Andrea Garry, PsyD
The aim of this article is to inform you about a particular type of therapy approach called Rational-Emotive-Behavior Therapy (REBT). The goal of REBT is to help people respond more rationally to situations, to feel less disturbed and to engage in constructive action. REBT has many applications such as for stress, depression, life transitions and relationship issues.
The premise is deceptively simple: you feel the way you think.
Most people think it’s the things that happen to them, or the people in their life, that make them upset. REBT proposes that people upset themselves by particular ways of thinking. Psychologist Albert Ellis, the creator of REBT, said,” People are not disturbed by things, but rather by their view of things.” So the bad news is we largely create our own problems, but the good news is we are also the solution.
To change the way you feel, change the way you think.
According to REBT, when people hold rigid and demanding beliefs about themselves, other people and the world, they will feel far worse than is necessary and will have difficulty responding to situations in healthy ways.
REBT refers to these kinds of self-defeating ideas as “irrational,” or unhelpful, beliefs. Some examples of irrational beliefs are:
- “I need to be loved and approved of by everyone I think significant”
- “Everyone should respect me”
- “The world must be fair”
- “I must not make a mistake and it would be awful if I did”
- “I am worthless if I am not perfect”
Since we are not perfect and people don’t always act the way we want or even the way they may desire, holding unyielding absolute beliefs will escalate emotional disturbance. Irrational beliefs do not hold up when examined through rational reevaluation.
Albert Ellis proposed an A-B-C model to demonstrate the relationship between events, beliefs, and feelings. A stands for the Activating Event or the trigger, B stands for Beliefs or thoughts, and C stands for Consequences as in the emotions (C) you feel as a result of the way you are thinking (B) about the event (A).
Here’s an example:
(A) You have a fight with your best friend
(B) I never do anything right
(C) Depressed and may act withdrawn
Now imagine the same event occurs but this time you have a different belief;
(A) You have a fight with your best friend
(B) We had a misunderstanding; I can clear this up
(C) Less depressed and ready to take action
With a more rational perspective, you would not feel as depressed. You would probably be more ready to take positive action to repair the argument. An REBT therapist will help you to utilize the ABC framework to do an analysis of your own beliefs and reactions so that you may challenge unhelpful thinking with more logical, realistic and functional beliefs.
For example, one of my patients, a young man in his mid-twenties, came to therapy because of anxiety he was feeling concerning his career choice. He was a hard-working and serious young man and was concerned that he acted too hastily in accepting a job offer. He perceived his feelings of anxiety as bad and something he shouldn’t be feeling.
My patient’s beliefs that he made an awful choice, that he “shouldn’t” have accepted the job offer and that he was stuck were leading him to feel quite miserable. He also tried to avoid thinking about it and therefore was not doing anything to help himself.
My patient’s belief, “I must not make a mistake” and “It would be awful if I did” were leading him to feel very anxious. I helped him to question the logic of his thinking. Together, we examined the evidence for his belief that it would be awful if it turned out to be a job he didn’t like. He realized that it would not be the end of his career. I also asked him, “How could you know it was a mistake?” We examined the pros and cons of his decision which helped him to see he could not know before taking the job whether it was absolutely the right one for him. I pointed out the negative consequences of his thinking by asking him “How’s it working for you to think this way?” He realized that the way he was thinking was making him miserable. As we did this, a funny thing happened…He reported his feelings of anxiety were lessening. His feelings changed from anxiety to concern. Then, instead of avoiding dealing with it, he outlined actions he’d take if he was unhappy at the job.
What a person learns in therapy is helpful but what we do and practice in our daily life is what really brings about lasting change. An REBT therapist will work with you in designing action plans and homework that enable you to put into practice what you have learned in therapy. With repetition, the new ways of thinking and acting become more natural and automatic.
Ellis, A. & Harper, R.A. (1975). The New Guide To Rational Living. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Andrea Garry, PsyD is a licensed psychologist in New York State. Dr. Garry was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Albert Ellis Institute where she trained directly under the supervision of Dr. Albert Ellis with whom she co-led groups and workshops. She is an approved supervisor of REBT. Dr. Garry was also a LEND Fellow at the Westchester Institute for Human Development where she received multi-disciplinary training in neurodevelopmental disorders. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Yeshiva University. She has also worked at Metropolitan Hospital and Lenox Hill Hospital Outpatient Departments, both in NYC. Her full-time internship was at the Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine, NYU Hospital where she worked with children, adolescents and adults recovering from critical and acute medical conditions. Dr. Garry currently is in private practice with offices in Hartsdale and Sleepy Hollow.
Disclaimer: Although Dr. Garry is a board member of the Westchester County Psychological Association (WCPA), the views in this article are hers and not the views of WCPA.
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