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.

Concept OverviewRational Emotive Therapy (RET), developed by Albert Ellis, is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that focuses on helping individuals identify and change irrational beliefs and thought patterns that contribute to emotional distress and behavioral issues. RET posits that it’s not events themselves that cause emotional reactions but the beliefs and interpretations individuals have about those events. The therapy aims to promote rational thinking and emotional well-being.
ABCDE ModelRET employs the ABCDE model to explain the process of emotional disturbance and change:
A (Activating Event): This represents the event or situation that triggers emotional reactions.
B (Belief): Beliefs or interpretations about the activating event lead to emotional and behavioral consequences.
C (Consequences): Emotional and behavioral consequences result from irrational beliefs.
D (Disputing): Disputing irrational beliefs involves challenging and questioning their validity.
E (Effect): Effect represents the emotional and behavioral change that occurs when irrational beliefs are disputed and replaced with rational ones.
Irrational BeliefsRET identifies common irrational beliefs that contribute to emotional distress, including:
1. Catastrophizing: Believing the worst possible outcome will occur.
2. “Musturbation”: Imposing rigid “should” and “must” statements on oneself and others.
3. Awfulizing: Viewing situations as unbearable or catastrophic.
4. Low Frustration Tolerance: Believing one can’t tolerate frustration or discomfort.
5. Global Evaluations: Making sweeping negative judgments about oneself based on specific events.
ApplicationsRET is applied in various contexts:
1. Clinical Psychology: It is used by therapists to treat a wide range of emotional and psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, anger management, and addiction.
2. Counseling: Counselors use RET techniques to help clients manage stress and improve coping skills.
3. Personal Development: Individuals can apply RET principles for self-help and personal growth.
4. Education: RET informs teaching strategies to help students develop rational thinking skills.
5. Corporate Training: Organizations use RET to enhance employee resilience and emotional intelligence.
BenefitsThe therapy offers several benefits:
1. Emotional Resilience: RET equips individuals with tools to manage emotional reactions and build resilience.
2. Behavior Change: It helps individuals replace self-destructive behaviors with healthier alternatives.
3. Improved Relationships: Rational thinking fosters better communication and conflict resolution in relationships.
4. Stress Reduction: It provides techniques to reduce stress and anxiety.
5. Personal Growth: RET facilitates personal growth by challenging limiting beliefs and promoting self-acceptance.
ChallengesChallenges in applying RET include the need for individuals to be open to examining and challenging their beliefs, as well as the potential resistance to change. Some individuals may find it difficult to identify and dispute irrational beliefs on their own. Additionally, the therapy may not be suitable for severe mental health issues that require more intensive treatment.

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:

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.

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”. 

Consequence (C)

The behavioral or emotional response(s).

This usually manifests as poor self-esteem, social anxiety, or depression.

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.

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.

Rational Emotive Therapy And ABC Model

The ABC model is a technique used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps individuals understand the meaning of their reactions to adversity; developed by American psychologist Albert Ellis to explain why different people have different reactions to stress and adversity, the ABC model is an acronym of three components that explain how a person perceives an external event: adversity, belief, and consequence.

The ABC Model is the underlying method of the Rational Emotive Theory, as it leverages the following steps to look into how individuals interpret and react to adversity:

Rational Emotive Therapy And Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring describes the process of bringing awareness and change to negative thought patterns. Cognitive restructuring is integral to the principle of cognitive mediation. This principle states that the emotional reaction an individual has to a situation is not caused by the situation itself. Instead, it is largely governed by what the individual thinks about the situation. Using the power of cognitive mediation, cognitive restructuring helps the individual change their life by empowering them to change the way they think. This form of empowerment is a fundamental aspect of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Cognitive restructuring is also a form of CBT, just like Rational Emotive Therapy.

Some cognitive restructuring techniques comprise:

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.

Key Highlights

  • Rational Emotive Therapy (REBT): Also known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, REBT is a psychotherapy technique developed by Albert Ellis in 1955. It’s built on the premise that a person’s thoughts are the primary influence on their emotions and behaviors.
  • Core Concept: REBT focuses on identifying and challenging irrational beliefs and negative thought patterns that contribute to negative emotions and self-destructive behaviors.
  • Components of REBT:
    • Activating/Adverse Event (A): The external event that triggers thoughts and emotions.
    • Belief (B): Subconscious beliefs about the event and people involved, often negative and irrational.
    • Consequence (C): Emotional or behavioral reactions resulting from the beliefs.
    • Dispute (D): Challenging and questioning irrational beliefs.
    • Effective Behavior (E): Positive behavioral outcomes resulting from rational beliefs.
  • Therapeutic Process: Therapists guide patients through the ABCDE process, helping them recognize the connections between events, beliefs, and consequences. Challenging irrational beliefs leads to more positive responses in similar situations.
  • Applications of REBT:
    • Mental Disorders: REBT has been shown effective in treating various mental disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, OCD, and symptoms of psychosis.
    • Sports Psychology: REBT is used to help athletes overcome negative thoughts and improve performance.
  • ABC Model: A technique within REBT, the ABC model (Adversity, Belief, Consequence) helps individuals understand their reactions to adversity. The model guides them through recognizing their beliefs and challenging them to change their responses.
  • Cognitive Restructuring: REBT incorporates cognitive restructuring, which involves changing negative thought patterns to improve emotional well-being. This approach is essential to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which encompasses REBT.
  • Cognitive Restructuring Techniques:
    • Self-awareness Practice: Becoming mindful of one’s thoughts and emotions.
    • Question Assumptions: Challenging automatic negative assumptions.
    • Gather Evidence: Examining evidence for and against negative beliefs.
    • Create Different Thoughts: Formulating positive and rational alternatives.
    • Be Self-Compassionate: Developing self-compassion and empathy towards oneself.

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.

Connected Business Concepts

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is motivated by the prospect of earning a reward or avoiding a punishment. Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is motivated by the desire to do something for its own sake. There is no obvious, external reward for behaving a certain way. 

Theory X and Theory Y

Theory X and Theory Y were developed in the 1960s by American management professor and social psychologist Douglas McGregor. McGregor believed there were two fundamental approaches to managing people in the workplace to get things done and benefit the organization. Theory X and Theory Y are theories of motivation used by managers to increase the performance of subordinates.

ERG Theory

The ERG theory was developed by American psychologist Clayton Alderfer between 1961 and 1978.  The ERG theory is a motivational model based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The ERG theory is based on an acronym of three groups of core needs: existence, relatedness, growth.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.

Wheel of Life

The idea behind the wheel of life is credited to self-improvement pioneer Paul Meyer who founded the Success Motivation Institute in 1960. Despite numerous interpretations of the wheel of life in more recent years, each version shares the common purpose of personal transformation.

Job Characteristics Model

Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics model is a framework that businesses use to design jobs that facilitate employee motivation. Hackman and Oldham’s model is based on the idea maintaining motivation in the workplace lies in the job itself. While mundane tasks were found to decrease productivity, more varied tasks had the opposite effect. Hackman and Oldham identified five job characteristics that enrich a role and cause employee motivation, satisfaction, and performance to increase: skill variety, task identity, task significance, task autonomy, and feedback. These factors are linked with three psychological states that improve an employee’s motivation in the workplace.

Premack Principle

The Premack principle posits that an individual will perform a less preferred activity (low probability behavior) to obtain access to a more preferred activity (high probability behavior). The Premack principle was developed after a study of capuchin monkeys conducted by David Premack in 1965. Premack later conducted a similar experiment with children and found that irrespective of their preference between pinball and candy, they would perform the less desirable activity to get what they wanted. The Premack principle can also be useful in some workplace scenarios as an employee motivation tactic.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Moonshot Thinking

Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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