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What is REBT

Introduction to REBT

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Jonathan von Breton, MA, LCMHC, LCDP



The central idea of REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) is that our emotions and behaviors (how we feel and act) are strongly influenced by how we think. Therefore, changing our thinking can be a very powerful way to change our emotions and behaviors. REBT was the first cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and was developed by Albert Ellis, Ph.D. in the 1950s.


The following is a brief overview of how we can go about changing our thinking.


ABC Basics


A = Activating Event: Something happens. These activating events can be major: job loss, serious illness, death of a loved one, or failing at something very important. They can also be minor things or a series of minor things that add-up over time. Spilled coffee, broken shoelaces, a long line at the bank or grocery store are good examples. Activating events always have something to do with your goals (what you want) being either aided or interfered with.


B = Beliefs: Thoughts and attitudes about “A”.  These beliefs can be RATIONAL (preference based, reality based, logical and self-helping) or they can be IRRATIONAL (demand and wishful thinking based, illogical and self-defeating).


C = Consequences: The emotions (mad, sad, scared or glad) and behaviors that are the results of A (the Activating Event) + x B (the Beliefs).


D = Disputes: Arguments against irrational beliefs.


E = Effects: The effect of the disputes; the new philosophy, emotions and behaviors that result from replacing irrational beliefs with rational ones.


People can change how they feel (Emotional Consequences) and what they do (Behavioral Consequences) by changing their beliefs.


Sometimes you can change A (Activating Events) and it is a good idea to do so. However, it is not always possible to change the activating events. If you think you can, I want you to CONTROL the weather for the next 2 weeks.






                   A                    x                  B                    =                      C


Activating Event




Consequences (Emotional/Behavioral)

Something Happens

Thoughts and   attitudes

(about A)

How we feel &   what we do

(as a result of A x  B)


Both conditions have to be met in order for you feel an emotion and act on it. That is, something has to happen, A, and you have to have some beliefs, B, about what happened. Your Bs (beliefs) play a very significant role in determining the level of intensity of the Cs (Emotional & Behavioral Consequences). That is why it is expressed as A times B. Irrational beliefs result in unnecessarily exaggerated emotions and self-defeating behaviors. Rational beliefs lead to emotions that may be intense, but not exaggerated. This, in turn leads to more creative and self-helping behaviors.


IMPORTANT!  What happens to you, by itself, does not cause how you feel or what you do. People do not make you angry. You make yourself angry about what people do. Bad things do not make you feel sad or depressed. You make yourself feel sad or depressed. Dangerous situations do not make you scared. You make yourself scared. People or things do not make you happy. You do! It is what happens to you and what you believe it means to you or about you that results in how you feel and what you do. This is pretty good news because it gives you a lot of freedom.


If you are happy with how you are feeling and what you are doing is working well for you, go no further.  However, if you are feeling miserable or doing things that do not get the results you want, you just might want to change some of your thinking. Here is where D and E come in.


D                                                                   E



Arguments against the irrational beliefs New philosophy, emotions, and behaviors   resulting from replacing irrational beliefs with rational ones


This process may involve your challenging some very old, deeply held, habitual beliefs about how you, other people and the world should be. As these beliefs are so habitual, it may take some time just to recognize them. Then it takes even more time to challenge them and replace them with beliefs that work better for you. In the long run, all this effort is well worth it!



It is worth all this work because rational thinking has 4 major benefits.


  1. In the face of unwanted, undesirable, inconvenient, painful,      and unfair events (real or imagined) rational thinking results in better      problem solving. If there is anything you can do about the event, you are      much more likely to come up with a practical solution. Rational thinking      dramatically improves creativity and practical problem solving. It      improves overall creativity as well.


Summary: Rational thinking increases creative problem solving.

Rational thinking increases creativity in general.


  1. In the face of unwanted, undesirable, inconvenient, painful,      and unfair events (real or imagined) rational thinking results in less      misery. If there is nothing you can do about the event, you are much less      likely to make yourself miserable in addition to being unhappy. Rational      thinking dramatically decreases extra misery (bad enough you’re unhappy,      why be miserable!).


Summery: Rational thinking makes it easier to handle life’s unavoidable

painful events emotionally.


  1. By increasing practical, creative problem solving and      decreasing misery, rational thinking allows for much greater success and      enjoyment of life overall.


Summery: Rational thinking results in greater overall happiness.


  1. When you take responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings      and actions,

you make it almost impossible for others to manipulate you or make you feel bad.


Summery: Rational thinking gives you much more independence of

thought, emotion and action.