Last Updated on March 25, 2020 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Rational emotive behavioral therapy, also known as REBT, rational therapy, and rational emotive therapy, was created and developed by American psychotherapist Dr. Albert Ellis in the 1950s.  It is a branch of psychotherapy that helps people to work through their emotional and behavioral problems, with the end and ultimate goal of effectively teaching them to lead happier and more fulfilling lives.  This is accomplished by changing the way the subject they reacts to external events. REBT was a precursor of general cognitive behavioral therapy, which is similar.  The applications of this therapy for people working on breaking free of their addictions are numerous.  Many people who have participated in REBT have experienced great results in resolving problems that lead to their addictions, and report strength in using its methods to avoid returning to actively abusing drugs or alcohol.

How It All Began

When developing REBT, Dr. Albert Ellis was inspired by philosophy and philosophers.  He studied philosophers from ancient Rome, ancient Greece, ancient Asia, and modern philosophers.  The individual he was most drawn to – and often quoted – was Greek Stoic philosopher Epitectus.  Epitectus, who lived from 55-135 AD believed that all external events are beyond our control, and that we should simply accept them without too much emotional. Conversely, though, individuals are responsible for their own actions, and we are able to examine our actions and control them through self-discipline.  These ideas are reflective of philosophical Stocism, and Dr. Ellis felt strongly that these ideas were highly applicable to emotional and behavioral psychotherapy in modern times as well.

Ellis first presented his ideas around this concept at the American Psychological Association conference in 1956, where he eagerly and effectively defended his work.  The following year, he published an article on his research in a peer-reviewed journal entitled “Rational psychotherapy and individual psychology.”  In 1959, the therapy got a name – rational emotive therapy – although that was changed to its current name, rational emotive behavioral therapy, in 1992.

What REBT is All About

Considering Ellis’ interest in philosophy, it is no surprise that this therapy mirrors the beliefs of Epitectus and Stoicism in many ways.  Stoicism suggests that our problems are brought on by overthinking and overanalyzing external events.  It is our views of things, events, and experiences that make them bad; they are not inherently bad on their own.  Ellis often quoted Shakespeare in Hamletto illustrate this point: “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”  A main premise of REBT is that humans do not become emotionally disturbed as a result of unfortunate circumstances; rather, they become this way due to the ways they construct their views of these circumstances through language, beliefs, meanings, and philosophies about the world, themselves, and others.

According to Stoicism and REBT theory, to a large degree, people consciously and unconsciously construct emotional difficulties such as self-blame, self pity, anger, hurt, guilt, shame and anxiety.  They also encourage within themselves certain behaviors including procrastination, compulsiveness, avoidance, and even addiction and withdrawal. These feelings and behaviors appear as a result of irrational and self-defeating thinking.   They can be avoided by thinking differently.  REBT is truly the promotion of mind over matter.

In order to treat this cycle of behavior using REBT, the individual must learn new ways of thinking.  He or she is taught different cognitive, emotive and behavioral methods, and in using them, the individual can hopefully react in more rational, self-helping, and constructive ways of thinking instead of reverting to old self-defeating ways. The therapist aims to show the client that he or she has a choice in how they feel about things.  When something stressful, disappointing, or even terrible occurs, he or she can feel bad, sad, depressed, self-pitying, or upset about it or he or she can choose to view it differently and learn from it, become stronger from it, or avoid much of a reaction at all.

How It Works

When using REBT with a client, a therapist is more or less training the client to rewire his or her thinking.  Most importantly, then individual must have a willingness to change, or the therapy will not work.   When he or she is ready, the therapist and client work together to reflect upon the ways in which the client makes himself or herself upset.   Then, he or she learns ways to diminish the effect of these events.  The client and therapist work together through target problems and to establish goals, and the client is taught to self-evaluate.  Through this process, the client is empowered to lead a happier and more fulfilling life.  The therapy is usually offered briefly, but if the therapist does not see clear and measurable results in a short time, it will continue until the client is able to use the new skills effectively.

REBT & Addiction Recovery

There are three conceptual phrases from which Ellis believed most human discomfort arises.  They are:

  • The irrationally high expectation of oneself to be exceptional and perform at outstanding levels.
  • The irrationally high expectation that others be good and kind and treat others well.
  • The irrationally high expectation to always get what you want.

Clearly, there are countless ways that these inherent beliefs affect each and every one of us every day.  It is not surprising that the fact that these needs are not always met can be overwhelming for some, and it is also not surprising that continuous disappointment from each of these things may lead some people into a life of drug and alcohol abuse and eventually addiction.

However, if the individual is taught to react to unpleasant events in a positive way, then that could literally change everything.  If that person is encouraged to work towards acceptance of self, others, and the world, then he or she will hopefully not react so negatively to stressful or disappointing stimuli in the future, and this will in turn will promote rational thinking, healthy decision-making, and greater overall well-being.  The therapist teaches the client a variety of behavioral strategies to achieve this, such as journaling, reflection, rewards, punishments, and talk therapy, among other things.

Rational emotive behavioral therapy can be a great help to truly anyone trying to lead a better life – even people who have experienced few difficulties or no trauma.   It is simple in concept; to some extent, it really is just thinking your way to happiness.  However, it is also a bit more complicated than that, and it takes time and practice to master.  Unlike some other treatments and therapies, it has no negative side effects.  Overall, it is a low-risk treatment style with a great deal of positive gain, and anyone struggling should consider using it with a therapist’s guidance for treatment and pursuit of happiness.

At Clear Sky Recovery, we want to help you take the first steps towards a life free of drugs and alcohol.  Our intensive and innovative ibogaine detox treatment can help you to get to the root of your addiction.  Once you have found that, you can go on to use other methods, such as REBT, unencumbered by cravings, to develop strategies to remain on the clean and sober path for the rest of your life.  Please call us today to find out more about the ways Clear Sky Recovery and ibogaine can help you.