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Albert Ellis Rational-Emotive

Behavioral Theory

Albert Ellis Brief Biography

Born 1913Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Graduated w/ Ph.D. Columbia University 1947
Taught at Rutgers 1948-49
Initially trained as a psychoanalyst @ Horney Institute.
Began developing RT (Rational Therapy-now called
REBT) around 1955 because he was disenchanted w/
psychoanalysis; he thought it was too inefficient.
Has published hundreds of books and articles.
Founded Albert Ellis Institute in NYC and now there are
institutes around US and world.
Turned 90 in September 2002 an still going strong.

Rational-Emotive Behavioral
Therapy (REBT) Overview

REBT is a philosophically-based, humanistic approach that

emphasizes individuals capacity for creating their own selfenhancing and self-defeating emotions.

Ellis borrowed from philosophy. Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher

said, People are not influenced by things but their view of things.

REBT holds that an individuals belief system affects whether s/he

attains maximum pleasure and self-actualization. Happiness is the
goal of all human beings.

REBT is a theory of how people (who want happiness) can

inadvertently create personality and emotional disturbance.

ABC Model
A = activating event (actual event, thought or image)
B = belief(s) about the event
C = emotional and/or behavioral consequence
ABC Model is used to help people understand the B-C
connection and suggests that people are influenced by
what they tell themselves. An ABC form is typically used.
People initially only see the A-C connection (John made
me angry I am depressed because I didnt get my

Example of an Activating Event

John comes home from work one day and
his wife tells him that she is leaving him for
someone else. How do you think John

Sample Emotions and Thoughts

Ill never find someone as wonderful as her.
Im a loser.
That *$*%$ has no right to leave. Ive given
her everything.
Thank God she is leaving. I will be rid of a big

Now I can get on with my life.

Other Important REBT Ideas

Ellis thinks people are born with the potential to think
rationally and irrationally.
Emotional disturbance comes largely from irrational
thinking (elevating our desires to demands).
The REBT therapist helps clients to develop a more
rational, non-demanding philosophy and thinking style.
REBT theory holds that if a person can think more
rationally (especially in the face of negative events), s/he
will suffer less emotional disturbance and act in less selfdefeating ways. Rationality is the key to achieving goals.

Appropriate and Inappropriate

Negative Emotions
Rationality leads to appropriate rather than
inappropriate negative emotions in the face of
adversity. Appropriate (-) emotions assist us to
act in our best self interest. Inappropriate (-)
emotions are self-defeating.
Sadness (I lost something I cared about) rather
than depression (Im badno good)
Remorse (I did something I am sorry for) rather
than guilt (I did something I should be damned
Concern (I need to take care of this) rather than
anxiety (I will never be able to handle this )

Definition of Rational Thinking

Empirically consistent with reality

Non-absolutist (flexible)
Preferential (expresses a desire not a

Definition of Irrational Thinking

Cant be empirically validated and/or is
inconsistent w/ confirmable reality
Blocks goals
Dogmatic instead of flexible
Demand rather than preference
(Ellis calls this musturbation)

Three Core Demands (Musts) That

Contribute to Making People Miserable
Self-Demands- I must do well and/or be approved of by
significant others.
Other Demands- I must be treated fairly by others
Others are damnable if they dont treat me fairly.
Demands of the World/Life Conditions- Life conditions
must be absolutely the way I want them to be.

When your beliefs are irrational, you

also tend toward irrational conclusions.

Four Irrational Conclusions

Awfulizing: person believes and acts like some situation
is more than 100% bad.
I-cant-stand-it-itis: person believes s/he can not be
happy or endure a situation if something exists that they
are demand not exist.
Damnation: person is highly critical of self, others or
some life condition (one example of this would be global
Always and never thinking: person insists on
absolutes (e.g., that they will always fail or never be
approved of by significant others)

Three REBT Insights

Beliefs, not events, cause disturbance. We
remain disturbed by adhering to irrational
We keep re-indoctrinating ourselves w/
these beliefs thereby perpetuating our
It will take hard work to revamp/restructure
our misery-producing beliefs.

Techniques Used by Therapist to

Reduce or Eliminate Irrational

Active disputation asking questions in Socratic Style

Why is ______________ so terrible or awful?
Where is it written that you cant stand the situation?
Is there another way you can think about this?
What is preventing you from doing so?
Why must you have it this way?
What is the worst that can happen if you give up this belief?
What is the best that can happen?

Techniques Used by Therapist to

Reduce or Eliminate Irrational
Homework: REBT clients are asked to do
homework assignments like ABC sheets,
bibliotherapy, use humor, etc.
Emotive Techniques: such as role
playing, shame attacking exercises,
rational emotive imagery
Behavioral Techniques: use relaxation
protocols, operant conditioning and
reward, and self-monitoring etc.

REBT Personality Theory

REBT is a theory of personality disturbance
(and change) as opposed to being a
developmental theory of personality.
Ellis has a hereditarian bias. He states that
80% of the variance of human behavior rests on
biology and only 20% on environmental training.
REBT Insight 3 stems from this idea.
Although REBT is incomplete as a development
theory, Ellis does have some thoughts.

REBT Developmental Theory

Ellis believes that human beings start developing ideas,
expectations and hypotheses about themselves and the
world in the first two years of life. These are vague and
do not lead to many consistent predictions.
From age 2-5 and further into childhood, the child gets
better at predicting relationships in the environment.
Ellis also says that infants have rational behaviors (e.g.,
sucking and crying out when in discomfort) that are selfpreservative, but these seem largely instinctive.
Children develop rational ideas from age 6 onward (e.g.,
pleasure is good; pain is bad).

REBT Developmental Theory

Probable first irrational idea of childhood is
Because pain is so bad, I cant stand the
feeling. This leads to low frustration tolerance
Second likely irrational idea comes from selfevaluation of performance: I should be doing
better than I am doing and I am bad because I
am not doing better. This leads to self-downing.
These are tentative hypotheses that need further
elaboration and research.

3 Tenets
Ellis 3 basic tenets:
People don't just get disturbed by events,
but by the *perception*. B-C connection.
No matter when you developed your
belief, you still believe it.
There is no way but work and practice the
rest of your damn life!