Rational Emotive Therapy

Rational emotive therapy, also known as rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), is a psychotherapy technique based on the idea that how someone thinks is the primary determinant of how they feel.

Understanding rational emotive therapy

Rational emotive behavioral therapy was developed in 1955 by Albert Ellis whose work laid the foundation for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

Ellis believed that many were not aware of how their thoughts impacted the way they behaved in important situations or relationships.

Since these tended to be negative thoughts more often than not, the individual experienced a range of negative emotions and engaged in self-destructive behaviors.

REBT is an action-oriented framework that encourages the individual to counter irrational beliefs and negative thought patterns that may cause behavioral or emotional issues.

It is based on the belief that how someone thinks is linked to how they feel and that by replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, the individual is better able to accept themselves and others.

The five components of rational emotive therapy

Rational emotive therapy is comprised of five components that follow the ABCDE model:

  1. Activating/adverse event (A) – the external event that determines how one thinks or feels. In a workplace, this may be a superior criticizing one’s performance.
  2. Belief (B) – the automated, sub-conscious beliefs we possess about the activating event and the people involved (this includes oneself). The employee may believe they are unlikeable, inadequate, incompetent, or otherwise unable to earn a promotion. Many other irrational beliefs arise from statements prefaced with “I must” or “I should”. 
  3. Consequence (C) – the behavioral or emotional response(s). This usually manifests as poor self-esteem, social anxiety, or depression.
  4. Dispute (D) – at this point, the individual questions or disputes the automated, sub-conscious beliefs and lets them go. This is arguably the most difficult part, but techniques such as journaling, meditation, introspection, and taking an active role in the therapy process usually yield good results.
  5. Effective behavior (E) – the result of the individual having the capacity to resist irrational beliefs and exhibit more positive behavior.

Therapists who are trained in REBT move the patient through the ABCDE process to encourage them to see the connections between the event, their beliefs, and the consequences of those beliefs.

Awareness of these interactions is key to the likelihood of a more positive response to a similar scenario in the future.

Where is rational emotive therapy useful?

Studies support rational emotive therapy as providing benefits to those who suffer from:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Social anxiety disorder.
  • Depression.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Symptoms of psychosis such as delusions or hallucinations.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) – a childhood disorder characterized by irritability, severe anger, and frequent outbursts.

REBT has also been used in sports psychology to help athletes challenge some of the negative thoughts or ideas that contribute to poor mental health and hinder their performance.

Key takeaways:

  • Rational emotive therapy, also known as rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), is a psychotherapy technique based on the idea that how someone thinks is the primary determinant of how they feel.
  • Rational emotive therapy is comprised of five components that make the individual aware of the connection between their thoughts and feelings and replace them with more positive responses. These components include activating event, belief, consequence, dispute, and effective behavior. 
  • Rational emotive therapy is useful in treating aspects of a range of disorders such as generalized and social anxiety, OCD, DMDD, and depression. It has also been used in sports psychology to remove barriers to high performance.

Other Brainstorming Frameworks

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciate Inquiry (AI) is an organizational change methodology that focuses on strengths and not on weaknesses. Appreciate Inquiry was created by management professors David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s. The Appreciate Inquiry is also known as the 5-D Cycle, an iterative cycle describing five distinct phases, made of define, discover, dream, design, and destiny.

Round-robin Brainstorming

Round-robin brainstorming is a collective and iterative approach to brainstorming. Brainstorming is an effective way of generating fresh ideas for an organization. Round-robin brainstorming is a balanced approach, employing an iterative, circular process that builds on the previous contribution of each participant.

Constructive Controversy

Constructive controversy is a theory arguing that controversial discussions create a good starting point for understanding complex problems. A constructive controversy discussion is performed by following six steps: organize information and derive conclusions; presenting and advocating decisions; being challenged by opposing views; conceptual conflict and uncertainty; epistemic curiosity and perspective-taking; and reconceptualization, synthesis, and integration.

Affinity Grouping

Affinity grouping is a collaborative prioritization process where group participants brainstorm ideas and opportunities according to their similarities. Affinity grouping is a broad and versatile process based on simple but highly effective ideas. It helps teams generate and then organize teams according to their similarity or likeness.

The Fishbone Diagram

The Fishbone Diagram is a diagram-based technique used in brainstorming to identify potential causes for a problem, thus it is a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish. This encourages problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternatives.


Rolestorming as a term was first mentioned by personal development guru Rick Griggs in the 1980s.  Rolestorming is a brainstorming technique where participants pretend they are other people when sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Reverse Brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming takes advantage of the natural human tendency to more easily see problems than solutions. What’s more, many individuals when placed in a traditional brainstorming environment will find it difficult to become creative on command. Reverse brainstorming is an approach where individuals brainstorm the various ways a plan could fail. 

Lotus Diagram

A lotus diagram is a creative tool for ideation and brainstorming. The diagram identifies the key concepts from a broad topic for simple analysis or prioritization.

Futures Wheel

The futures wheel was invented in 1971 by Jerome C. Glenn while he was studying at the Antioch Graduate School of Education.  The futures wheel is a brainstorming framework for visualizing the future consequences of a particular trend or event.

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