Rational Emotive Therapy: Definition, Techniques & Examples

Instructor: Manuela Heberle

Manuela has master's degree in counseling and has taught psychology, social psychology, and a tests and measurements course.

This lesson provides an overview of a therapeutic approach that can help clients adopt rational thinking patterns. Specific techniques used in rational emotive therapy are also included.

An Overview of Rational Emotive Therapy

Have you ever known someone who has difficulty handling setbacks in a productive way? In other words, they have difficulty making the best of a bad situation. If so, then they would likely benefit from rational emotive therapy (RET). Rational emotive therapy is also called rational emotive behavioral therapy.

Albert Ellis
Photo of Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis, the creator of RET, asserts that we have control over our lives, that we are not victims, and that we have a choice regarding the way we think and feel. We can be hopeful, positive and optimistic about life, or we can be hopeless, negative and pessimistic. Regardless of our past or present experiences, we have the ability to control our lives through our cognitions.

RET is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. 'Cognitive' means that it aims to change self-defeating cognitions (or thoughts) by training people to view themselves and their predicaments in more rational ways, while 'behavioral' refers to the fact that those more rational thoughts then positively affect how a person behaves. Here's an example.

You see a therapist because you are feeling depressed. Together, you and the therapist isolate some of the negative thoughts that you seem to repeat to yourself. You then counter those negative thoughts with rational positive thoughts. Your homework might be to practice positive thinking and to notice when you walk around with a frown or angry expression. The therapist might suggest that you make an effort to stop frowning and change your facial expression to a more positive one. The change in your thoughts and behaviors (now more rational and positive) will contribute to more positive feelings. As a result, your depressed mood will improve.

The ABC Method

RET often incorporates the ABC method to help clients identify and correct unhealthy thinking patterns or attitudes. This method is used to examine the activating event (A), the belief or explanation of the event (B), and the consequence (C). The ABC method is based on the fact that the way we explain the world around us largely determines how we feel. Our explanatory style can be negative or positive. If I have a negative explanatory style, my negative self-talk will contribute to negative feelings, which will contribute to a more negative outcome. Of course, the opposite is also true. If I have a positive explanatory style, the outcome will be more positive. Let's look at an example and apply a positive and a negative explanatory style to the same situation.

Irrational/Negative Explanatory Style

Activating Event = I flunk an important college exam.

Belief or Explanatory Style = I can't do this, and I hate college. College is stupid.

Consequence = I drop the class or even drop out of college.

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