Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy: A rationale for the Rational

Albert Ellis psychotherapy approach

In previous articles, I’ve been introducing some of the mental health approaches that are available for those interested in understanding, or possibly even looking for, psychotherapy.

As no two people are the same, the approaches of one psychotherapist might be very different from those of another and may therefore appeal to one person while another is averse to a specific approach. One example would be a spiritual approach by a therapist for a person uninterested in this facet. While integrating spirituality or even religiosity might be beneficial to some, it may cause a strange reaction in others. That being said, make use of a consultation before seeking a therapist, so you understand how they work and if they have a certain focus. And don’t feel shy about expressing your ideas and wishes, if you have any. Therapy is not a one-way street.

In a former article, I introduced Viktor Frankls Existential Therapy (also called Logotherapy) as one approach for individuals faced with a crisis in meaning.

And in this post, we’ll be diving into Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy as another approach. We’ll have a look at the application and its effectiveness in mental health treatment.

What is Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy?

Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), or Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), is a form of psychotherapy developed by psychologist Albert Ellis in the 1950s. It is based on the premise that our emotions and behaviours are largely influenced by our thoughts and beliefs. RET focuses on identifying and challenging irrational beliefs and replacing them with rational, constructive thoughts and beliefs.

In RET, the therapist works collaboratively with the individual to identify the underlying irrational beliefs that contribute to emotional distress and maladaptive behaviours.

These irrational beliefs are often characterized by demands, rigid thinking, and extreme self-criticisms. The therapist helps the individual challenge these beliefs, dispute them with evidence and logic, and develop more rational and adaptive beliefs. This process aims to reduce emotional distress, improve problem-solving skills, and promote healthier behaviours and emotional well-being.

RET has been applied to various mental health concerns, including stress, intrusive thoughts, substance abuse, and PTSD:

  1. Stress: RET helps individuals identify and reframe irrational beliefs that contribute to stress. Studies have shown that RET interventions are effective in reducing stress and improving coping strategies (Bernard & Joyce, 1984; Turner et al., 2002).
  2. Intrusive Thoughts: RET can help individuals challenge and reframe negative and intrusive thoughts. It has been found to be effective in reducing the severity and frequency of intrusive thoughts in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (David et al., 2005).
  3. Substance Abuse: RET has been incorporated into substance abuse treatment programmes and has shown promise in helping individuals address irrational beliefs and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Studies reported positive outcomes in reducing substance use and improving treatment adherence (DiGiuseppe et al., 2010; Ellis et al., 1988).
  4. PTSD: While RET has not been extensively studied as a standalone treatment for PTSD, it has been integrated into trauma-focused interventions. For example, the combination of RET with exposure therapy has shown promise in reducing PTSD symptoms (Resick et al., 2002).

The duration of therapy can vary depending on the individual and the concerns being addressed. RET is typically considered a short-term therapy, with many interventions ranging from 6 to 20 sessions, although the length of therapy can be flexible depending on the client’s progress and needs.

In terms of effectiveness, RET has demonstrated positive outcomes across a range of mental health concerns. Multiple studies have supported its effectiveness in reducing emotional distress, improving coping skills, and promoting psychological well-being (Bernard & Joyce, 1984; David et al., 2005; DiGiuseppe et al., 2010; Ellis et al., 1988; Turner et al., 2002).

While RET has a substantial evidence base supporting its effectiveness, it may not be the most suitable or effective approach for everyone. As mentioned in the introduction, different people have different demands, and the rational approach might repel some people.

The choice of therapy should be based on individual needs and preferences, considering the whole person and their needs.

If you are curious about REBT, you might enjoy these books that go in-depth into the treatment approach:

  1. “A Guide to Rational Living” by Albert Ellis and Robert A. Harper
  2. “Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy” by Albert Ellis
  3. “Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy: A Therapist’s Guide” by Albert Ellis and Catharine MacLaren
  4. “How to Control Your Anxiety Before It Controls You” by Albert Ellis
  5. “Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviours: New Directions for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy” by Albert Ellis, Windy Dryden, and Michael Neenan
  6. “Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy: 100 Key Points and Techniques” by Windy Dryden and Michael Neenan
  7. “Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy in Sport and Exercise” by Martin Turner and Andrew Barker
  8. “The Practise of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy” by Albert Ellis and Windy Dryden
  9. “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: 100 Key Points and Techniques” by Windy Dryden
  10. “Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy: Distinctive Features” by Windy Dryden
How does Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy work? What’s the focus? Watch this Introduction to understand the main rationale


  • Bernard, M. E., & Joyce, M. R. (1984). Effects of rational-emotive education on emotional adjustment in inner-city elementary school children. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 31(3), 384-389.
  • David, D., Cotet, C., Matu, S., Mogoase, C., & Stefan, S. (2005). 2005). “Rational emotive behaviour therapy, cognitive therapy, and medication in the treatment of major depressive disorder: A randomised clinical trial, post-treatment outcomes, and six-month follow-up.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(7), 905–919.
  • DiGiuseppe, R. A., Doyle, K. A., Dryden, W., & Backx, W. (2010). A Practitioner’s Guide to Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.
  • Ellis, A., Yeager, R. J., & DiMattia, D. J. (1988). Coping with anxiety: Rational-emotive therapy for panic and agoraphobia. Springer Publishing Company.
  • Resick, P. A., Nishith, P., Weaver, T. L., Astin, M. C., & Feuer, C. A. (2002). A comparison of cognitive-processing therapy with prolonged exposure and a waiting condition for the treatment of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder in female rape victims Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(4), 867-879
  • Turner, M. J., Barker, A. R., & Zachariae, R. (2002). “An empirical investigation of rational-emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) with elite performers.” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14(3), 259–281.

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