Call us today
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies represent a number of different forms of psychotherapy where the primary focus is on identifying elements of an individual’s irrational and often dysfunctional beliefs, and then changing those beliefs to be more realistic and functional in association with changing some unwanted or undesirable behavior.
Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy is one of the earliest forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that was developed by the late Dr. Albert Ellis.
According to his own book, Handbook of Rational-Emotive Therapy, Dr. Ellis was a psychotherapist who was originally trained in Freudian psychoanalysis, but he was also exposed to a number of other approaches in training, such as those from the behavioral school of psychology. Ellis was not satisfied with the basic principles and approach of the Freudian model of therapy. Instead, he began to focus more on the individual’s belief system and how this affected behavior as opposed to the Freudian notion that behavior was a result of a number of unconscious motives or drives. While the behavioral paradigm of psychology had started to emerge as a practical alternative to traditional Freudian thought, Ellis believed that both schools were lacking in terms of being complete in their approach.
In the book Rational and Irrational Beliefs: Research, Theory, and Clinical Practice, Dr. Ellis and his colleagues clearly explained how the basic principles of behavioral psychology, often referred to as the “ABC model of behavior,” were modified to fit the theoretical background of REBT. In behavioral psychology, the acronym ABC means:
Dr. Ellis developed a similar acronym (ABCDE) that was expanded from the behavioral school’s ABC to describe his fundamental approach using REBT:
Ellis devoted quite a bit of time in his development of REBT to trying to understand how irrational beliefs are generally expressed. He came to realize that there are significant differences in how people experience these irrational beliefs and that, in many cases, these irrational beliefs are often based on the person’s expectations about how others perceive them.
He also realized that in order to develop a formal system of intervention, he would need to categorize basic types of irrational beliefs. This categorization would be the basis of a targeted program of intervention while at the same time respecting that people are individuals and express these beliefs in a unique and subjective manner. Thus, while every individual case is different, there also general similarities in the specific type of belief systems that individuals utilize.
A number of writings from Ellis and his students, such as the book Understanding Emotional Problems: A REBT Perspective, clearly lay out the objectives of REBT. In general, these objectives include:
At this point, it is important to recognize that summarizing any therapeutic approach is an oversimplification of the complexities of the theories and principles involved in the approach and of the general approach itself. Individuals who are qualified to perform any form of psychotherapy, such as REBT, must meet specific educational requirements and training requirements before they can practice therapy. No one should attempt to use techniques or principles associated with any formal psychotherapeutic intervention unless they are trained, have experience, and are licensed to do so. For example, actually identifying an individual’s system of dysfunctional beliefs and how they relate to the three categories of “musts” requires quite a bit of understanding of human nature, knowledge of psychological principles, and the ability to help the person reveal these in a manner that does not cause the individual to become reactive or oppositional.
REBT therapists attempt to meet their objectives in various ways, as outlined below.
Many of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapies are often referred to as “action-oriented therapies.” This means that success in these therapies requires the individual to become actively involved in the process. This is much different than simply expecting the therapist to somehow evoke change or the expectation that many people have regarding treatment based on inaccurate presentations of the therapeutic process presented in films, TV programs, fictional accounts in books, etc. The stereotype of therapy as simply lying on the couch and talking to the therapist (which is more consistent with the lengthy Freudian model of therapy) does not apply to REBT.
According to numerous sources, including the book Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry, therapies like REBT are the preferred approach for treatment of a number of disorders, including substance use disorders. Research evidence for REBT is generally very positive, and it has been demonstrated to be efficacious in the treatment of substance use disorders, depression, trauma- and stress-related disorders, anxiety disorders, and even personality disorders (a category of mental health disorders that is notoriously difficult to treat). While research indicates that REBT is efficacious and has a number of practical uses, it should be understood that the technique is not flawless and will not work in every situation for everyone. Cognitive Behavioral Therapies often work best for individuals who are motivated to change and who are willing to apply the principles discussed in therapy outside of the therapeutic situation.
REBT therapists often assign numerous homework assignments during the course of therapy. As a result, individuals not motivated to actually get out and do the work but who wish to simply change as a result of their interaction with the therapist are more likely to experience less success. Some REBT therapists practice the use of techniques like Motivational Interviewing, another cognitive-behavioral intervention that is designed to assess the individual’s level of motivation to change and then use the therapeutic approach best suited for that situation.
No matter how it is delivered, REBT is not a passive intervention. Clients must be actively involved in the process in order for it to work.