Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT): Definition & Techniques

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  • 0:01 Albert Ellis and REBT
  • 1:17 Merging Cognitive &…
  • 2:22 The Therapeutic Experience
  • 3:41 A-B-C Framework &…
  • 5:08 Strengths and Weaknesses
  • 6:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

What do you get when you take Albert Ellis and have him merge cognitive techniques with behaviorism? Why REBT, of course! Learn more about the application of rational emotive behavior therapy in this lesson.

Albert Ellis and REBT

Imagine a young man who is afraid to talk to women he doesn't know. He would really like to meet someone special, and he realizes that this fear is limiting his opportunities. Then, the young man had an idea! He went to a botanical garden near his apartment every day for the next month and forced himself to talk to 100 different women during this time.

The young man was turned down for a date by all 100 women, but he did accomplish something. His fear of rejection by women was not as strong as it had been, and he no longer had a great fear of talking to them. He had overcome one of his strongest emotional struggles.

This young man's name was Albert Ellis. He went on to become a well-known therapist who developed similar cognitive behavioral techniques used in his rational emotive behavior therapy.


Rational emotive behavior therapy was one of the first cognitive behavior therapies. It is also known as REBT. It is a form of cognitive behavior therapy that emphasizes reorganizing cognitive and emotional functions, redefining problems, and changing attitudes in order to develop more acceptable patterns of behavior.

Merging Cognitive & Behavioral Approaches

Ellis' concept of REBT began as simply rational emotive therapy (RET). You will sometimes hear the two used interchangeably because of this. During his early work as a psychotherapist, he noticed that a person would improve their situation much more quickly when they changed their way of thinking about themselves and their problems.

Therefore, his initial approach centered on the reorganization of the way a person structured their thinking about life. He wanted a person to adopt a more rational way of thinking about a problem or about a situation so that they would feel a different emotional response.

While working on this technique, Ellis made another observation. When a person employed a behavioral intervention to help them change their way of thinking, they could improve their situation with an even faster rate of success.

In this way, REBT was developed out of a blending of cognitive and behavioral techniques. Ellis' technique is still sometimes used as RET without a behavioral component.

The Therapeutic Experience

The process of REBT involves a collaborative effort between the therapist and client to change irrational beliefs. Insight alone does not lead to change but helps clients see how they are sabotaging their own lives and what they can do to change. Because REBT is essentially a cognitive and directive behavioral process, an emotional bond between the client and therapist is not necessary. In fact, Ellis believed that too much warmth and understanding could be counterproductive to the therapeutic process by creating dependence on therapist's approval.

The therapist helps clients see how they have incorporated many irrational beliefs into their lives. They demonstrate to the client how they are keeping emotional disturbances active by continuing to experience these irrational beliefs. Once these irrational beliefs are properly recognized, they help the client to find ways to modify their thinking and find a more rational philosophy for life to prevent future problems from arising.

The client takes an active role in restructuring their thoughts after they have accepted that their irrational beliefs are responsible for negative emotions or behaviors. They learn how to apply logical thought to their lives, participate in experiential exercises, and do assigned behavioral homework.

A-B-C Framework & Therapeutic Techniques

The A-B-C framework, a tool used for visualizing a client's feelings, thoughts, events, and behaviors, is central to REBT.

The A-B-C framework is like a flow chart showing the interaction of the various components like this:

ABC Framework

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