliefs regarding demands about the self, other people or the world. These beliefs are known as 'The Three Basic Musts,' which include the following thoughts:

  • 'I must do well or else I'm no good.'
  • 'Other people must treat me fairly and kindly, and if they don't, they are no good and they deserve to be condemned and punished.'
  • 'I must get what I want when I want it, and I must not get what I don't want. If I don't get what I want, I can't stand it.'

These irrational thoughts can lead to needless suffering. The first belief often leads to anxiety, depression, shame and guilt. The second belief often leads to rage, passive-aggression and acts of violence. And the third belief can lead to self-pity and procrastination. The demanding nature of these beliefs causes problems; being less demanding and more flexible in your belief system leads to healthy emotions and helpful behaviors.

ABCDE Model of Emotional Disturbance

Albert Ellis developed an ABCDE format to teach people how their beliefs cause their emotional and behavioral responses: 'A' stands for activating event or adversity. 'B' refers to one's irrational belief about 'A.' That belief then leads to 'C,' the emotional and behavioral consequences. 'D' stands for disputes or arguments against irrational beliefs. 'E' stands for new effect, or the new, more effective emotions and behaviors that result from more reasonable thinking about the original event. Let's take a look some examples explaining the ABCDE model:

A. Activating event - You fail a big exam.

B. Belief about the event - You believe, 'I'm not smart enough.'

C. Emotional or behavioral response - You feel depressed and rip up all of your study material.

D. Disputation - You realize that you are not required to always pass every exam.

E. New effect/emotions and behaviors - You feel disappointed but start studying to do better next time.

Here's another example:

A. Activating event - You fail a big exam.

B. Belief about the event - You believe, 'I have to pass this exam or my life is over.'

C. Emotional or behavioral response - You feel anxious and decide to quit school.

D. Disputation - You realize your existence is not dependent on a test.

E. New effect/emotions and behaviors - You are concerned about your grade and explore ways to improve it.

The goal of REBT is to help people change their irrational beliefs into rational beliefs, and accept their lives and situations. The ABC model shows that (A) does not cause (C). It is (B) that causes (C). In the first example, it's not the fact that you failed the exam that makes you feel sad and rip up your materials; it's the belief that you're not smart enough that causes sadness. In the second example, it's not the fact that you failed your exam that makes you anxious and quit school; it's the belief that your life will be over if you don't pass the exam that causes the anxiety and stress.

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