I recently attended a rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) training and I began thinking more about using it to reduce my own anxiety. Rational emotive behavior therapy, the first form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), was developed by Albert Ellis in the 1950s. The REBT approach encourages us to dispute irrational thinking to develop healthy emotional self-regulation.
What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy?
Rational emotive behavior therapy is a solution-focused model of psychotherapy. It’s based on the premise that our emotional responses result from our beliefs, rather than external circumstances. If our underlying beliefs are irrational and self-defeating, we tend to suffer more emotional disturbances such as anger, shame, and anxiety. In REBT, the therapist helps the client identify, dispute, and replace irrational beliefs.
Understanding the ABCs of REBT
Ellis developed an A-B-C model to help understand how irrational thinking causes emotional reactions. In this theory:
- A = activating event (challenging situation)
- B = beliefs (your appraisals and evaluations about the activating event)
- C = consequences (emotional and/or behavioral)
Most people think that A causes C. We say to ourselves, “Public speaking (A) makes me anxious (C),” or, “His remarks (A) make my blood boil (C).” Yet, when we neglect B, we fail to recognize that it’s our interpretation of the events that cause C, not the events themselves.
Allow me to illustrate with an REBT ABC model example from my life in which irrational thoughts would lead to anxiety:
- Activating event: Someone criticizes my yoga teaching.
- Belief (irrational): I’m a horrible yoga teacher.
- Consequence: I feel anxious and worthless.
In this example, I might be tempted to say, “I feel anxious (C) because I was criticized today (A).” But A does not cause C. I only feel anxious and worthless because of what I’m telling myself: “How dare I not be perfect? I’m so awful. It’s intolerable to experience criticism.”
REBT Says to Let Go of Irrational Beliefs
According to Ellis, our irrational beliefs are all variations of demands that we place on ourselves, others, or the world. They are:
- I must do well and win approval or I will be worthless.
- Others must act the way I want them to act and treat me fairly. If they don’t, they deserve to be punished and I’ll find them intolerable.
- The universe must give me what I want when I want it. I can’t stand not getting what I want.
How do we use REBT to change irrational thinking that causes anxiety?
An REBT Exercise to Reduce Anxiety
The following are questions to ask yourself to identify, dispute, and replace irrational beliefs. You’ll notice the order of the A, B, and C are rearranged (some refer this to the ACBDE model of REBT). This helps us to get to the actual underlying belief.
- A: What is the activating event that triggered a response?
- C: What are the consequences? What are you feeling?
- B: What are you telling yourself to make yourself feel that way? What demands are you making?
- D: What is the evidence that this belief must be true? How can you prove it? What effect are you creating if you continue to make it true?
- E: What do you prefer but not need in order to feel okay?
Here’s an example of how one might walk through this process:
- A: Neighbors making noise.
- C: I feel angry and anxious.
- B: They should know better than to make noise. It’s unbearable when they’re loud.
- D: It’s not written in stone that they must be quiet. I have no proof that this is the right way to be. I don’t even have proof that they know they’re loud.
- E: I’d prefer to have quiet neighbors, but I don’t need them to be quiet to feel okay.
The E of this process is your coping statement that you’ll want to write down and integrate into your self-talk to move toward rational thinking. While this level of acceptance takes some time to develop, with practice we begin to realize that we can control our responses to situations we see as unpleasant.