More about Rational Emotive Therapy

One of the main pillars of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is that irrational patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving are the cause of much human disturbance, including depression and anxiety. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy teaches that turning flexible preferences and wishes into grandiose absolutistic demands and commands will cause disturbances. Albert Ellis has suggested three core beliefs that cause disturbances (Ellis, 2003):

“I must be thoroughly competent, adequate, achieving, and lovable at all times, or else I am an incompetent worthless person.” This belief usually leads to feelings of anxiety, panic, depression, despair, and worthlessness.

“Other significant people in my life, must treat me kindly and fairly at all times, or else I can’t stand it, and they are bad, rotten, and evil persons who should be severely blamed, damned, and vindictively punished for their horrible treatment of me.” *:This leads to feelings of anger, rage, fury, and vindictiveness and lead to actions like fights, feuds, wars, genocide, and ultimately, an atomic holocaust.”

“Things and conditions absolutely must be the way I want them to be and must never be too difficult or frustrating. Otherwise, life is awful, terrible, horrible, catastrophic and unbearable.” This leads to low-frustration tolerance, self-pity, anger, depression, and to behaviors such as procrastination, avoidance, and inaction. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy then holds that an irrational belief system has strong tendencies to the following self-defeating components: Demands (or as Ellis calls musturbation), Awfulizing, Low Frustration Tolerance, People Rating, and Overgeneralizing.

It is therefore the evaluative belief system, based on core philosophies, that is likely to create unrealistic, arbitrary, and crooked inferences and distortions in thinking. REBT therefore first teaches that when people in an unsensible way overuse absolutistic and rigid “shoulds”, “musts”, and “oughts”, they will very likely disturb themselves. Essential to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is that most “isms” and dogmas are, by nature, unhealthy and self-defeating, and that absolutistic ways of thinking will, in most cases, create unnecessary disturbances. These inflexible philosophies are, therefore, better replaced with more flexible, un-dogmatic and self-helping attitudes. The healthy alternative to demandingness is therefore unconditional acceptance of humans — not their behavior, but that which cannot be changed — and rigorous, effortful problem solving.

Disturbed evaluations occur through overgeneralization, wherein one exaggerates and globalizes events or traits, usually unwanted events or traits or behaviors, out of context, while almost always ignoring the positive events or traits or behaviors. For example, awfulizing is mental magnification of the importance of an unwanted situation to a catastrophe, elevating the rating of something from bad to worse than it should be, to beyond totally bad, to intolerable, to a holocaust. The same exaggeration and overgeneralizing occurs with human rating, wherein humans come to be defined by their flaws or misdeeds: the person is bad based on bad behavior or bad traits. Frustration intolerance occurs when one sees that tasks are more difficult, tedious, or boring than one wants, but exaggerates the badness of this to something that is wrongly too hard, too much, not as easy as it should be or beyond what one can stand.

Many of these self-defeating beliefs are both innately biological and indoctrinated in early life and might grow stronger as a person continually revisits them. By emotive, cognitive and behavioral methods the client learns to replace the absolutistic and dogmatic musts with flexible and non-rigid preferences, which are likely to cause more healthy and constructive emotions and behavior. The Rational Emotive Behavior therapist strongly believes in a rigorous application of the rules of logic, straight thinking, and of scientific method to everyday life (Ellis, 2003).

REBT points out that irrational beliefs will often be obvious in how people talk to themselves. The therapist asking, “What are you telling yourself about…?” will usually reveal both irrational inferences, and, by closer examination, demands and exaggerated evaluations. The therapist is most interested in finding core-beliefs and deep-rooted philosophical evaluations. These are usually the automatic causes of negative inferences and higher level evaluative thoughts.

REBT teaches that:

Unconditional self-acceptance, other-acceptance and life-acceptance is of prime importance in achieving mental wellness.
People and the world are fallible and that people better accept themselves, life’s hassles and unfairnesses and others “as is”.
They consider themselves valuable just as a result of being alive and kicking; and are better off not to measure their “self” or their “being” and give themselves any global rating, because all humans are far too complex to rate, and do both good and bad deeds and have both, not either-or, good and bad attributes and traits.
REBT holds that ideas and feelings about self-worth are largely definitional and are not empirically confirmable or falsifiable (Ellis, 2003).

REBT believes that the client has to work hard to get better, and this work may include homework assigned by the therapist. The assignments may include desensitization tasks, i.e. by having the client confronting the very thing the client is making himself afraid of. Often Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy focuses on specific problems and is used as a brief therapy, but in deeper problems longer therapy is promoted. Another factor contributing to the brevity of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is that the therapist helps the client learn how to get better through hard work, and help himself to get through future adversities. It holds that hard work, and hard work only, is the only way to get, and stay, better and not only temporarily feel better. An ideal successful collaboration between the REBT therapist and a client results in changes to the client’s philosophical way of evaluating himself, others and his life, which is likely to yield effective results: The client’s better move toward unconditional self-acceptance, other-acceptance and life-acceptance.