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A lot of people suffer from anxiety and yet many of them have also never heard of rational emotive behavior therapy or REBT. However, it may be beneficial, particularly a technique called disputation. This article will cover the basics of rational emotive behavior therapy, but if you want to know more or learn about the history of REBT then you should check out this article.

What is REBT?

REBT stands for rational emotive behavior therapy and it is a form of cognitive behavior therapy that was developed by a psychologist named Albert Ellis in the 1950s. REBT has a focus on changing emotional and behavioral issues so that you can live a better, more empowered life and improve your wellbeing.

With REBT, the therapist helps their client understand their motivations and their own irrational thoughts. Then, together you can practice how to disrupt and replace these thoughts with more productive, positive thoughts and ideas.

An REBT therapist will work with you in order to correct your irrational thoughts and behaviors. The cause of the behavior and thoughts is not the focus of REBT. Instead, you will work to correct or alter the thinking patterns and irrational beliefs in order to move on without focusing on the cause.

Identify Irrational Thoughts and Beliefs

The first step in the REBT process is to identify the irrational thoughts that contribute to the psychological distress and other negative symptoms. In addition, it is important to identify ideals, beliefs, and feelings that may also contribute to poor mental health.

It is common for people to use absolute statements in their irrational thoughts and beliefs. These are often in the form of negative “I” statements.  There are also other common irrational beliefs and thoughts that it may be good to be aware of.

Some people find that they get very upset when another person acts in a way that we deem incorrect. This may coincide with a belief that you have to be perfect in the things that you do in order to be properly valued.

Some people also believe that they will be happier if they avoid difficulties and challenges that life has to offer or that they have no control over their own happiness.

One type of irrational thinking relates to absolutism. Holding inflexible, dogmatic beliefs that are virtually unavoidable can harm a person’s wellbeing. These types of beliefs are often indicated by words like “need to” or “should” and it is often for the person having these thoughts to do something different than the thing that the thinking revolves around.

Another irrational thought process relates to a demand for love and affection. This can contribute to poor mental health because the person will demand approval from anyone that they think is important. They may also demand success from anything that is important to them.

A person may also find that they suffer from the irrational belief called awfulization. This relates to catastrophic thinking. It may also contribute to all-or-nothing types of thinking. They may even find that they cannot handle moderate amounts of frustration and end up giving up on things even when they usually enjoy them or believe that those things are important.

These types of irrational beliefs and thoughts can be harmful to a person’s wellbeing. They can make it difficult to be productive and happy. They can also harm a person’s relationships and provide rigid, unchanging expectations of ourselves or others. They may also lead to regret and disappointment as well as anxiety.

Challenge Irrational Thoughts and Beliefs

After a person identifies their irrational thought processes and beliefs, the next step in REBT is to challenge them. This will usually involve the disruption or challenge of these beliefs by the therapist. They may even directly dispute the belief or become somewhat confrontational.

This can sometimes be uncomfortable because facing the reality of irrational thought patterns and beliefs can be hard and distressing. Accepting that those thought patterns are irrational and unhealthy can be difficult as well. Then, there is the difficult task of changing those ingrained thought patterns.

REBT should help a person respond in a rational and healthy manner to stressful or uncomfortable situations. It is good to know that success is impossible to achieve in everything that a person tries and that mistakes are inevitable.

REBT focuses on emotions and behaviors in addition to thinking patterns. The therapist will work with their clients to identify their emotional and behavioral responses to their irrational thoughts. Then, negative or unhealthy behaviors can be altered and replaced with healthy coping strategies like meditation or journaling.


REBT therapists often use the ABCDE model in order to identify, dispute, and change a person’s irrational thought patterns and belief systems. ABCDE is an acronym that stands for each of the steps in the process.

The A stands for activating event. The activating event is the cause of the irrational belief. A person may see or experience something happen that causes them to believe in a specific irrational way. This may go back to their experiences or former beliefs which is the next letter.

The B stands for beliefs. The activating event has affected the person’s belief systems. This often relates to their negative self-talk as well.  These beliefs can be stressful and lead to consequences which is the next letter.

C is for consequences. A person may alter their behavior according to irrational beliefs. This can lead to isolation, avoidance, or other unhealthy habits. To improve mental health and wellbeing, the thought processes and behaviors have to be challenged.

The D stands for disputes. These is the arguments against the irrational beliefs that are required to effectively challenge them. Finally, E stands for effect which refers to the new effective emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that come from the unhealthy, logical thinking about the activating event.


Disputation is a technique that is used in REBT that may be beneficial for someone suffering from social anxiety and other mental health issues. The process of disputation involves questioning the beliefs that keep your anxiety active. These beliefs and thoughts also make it hard for a person to move past their anxiety.

Disputation is the process that you use to question unhealthy, irrational thoughts. The goal is to look at irrational thinking in a more objective way. This can help a person fight against their anxiety using logical and reasonable thinking.

This process is not easy, but it can be effective. It requires dedication from both the client and their therapist. The therapist will likely have homework assignments to complete in between therapy sessions and the client will have to be determined to change your thinking and behavior. These assignments often revolve around reflection or confrontation.

A therapist may ask their client to confront a fear or trigger directly. This can help them work through their fears in a positive, healthy way. Then, they can discuss the situation and the challenges they faced with their therapist during the next session.

There are two types of disputation: cognitive disputation and imaginal disputation. Cognitive disputation involves the therapist asking questions that challenge a person’s irrational thinking. This can be uncomfortable, but it can also lead to a change in the interpretation of deeply held beliefs.

Imaginal disputation involves the therapist encouraging their client to use the imagery in order to look at the upsetting or distressing components of a situation. By imagining different perspectives, the negative, irrational beliefs can be seen in a new light. Then, those beliefs and thoughts can be addressed.

Final Thoughts on REBT

Rational emotive behavior therapy can be effective for anxiety and other mental health concerns that revolve around irrational thoughts and behaviors. These unhealthy thinking patterns can contribute to issues and impact a person’s wellbeing. Addressing and changing them can be beneficial in improving overall mental health. If you are suffering from poor mental health, you may want to speak with a mental health professional who is experienced in REBT.

Marie Miguel Biography

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.