What is REBT?

Figure 1 ABC Model (Ellis, 1962)

Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) is a model of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) established by Albert Ellis in 1962 (Ellis, 1962). One of the key philosophies of REBT proposes that we as human beings disturb ourselves. In essence, when we are placed in a demanding situation, it is not the situation that causes the emotional, behavioural, cognitive and physiological responses but rather the individuals’ beliefs about the situation that cause the negative reaction. To describe this connection Ellis (1962) developed the ABC model (see figure 1). Before the beliefs are triggered however, the event and an initial thought of the situation must have a negative evaluation by the individual involved (Bennet & Turner, 2018). Take for example an athlete who loses a match, if the match is at the start of a round-robin competition then this by itself may not trigger a negative response as the game could be thought of  as not crucial as there are more opportunities to come. If however the match is in a knock-out competition or in a sequence then the individual could infer that they are inadequate (“I am rubbish”) evaluate the situation and adversity as negative.

Types of beliefs and emotions.

Figure 2: Irrational beliefs and examples of their consequences (Bennett & Turner, 2018)
Figure 3: Rational beliefs and examples of their consequences (Bennett & Turner, 2018)

Within REBT there two categories of beliefs rigid, extreme, irrational beliefs (iB) and flexible and pragmatic, rational beliefs (rB). These two sets of beliefs consist of 4 categories, with the iB’s triggering unhealthy negative emotions (UNE) and rB’s triggering healthy negative emotions (HNE). An important aspect to bear in mind is that you will still feel negative emotions as a result of an event but they will be more helpful in the long run. Lets go back to the scenario of losing a match, if you demand that “I absolutely have to win, therefore I must” then the irrational beliefs could trigger emotions such as anger, shame, or depression. When an individual hold a preference “I really want to win but I do not have to” in this situation then the associated rB’s could trigger a healthy anger, embarrassment, or sadness. Figure 2 highlights these different emotions and the thoughts and behaviours that could accompany them, drawing on examples given by Bennett & Turner (2018).


Bennett, R., & Turner, M. (2018). The theory and practice of rational emotive behavioural therapy. In M. Turner & R. Bennett (Eds.), Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy in Sport and Exercise (pp. 4-19). Abingdon: Routledge.

Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. New York, NY: Lyle Stuart.