What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

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Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is an evidence-based therapy used in addiction treatment. It helps clients challenge their negative beliefs using healthy thinking patterns. This form of therapy has been proven effective for people dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is an early form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It was developed by Albert Ellis and inspired by ancient stoic philosophers.

Like other forms of CBT, REBT stems from the belief that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors influence each other.

REBT is an evidence-based practice, and it has been proven an effective treatment for substance use disorders.

Addressing Irrational Beliefs

The primary goal of REBT is to help clients change their behaviors by addressing four core irrational thoughts and belief systems.

Negative thoughts addressed by REBT therapists include:

  • demands: unrealistic expectations of one’s self, life, and other people, which is often exhibited through the frequent use of words like “should,” “must,” “never,” and “always”
  • awfulizing: viewing small flaws and negative events as terrible, catastrophic, or irredeemable
  • low frustration tolerance: the belief that one cannot tolerate even small amounts of difficulty
  • depreciation: overgeneralizing a person, group, situation, or oneself in a negative way based on one perceived flaw

REBT And The ABC Model

REBT combats emotional distress using the ABC model, or the ABCDEF model.

The ABC model uses six steps to confront negative emotional responses and replace them with rational beliefs.

The ABC model consists of:

  • adversity
  • beliefs about adversity
  • emotional consequences
  • disputations
  • effective beliefs
  • new feelings


REBT therapy sessions address adversity, or activating events. These events may include traumas, hardships, and challenges.

For example, for a person who deals with drug or alcohol abuse may experience difficulty with cravings, guilt, and feelings of loneliness.

Beliefs About Adversity

REBT holds the standpoint that it is not the event itself, but a person’s beliefs about the event, that impact the person’s mental health the most.

This is the most important factor in the ABC model.

Emotional Consequences

Emotional consequences are the result of a person’s beliefs, according to the ABC model.

Helpful beliefs can boost self-esteem and empower people to take control of their circumstances, while unhelpful beliefs can make people feel powerless.

These emotions can then impact people’s behaviors.

For instance, when a person in recovery experiences a relapse, if they believe that they’ve ruined all of their hard work, then they may continue using drugs or alcohol.

However, if they know that relapse doesn’t negate their previous sobriety, they may contact their doctor or therapist to adjust their drug addiction treatment plan.


During REBT sessions, the therapist challenges the client’s negative beliefs with disputing evidence. For example, consider the client who has experienced relapse.

If that client does believe that they’ve ruined years of sobriety, the therapist may ask them to list all of the benefits that they’ve experienced in recovery from drug abuse.

The therapist may then remind the client that the current relapse does not take away all of the times that they’ve experienced these benefits.

Over time, the client learns how to perform these disputations on their own.

Effective Beliefs

Once the client sharpens their disputation skills, they can replace their negative beliefs with new feelings.

In the example above, for instance, the client may realize that in spite of their relapse, they have experienced success with drug and alcohol addiction treatment in the past.

Therefore, they can believe that they will continue seeing success with further treatment.

New Feelings

As a result of these effective beliefs, REBT participants can develop new feelings about their circumstances.

These new feelings can be positive rather than negative, and clients can allow these new feelings to benefit their overall mental health.

How Does REBT Benefit Addiction Recovery?

REBT therapy works well for clients experiencing addiction, according to research. It offers several benefits that can help clients throughout their recovery journey.

Empowering Clients

Addiction can make people feel hopeless, as if they have no way to stop abusing substances. REBT, however, helps people change their beliefs.

This type of therapy, therefore, empowers clients to face their circumstances and improve their overall wellbeing.

Practical Tools

Some forms of therapy take a person-centered (non-directive) approach.

In person-centered therapy, the therapist does not give specific directions to the client. Rather, they allow the client to discover their own solutions.

There are several benefits to person-centered therapy, but one drawback is that it doesn’t immediately offer practical tools, which some people need at the beginning of their recovery.

REBT, however, is a directive therapy, meaning that the therapist can offer tools, guidance, and directions.

Clients may begin using these tools immediately, which can also help them feel empowered.

Dual Diagnosis

In addition to substance use disorders (SUDs), REBT has also been studied for other conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders.

People with SUDs often also have a co-occurring mental health disorder, or dual diagnosis. For these clients, the most successful interventions treat both the SUD and the co-occurring disorder.

REBT can provide the multi-tiered support that these clients need.

Limitations Of REBT

While REBT has several benefits, it also has limitations.

For example, practical tools can only work for clients who are motivated to use them, and REBT doesn’t focus heavily on helping clients find motivation.

Combining REBT with a motivation-specific therapy, such as motivational interviewing, can help participants discover their reasons for using these techniques.

Where To Find REBT Providers For Substance Abuse

Few providers practice REBT exclusively, but many addiction treatment programs use REBT as part of a multifaceted approach to substance abuse care.

REBT can be adapted for both individual and group therapy, as well as family therapy. As a result, you may find REBT practices in several addiction treatment centers.

Find Addiction Treatment Options

Addiction is a complex disorder, but there are many treatment options available.

If you or a loved one is dealing with addiction, contact Detox Rehabs today to discover treatment services.


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