The Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) Approach, Techniques, Theory into Practice, Practical Application

The Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) Approach

First introduced by Albert Ellis in 1962 as rational emotive therapy (RET), the B for “behavior” was added later as Ellis found that the use of pleasurable behaviors helped to motivate the client to be vigilant in new thinking patterns. Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is intended to help people live balanced, productive, and more rational lives by limiting the demands that one makes of oneself. This theory concentrates on the relationship between thoughts and their effect on emotions and behaviors.

Ellis believes that if people gain insight into their thinking processes, they can change because of thinking influences feelings and behavior. Ellis also suggests that people have within themselves the ability to control their thoughts, feelings, and actions. However, clients must first be aware of what they are telling themselves (self-talk) to gain control. It is the difference between saying “I act badly” and “I am bad.” Demands and wishes, and words such as should have, must, have to, and need to lead to irrational thoughts and unfulfilled emotions. As the client gains a more rational thought process and positive way of thinking, she or he gains the ability to focus on altering specific behaviors instead of a total personality change. Clients begin to understand that they have the choice of what to say and do, and this becomes empowering.

Techniques

School counselors who subscribe to REBT believe that experiences directly affect one’s feelings whether they are positive, negative, neutral, or mixed. Techniques such as teaching and disputing help school counselors educate students on the anatomy of emotion. Feelings are viewed as a result of thoughts and not events. The counselor helps the student dispute irrational thoughts and students are encouraged to facilitate change in their thought patterns. 

Often the irrational thought is not the thought presented and the technique of inference chaining is valuable in revealing the true thought(s) that need to be confronted. School counselors guide students to come to an understanding of their behaviors through cognitive processing, guided imagery, and behavioral disputing. Each of these techniques invokes direct questions, logical reasoning, imagining real situations, and attempting behavior that is not within their norm. Students may experience role-playing, homework assignments, journal writing, and bibliotherapy as part of the counseling process.

The counselor also uses the cognitive theory of disturbance to help the student understand how irrational beliefs lead to negative consequences. The ABC equation is central to REBT practice. A is the fact, an activating event, or the behavior or attitude on the part of a student. B is the student’s belief that A causes C, the emotional and/or behavioral consequence. 

However, the student must come to understand that the reaction can be healthy or not; appropriate or not, A does not cause C. The student learns to acknowledge that she or he is largely responsible for creating her or his problems and accepts that she or he has the ability to change the outcome. Ultimately, the student understands that the problem stems from an irrational belief, works hard to counteract the irrationality, and engages in rational, emotive behavior as a way of life.

Theory into Practice

REBT helps to restore emotional balance. This approach helps the student learn new ways of thinking, behaving, and feeling and ultimately take control of the direction the student’s life is going. REBT can be used with other behavioral techniques to effectively assist students who have anxiety and adjustment disorders. The intent of REBT is to complete the process in a short-term period; therefore, it is also considered a viable theory in a school setting where time is limited. REBT is best applied with older children and adolescents who are mature enough and intellectually capable to discern reality from fictional thought processing. REBT is considered ineffective with mentally or severely emotionally disabled students or with very young children.

Changing thought patterns may not be the simplest or most compelling way to reframe emotions or behaviors. Accountability for behavior requires that students must become responsible for their own actions. Although an event can create a thought, which can lead to a consequence of action, students must assume responsibility for their own actions. REBT encourages students to be more tolerant of themselves and to strive to achieve their personal goals.

Practical Application

It is senior year and the college selection process is underway. Amanda is feeling pressured as to what schools she should apply. In her community, there is a lot of pressure on getting into the “right” college. It seems to be more of an issue with the parents than with the students. Although she ranks third in her class and has an exceptional high school resume, Amanda has asked for your help in explaining to her parents that she is not interested in applying to an “ivy league school” but very much wants to study in an environment that will not put as much pressure on her and allow her to participate in co-op experiences and internships as part of her studies. With early decision deadline dates looming ahead, Amanda is very stressed out over the conversation she needs to have with her parents so she can submit her applications.

Books

Stone, C., & Dahir, C. A. (2015). The transformed school counselor. Cengage Learning.

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