Rational Emotive Education Past, Present, And Future

William Knaus
American International College
Springfield, Massachusetts

Rational Emotive Education (REE) is a positive, preventive, interventionist psychological educational program. The system teaches rational critical thinking skills and effective psychological problem-solving methods. These are skills that students can apply throughout their lives to cope effectively with the inevitable changes and challenges they will meet. The REE program aids the student boost resiliency, build critical thinking resources, develop coping competencies, advance general reasoning skills, tolerate frustration, and maintain a realistic perspective. This economical psychological education program has been consistently supported by the research. It consists of a structured series of mental health lessons that both teachers and mental health professionals can deliver. Preliminary research suggests a correlation between the REE program and higher school grades. This article describes the program, research, and developmental opportunities for expanding the REE lesson modules.

A prime educational goal is to help students to use their resources to meet the challenges and changes that they will inevitably face through their school years and lives. Rational Emotive Education (REE) supports that goal.

A free download of the entire REE program is now available here at REBT Network.

Dr. Knaus is currently updating the progam. When the update is completed in six months, it will also be published at REBT Network as a free download. The update will be followed by a significant expansion of the program as outlined in this article. The extended program will also be available as a free download from REBT Network (estimated time of publication — December, 2008).

Any contributions for the expanded REE program are welcomed. Contributors will be acknowledged in the text for their contributions and also in the acknowledgment section of the work. If you want to contribute content, note where in the manual you think it fits. Send ideas to .

This collaborative approach gives everyone who wishes to help evolve rational methods for children and adolescents to have a forum in which to make contributions. The acceptance of contributions will be made by a committee of people dedicated to the evolution of REBT that is chaired by Bill Knaus.

Albert Ellis. wished to have REBT move forward in classrooms for children and in the adult world. The program is made available by its author, Bill Knaus, in honor of Albert Ellis' enormous contributions.

REBT Network is grateful to Dr. Knaus for his generous permission to make his Rational Emotive Education Manual freely available to readers.

The REE psychological education program provides a framework for teaching students reasoning skills and for applying scientific ways of knowing and doing to ordinary and extraordinary life challenges, and opportunities for students to refine and improve their sense of perspective, self-concept, frustration tolerance, and personal problem-solving abilities. The ability to reflect, reason, and scientifically test propositions, is a mark of an educated person.

A World Health Organization (WHO) survey of children and mental-illness suggests that by the year 2020, childhood disorders will rise internationally by 50 percent to become one of the five major causes of morbidity, mortality, and disability among children (Murray and Lopez, 1996). A small percentage of students who can profit from psychological interventions, will receive appropriate psychological services. However, even if the rate of predicted childhood disorders were to decline, the creation of opportunities for children and adolescents to develop psychological coping skills, would remain an important goal.

Rational Emotive Education is an economical approach for helping students develop cognitive and behavioral mental health skills so that they might avoid becoming part of the disability statistics, and boost their chances of leading meaningful and purposeful lives. The REE delivery system provides mental health providers with a problem prevention and intervention system to improve students’ mental health and personal problem-solving capabilities. Following basic training in its use, the program can be followed like a cookbook.

Those who believe it is the responsibility of educational agencies to provide formal opportunities for children to learn psychological coping and critical thinking skills, will find the REE model compatible with that value. The REE school-based psychological education program, has a low per-student cost. Schools can economically adopt the REE approach to help students develop critical thinking and psychological problem-solving skills that help prepare them to meet present and future personal challenges.

By providing opportunities for students to learn REE critical thinking and psychological problem-solving skills, schools serve both students and society. For example, students who know how to cope with adversity and to reduce needless stresses, are likely to work more productively, and to have fewer future heath-care problems.

In this article I will describe:

  1. The origins of the REE program;
  2. REE core ideas and assumptions;
  3. Theoretical foundations for REE;
  4. REE as an experiential learning method;
  5. Strategies for creating a positive REE classroom atmosphere;
  6. Sample REE lessons and exercises;
  7. REE content acquisition and application measures;
  8. An approach for integrating REE into the regular curriculum;
  9. A description of the trend toward using evidence-based mental-health programs in the schools;
  10. REE research;
  11. Prospects for the future development of the REE curriculum.


I developed the REE curriculum between 1970 and 1974 at PS 76, a Long Island City, New York Elementary School. Then, this school was rated at the lower second percentile of reading scores within the New York City school system. Students were drawn from a mixed cultural, racial, and low-income district. About twenty-five percent of the students displayed a learning disability. The program came about because of an observed need for a psychological prevention and intervention program, and in response to teacher requests for a program that could help students cope effectively so that they might attend better to their classroom learning, and come closer to achieving their potential.

The program started with translating rational ideas into age-appropriate mental-health exercises, followed by testing and modifying the exercises through interacting with students in the classroom. The lesson-modules that form the program’s core, were the byproduct of that process. Later, I introduced the program at the Living School (A private school at the Albert Ellis Institute). There, the program underwent further refinements.

Although I originally designed the REE curriculum for low-income children, the program has since evolved in its use. It now engages students at different socioeconomic levels and in various learning environments.

The REE program consists of a series of simple, fun, psychological education lessons delivered through a simple to apply, structured, mental-health curriculum. The program manual was first published in 1974 under the title, Rational Emotive Education: A Manual for Elementary School Teachers (Knaus, 1974). Following that publication, REE has enjoyed positive research findings.


The REE program reflects the view that in a democratic society, each child has a right to an education that can promote the optimal development of his or her abilities. In support of that philosophy, REE has four core assumptions:

  1. Students learn best through actively participating in educational experiences that involve constructive problem-solving activities.
  2. Attitudes, beliefs, and emotions play a significant role in the teaching and learning process. Students can harness fact-based personal constructs and emotive motivations to shape productive directions in their lives.
  3. Students, who build upon realistic self-knowledge, are better able to translate this knowledge into purposeful and productive activities.
  4. The development of realistic self-knowledge, coupled with psychological problem-solving skills, increases the likelihood of positive school progress, career satisfaction, and a fulfilling life.


New York psychologist Albert Ellis, who pioneered Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), advocated for teaching rational cognitive and behavioral methods in the classroom (Ellis, 1971, 1973). Indeed, Ellis’ REBT system builds from educational methods that apply to teaching people how to identify and dispute negative thinking, and to engage in problem solving actions. (Ellis, 1962, 1994, 2001, 2004).

REBT methods are translatable into classroom strategies that educational agencies can adopt to aid students in developing psychological coping skills. Through this translation, the current REE program applies and expands REBT principles.

Stanford University Psychologist Albert Bandura’s social learning theory explains human behavior as an ongoing interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental factors (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1986a, 1989; 1997, 2000; Bandura and Locke 2003). According to social learning theory, expectancies influence self-efficacy, or the ability to organize, direct, and regulate personal actions in a way that promotes and maintains self-confidence.

Students who believe that they can organize and direct their actions to achieve positive results, using the tools they learn in school and elsewhere, are likely to capably manage the frustrations they daily face, see opportunities that they can pursue, and meet positive challenges that others might view as threats. REE methods provide a platform for students to organize and regulate their thinking and actions around rational beliefs that are consistent with self-efficacy theory.

The REE model melds with aspects of psychologist George Kelly’s (1955) Role Construct Theory. Part of the REE approach involves creating simulations where students learn by doing. Through role playing and testing new behaviors, students can not only improve their problem-solving behavioral competencies, but also make their thinking congruent with positive, new, behavioral changes.


I designed the REE model to encourage student participation in a series of carefully constructed mental health lessons that support the idea that students can better learn through doing. We can trace the roots for this guided experiential learning approach to the work of classic Greek philosophers. Socrates’ (470-399 B.C.) dialectical reasoning, for example, is a cornerstone to the current critical thinking movement in education. He emphasized using reason to identify logical inconsistencies, and to develop fact-based conclusions. Socrates engaged students in the learning process by asking probing questions (Plato, 1941; West & West, 1984; Paul, 1992).

The REE emphasis on active student participation is consistent with the nineteenth century educational reformer, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi’s, educational views that students learn best through active involvement in the learning process (Heafford, 1967). Pestalozzi held that we best teach children under conditions that help them to develop their power of judging and reasoning, and this can be done through purposeful activities (Green, 1969).

Beginning in the early twentieth century, psychologist and educational philosopher, John Dewey, taught that humans have an enormous capacity for learning. He wrote that stored experiences interact with present circumstances. Thus, developing an experience-based framework for future learning could boost the quality of future problem-solving efforts. Dewey thought that experience-based learning provided platforms for a lifetime of living and learning (Dewey, 1916, 1938).

Biologist and developmental psychologist Jean Piaget studied how children came to understand their world. His theory points to the importance of a child interacting with the environment in order to develop cognitive capabilities (Piaget and Inhelder, 1970).

The associationist Jonathan Herbart (1908) presented the view that learning follows from sequences of related activities, and that understanding comes from experience and reflection. The REE lessons are sequenced, engage students in experiential learning, and prompt reflective thinking. In these ways, the lessons are consistent with Herbert’s views.

Critical thinking expert Richard Paul (1992) underscored the importance of engaging students in critical thinking experiences where they question what they read and see. Through Paul’s critical reasoning techniques, students can develop and refine their ability to think clearly. Like Herbart, Paul proposed that learning builds upon scaffolding constructed from earlier learning. The REE method draws upon this scaffolding approach, and specifically from contemporary principles of educational psychology including David Ausubel’s advanced organizer approach (1960; 1969; 2000).


Few would deny the importance of a positive learning atmosphere when it comes to encouraging student experimentation. REE promotes a non-blame classroom atmosphere that encourages student experimentation with reasoning and personal problem-solving techniques. This REE learning atmosphere is consistent with the founder of American psychology, William James’, early view that schools would best create non-aversive learning environments that cultivate positive emotions of curiosity and interest (James, 1899). The concept of a non-blame atmosphere is also compatible with B.F. Skinner’s (1965) proposition that students are best taught in a classroom atmosphere where learning is not associated with aversive conditions, and is rewarded.

The great contemporary counseling and psychotherapy systems emphasize the importance of promoting learning atmospheres where individuals can freely explore new ideas and behaviors without negative criticism or blame. Psychologist Carl Rogers, who developed client-centered therapy, emphasized the importance of promoting a learning atmosphere of unconditional positive regard, empathy, and acceptance. He saw these conditions as platforms for positive change (Rogers, 1951, 1955, 1961, Evans, 1975).

Albert Ellis (2001) promoted the idea of unconditional self acceptance. Although the counselor or teacher may be acceptant and tolerant, Ellis nevertheless teaches that students do better if they do not need someone to give them what they can give themselves, which is the capacity for unconditional self-acceptance. Ellis views self-acceptance as a philosophical choice that has advantages over, for example, making one’s worth contingent upon the approval of others.

REE promote a non-blame, non-failure learning atmosphere where student failure is evicted from this learning process. The atmosphere is artificially created for purposes of aiding students develop personal problem-solving skills. The ideas are tested, and not the student.

During REE lessons, students experiment with new ideas and behaviors. However, once outside of the REE atmosphere, failure is an inevitable part of life. Not everyone comes in first in a race. The person whom one desires as a date, may desire someone else. Some students do get low marks on tests. However, failure is also relative. The team that came in second in a state-wide championship remains an excellent team. Only one can be the top rated.

The REE approach is a responsibility based curriculum. Student who don’t like the results of their thoughts actions, they can try again with another approach. The REE program provides then with a way to develop their consequential thinking abilities so that they can improve upon their abilities to make connections between their perceptions of situations, emotions, and actions. A growing acceptance of responsibility is another sign of maturity, and also of leadership.


The REE curriculum consists of a structured sequence of psychological education learning modules. A few days training may be sufficient for most REE group leaders to prepare themselves to use the program. Many have successfully implemented the program by following it as a cookbook, and adapting the program so that it fits with the REE group leader’s special style and inventive ways.

Teachers or counselors can deliver REE lessons in regular-sized classrooms or with small groups of students with special problems. The REE modules are about twenty to thirty minutes in length. They are normally presented two times per week over a three-month period. Sometimes a practitioner will find the method useful in individual counseling with children, adolescents, or adults(Knaus, 2005, 2004, 1983; Knaus & Haberstroh, 1993; Brinn, 1996).

The REE program consists of a series of basic learning modules followed by special techniques. The more advanced modules build upon the basic ones. Basic lessons start with questions such as “What are feelings and where do they come from?” The advanced modules involve lessons on the meaning of mistake making, and managing common negative interpersonal conditions, such as bullying, teasing, and name calling. The following partially describes the sequence for the interactive REE lessons:

  1. What are feelings? This lesson helps students understand the difference between emotions and sensations.
  2. Where do feelings (emotions) come from? This lesson helps link thoughts to emotions and reactions.
  3. Measuring emotional intensity. This lesson describes how emotions and reactions exist in degree. The lesson can show that we can measure the strength of a belief by the intensity of the emotional experience.
  4. The Happing-Thought-Feeling-Reaction diagram exercises. This lesson shows the linkage between situations, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It sets the stage for the challenge game which is later described under simulations.
  5. Recognizing and challenging self-doubts and self-downing. This lesson provides a framework for recognizing and challenging needlessly negative thinking about the “self.” Such preoccupations can serve as a distraction from following normal curiosities, spontaneity, and quality performances.
  6. Building a solid self concept. This lesson illustrates why the self is complex. It shows how to question global self-ratings.
  7. Understanding the function of mistake-making and learning. This lesson describes how people learn, the inevitability of mistake making, and the benefits of avoiding perfectionist entanglements.
  8. Separating assumptions from opinions and facts. This lesson introduces how to improve critical thinking skills by learning to separate fact from fiction, and sound from unsound assumptions.
  9. Demandingness and catastrophizing. This lesson describes the relationship between demands and distress emotions such as anger and anxiety. The lesson illustrates how overgeneralizing and jumping to conclusions can prove handicapping, and how to evoke rational alternatives.
  10. Special advanced modules. The manual includes lessons on special topics such as: responsibility, roles, and rules; the development of perspective; bullying and name calling; discrimination, stereotyping, tolerance for differences; integrating special education students into the regular class.

The REE curriculum uses games, exercises, and role-play methods to engage children in experiments with the program’s concepts. These experiential exercises include:

  1. The expression-guessing game. This exercise shows that different people can express the same emotion in different ways. The lesson shows that one cannot always tell what a person is feeling by observation alone. However, an observer can often tell if an emotional experience is pleasant of unpleasant. Students may also agree, that if you cannot tell how a person is feeling, and you want to know, you can ask. However, the individual has a right to privacy in this area, and can exercise that right anytime.
  2. The Mr. Head game. Students “guess” a feeling based on different thoughts written on cards. They guess thoughts based upon emotions written on cards. This lesson shows that you can predict what a person is likely to feel based upon expressed thoughts. However, if you know what a person is feeling, you might be able to guess the thoughts. Anger and anxiety have different cognitive signatures, or distinctive patterns of thought.
  3. The self-concept pinwheel. This shows that people have many qualities, emotions, and experiences. It shows that people are too complicated to distill into a single label.
  4. The upset game. This experiment shows how negative global self-attributions and labels can impact a students sense of self-regard. This game can provide reasons why “you cannot win” when weighted down by negative attributions.
  5. The challenge game. This game demonstrates how to challenge global self-attributions. It shows that people can change their thinking through self-questioning, and can rid themselves of needless misery.


The modules are designed to promote realistic awareness, such as how thinking and emotions can interact. They provide opportunities for students to engage in experimental actions to test the ideas. A similar simulation method is appropriate with adults (Knaus & Wessler, 1975). Thus, the modules follow an awareness and action format where the intent is to promote a realistic awareness of the taught concept, simulation activities to test the concept, followed by real-life applications.

This awareness and action approach is consistent with what most effective therapists do in practice. In their work with their clients, such therapists use their training and knowledge to promote a realistic awareness of a problem condition. They serve as catalysts for positive actions, such as through giving behavioral assignments. The REE practitioner similarly acts in an evocative manner to help promote realistic awareness and to encourage the development of action skills through an evocative, interactive, problem-solving instructive approach.

A typical REE learning module sequence starts with the REE group leader reading about the taught concept, for self-educational purposes. When introducing the lesson, the REE group leader provides background information to the students. This creates a framework for the lesson. This is followed by actively engaging the students in the lesson, which is followed by behavioral assignments, which is followed by a reporting session where the students report what they learned from the assignment. Let’s take an example of a student interaction phase of the program as might be done with a class of fifth grade students.

The lesson module on “what are feelings,” starts with the evocative question, what are feelings? The students are invited to respond. Typical student responses include physical feelings (hot, cold, pain) and “feeling feelings” (emotions) such as sad, happy, anger, and love. The teacher (counselor) accepts all answers, and writes them onto a blackboard. The REE group leader then follows up with questions about the student’s responses. A sample question is “What would you want to know about physical feelings.” What would you want to know about emotions? The REE group leader might ask, “Have you ever wondered where feelings (emotions) came from?” This latter question leads to the next lesson, “where do feelings come from?”

Prior to the next lesson, the REE group leader gives a self-development behavioral assignment. A sample assignment is for the students to make a list of as many emotions (“feelings”) as each can think of. At the beginning of the next lesson, the students “share” the results of their assignment with each other, and with the REE group leader.


We can modify the REE framework for students in order to accommodate to different developmental levels and ages. For example, the practitioner can scale down the self-concept pinwheel exercise for younger children who cannot yet write. These younger children can draw stick figures or pictures to describe feelings, thoughts, and activities. The REE group leader can scale the exercise up for older students by expanding the module, and by increasing the pace of the lessons. Instead of a self-concept pinwheel, a personal attribute list can be used with older students. The structure for such a list can include feeling, doing, thinking, values, and so forth.

The lesson modules from the manual provide a foundation for learning basic as well as advanced or special problem solving ideas. Following the outline for such modules, REE group leaders can develop new learning modules. Seven guidelines provide a framework for lesson module development:

  1. Background information for the teacher or counselor. This phase includes the principles, concepts, and objectives for the lesson.
  2. Module introductions for the students. This provides an introduction to the students as to the nature and focus of the lesson.
  3. Positive mental-health lessons for students. This includes a description of the REE activity.
  4. Simulations for role-play and experiential learning. Here children learn coping strategies through an experiential learning process.
  5. Student discussion. This phase focuses on the meaning and application of the concepts. In this integration phase, the students describe what they got out of the lesson, and its application.
  6. Self-development homework assignments. In this phase, children apply what they learned through planned behavioral exercises.
  7. Response sessions. Children report the results of their self-development assignments, and consider next steps.

A practitioner can find many opportunities to introduce an innovative lesson that relates to an emergent matter of significance for a class or group. For example, teachers often have students work in small groups on an assignment. When relevant, teamwork can stimulate the development of an REE module on that topic.

REE group leaders who generate a teamwork and productivity learning module, may start with a basic learning module on, say, “sharing.” A learning module on teamwork can follow, where students explore when competition is appropriate, and where sharing and teamwork is for the general good.

The teamwork lesson can set the stage for a lesson on how conflicts arise, and how to use ideas from the sharing and teamwork learning modules to resolve them. This can lead to advanced conflict resolution lesson modules. Thus, REE program evolution can include a stepping stone approach to teach interpersonal skills and conflict resolution skills where ne taught lesson leads to new questions followed by new lesson modules designed to help answer the new question(s).

Teamwork learning module development melds with the general REE basic to special (advanced) module approach: start with basic understandings; add ideas and exercises that build from the basics; provide opportunities for students to test and modify the ideas based upon observation, experience, and the results of exercises.

The development of custom lessons gives the REE system a value-added dimension. But, how does the practitioner know if the custom lesson concepts are acquired? We can assess these custom lessons through content acquisition and application measures. The content acquisition measures can include a multiple-choice test. A concept application measure can include behaviorally demonstrating the concept. Assuming the lesson accomplishes what it purports to do in developmental trials, the learning module can be put to an empirical test.


The fact that a student participates in an REE lesson, does not assure that student absorbed the idea(s). Verification is useful. One form of verification involves content acquisition and application measures, some of which are included with the manual.

One cannot reasonably expect students to apply what they have not acquired and practiced. Thus, content acquisition measures provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their cognitive knowledge of the taught ideas. The content acquisition measure is typically a brief multiple-choice test or other suitable measure that provides the practitioner with a way to tell the extent to which the students understood the meaning and application of the concepts. The tests and their interpretation follow the same non-failure self-development format as is the case with the implementation of the REE lessons. The idea is to help the student identify strengths to further develop, and gaps in knowledge that profitably can be filled.

Predictably, students who score high on content acquisition measures will endorse more rational thoughts, score higher on self-concept and frustration tolerance measures, demonstrate a realistic sense of perspective, and behaviorally show problem-solving and coping skills at a higher level than low scoring students.

Concept application measures involve observing students test the REE ideas through simulated activities. In this behavioral rehearsal phase, students get practice using and revising the concepts. The Challenge game is an example of a problem-solving simulation.

Students will learn REE concepts at different rates. However, if the goal is content mastery, then the REE group leader can set up buddy systems where student who better understand the concepts help those who are yet to master some of them. This will involve extra REE group leader supervision, however, this supervision may pay off in increased student on-task classroom behavior, fewer disciplinary incidents, and high levels of constructive risk taking by students as they learn academic materials.

Teachers or counselors can reinforce taught concepts in spontaneously arising situations (Knaus, 1974, 1977a, 1977b, 2004; Knaus & Haberstroh 1993). For example, asking a student to use a coping skill in a problem situation, when the student does not know the skill, is generally impractical. On the other hand, once the student has learned and practiced an REE concept, promptinga student to use a tested coping strategy, can prove productive. This application prompting method shows students that they truly do have choices in how they respond to problem situations, and can experience a sense of reward from applying a new REE taught skill.

Tim’s case illustrates the benefits of the application prompting technique. This 12-year-old had a high fight rate of about one to three fights a day with other children. He participated in the expression guessing game. Following that, he saw another child that he reportedly thought was “mad at me.” Before he got going on what looked like a sure fight, I asked him to describe what he learned from the expression-guessing game. He described what he learned. I asked him how he could apply what he knows to the situation. He immediately asked the other child what happened, and how he felt. The child said his pet cat died that morning, and he felt sad. A fight was prevented.

After that incident, Tim normally avoided jumping to conclusions. His high fight rate dropped to a low fight-rate level relative to the norms of his school. This is behavioral evidence for a self-directed application of the taught REE concept.

Following practice with the REE problem-solving approach, the probability for self-directed applications increases. When students learn and practice rational concepts as a group, they are more likely to spontaneously apply the coping strategies both within and outside the school setting. To the extent that applying REE principles becomes a class norm, the applications of these principles are likely to increase within the classroom. Thus, In some problem situations, application prompting is self-initiated.


REE can be integrated into the classroom curriculum, and can be supported by related parts of the curriculum (Knaus, 1977a, 1977b, 2004;. Knaus & Haberstroh, 1993). An educator can use the school curriculum to support the REE program, and the REE program can reinforce complimentary sections of the school curriculum. This coordination between academic and mental health preparation, can promote the development of superior critical thinking skills in the targeted areas. For example, we can use an analysis of current events to support the idea that while there can be one reality, there can be different perspectives of that reality. Nations at war, for example, are likely to describe the cause and the process in different ways.

Building from basic REE lesson modules on beliefs, assumptions, opinions, and facts, students can experiment with ways to separate these ideas. For example, different news analysis programs can portray different beliefs assumptions, opinions, and facts on the same subject. These programs open opportunities for students to boost their critical thinking skills by learning and applying critical thinking techniques for separating fact from opinions and fictions.This approach can open a discussion about how people with different cultural or political views, are selective about what they see, and interpret facts differently. (Creating conditions for a student to evaluate the statements of others, can transfer when students are prompted to apply this learning to their own opinions and beliefs.)

Students who study probabilities can apply what they learn to confront various forms of negative self-talk, such as “worry.” When “worried,” people often focus on what can go wrong, and act like that was the only possibility. An exploration of “worry” gives students the opportunity to examine the difference between possibilities and probabilities.

“Worriers” engage in circular thinking. In this world of misguided possibilities, the worrier predicts that because something horrible can happen, it will happen. A student might worry about a truck crashing into the school, and ignore the probabilities of this happening. Making a cognitive shift from possibility-based worry thinking to probability thinking, can involve listing alternatives, guessing the probability of each event occurring, and measuring the predictions against their results. This can lead to a discussion about how predicting the future with absolute accuracy, can bring absolute wealth and power. Through following this approach, students can generate a competing response to counteract speculative worry.

Literature is a rich source for describing how characters’ beliefs can affect their lives. Stories and novels burgeon with examples. The “Chicken Little” story describes the cognitive distortions of magnification and overgeneralization. Aesop’s fable of the grasshoppers and the ant opens opportunities for students to look into the different directions for each character based on the stated beliefs. Literary classics, such as Goethe’s Faust and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, relate to beliefs that can cause great harm. Students can profit through exploring the basis for the character’s beliefs, and how the beliefs can lead to the emotions and actions that led to the outcome. Next, students can explore ways to help the characters challenge prejudicial forms of thinking that can lead to unfortunate or tragic results.

REE group leaders can use stories, such as Jack and the Bean Stalk, to open opportunities to examine different perspectives. For example, in one version of the story, Jack took a Giant’s harp and goose that laid golden eggs. Then when the Giant chased him, Jack cut down the bean stalk. The Giant fell to his death. We normally see Jack as the hero. Nevertheless, how might the Giant’s death look from the perspective of a prosecuting attorney? Would the Giant’s mother see Jack as a hero? This shift in perspective can come about by changing how we define the situation.

The American philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” History has thousands of examples of situations where people maintain self-defeating ideas and behaviors despite poor results. For example, during the “dark ages” when people thought mental illness was a sign of demonic possession, this belief sidetracked many from looking for physical causes. Nevertheless, the demonic myth theory eventually fell before the ax of science. How did scientific ways of thinking overcome this powerful myth? What aspects of this same science can be used to examine personal beliefs and their results?


The 1999 Report of the US Surgeon General's Conference on Children's Mental Health pointed to “...mental health is a critical component of children's learning and general health. Fostering social and emotional health in children as a part of healthy child development must therefore be a national priority.” This Surgeon General’s report recommends strengthening the connection between scientific research and practice. REE represents a research tested system that school personnel can apply to help promote students’ psychological health, and the students’ general health.

The American Psychological Association, Division 16, School Psychology Quarterly describes a task-force initiative for promoting evidence-based interventions and practices in the schools. The task force goal is to narrow the gap between research and practice in the application of school-mental health programs (Kratchowill & Stoiber, 2002; Kratchowill & Shrenoff, 2003). The REE program has the strong potential to help bridge that gap.

The Winter 2004 The School Psychologist extended the Surgeon General’s recommendation by championing the use of evidence-based school psychological education intervention methods for improving the academic education, and lives of students. This journal report described the importance of using multiple interventions to improve students’ mental health, and identified three major priorities for evidence-based mental-health programming: 1. interventions for low-income children, 2. the problem of bullying, and 3. methods for engaging practitioners and trainers in the distribution and use of evidence-based systems. The REE curriculum has components that support these three goals.

The economical group psychological education REE delivery system can be upgraded, subject to further research testing, and implemented to reduce the predicted increased incidence of students’ mental disabilities. The program has an added value when it serves as an intervention platform for teaching how to cope through the use of active problem situations. The REE program is an example of a low cost high impact positive mental-health delivery system.


The REE school mental health curriculum can deliver services economically. It is designed for research review. Because the REE curriculum has a repeatable structure and content, it has been a subject of many research outcome studies.

Over the past thirty years, researchers have tested the REE curriculum with different populations in different settings. The populations range from learning disabled kindergarten children to patients in a nursing home.

The result of REE research was summarized in three large-scale literature surveys (Watter, 1988; DiGiuseppe & Bernard, 1990; Hajzler & Bernard 1991). The data support the REE model as an effective system compared with no-treatment and attention placebo controls. To date, there are no meaningful disconfirming studies.

The following describes research that bears on the REE system, such as the relationship between irrational beliefs and distress, followed by research relating to REE with children, REE with diverse populations, and how REE may relate to school academics.


Children’s irrational beliefs are a major contributor to emotional distress (Bernard, 2004; Ellis & Bernard, 2005). REE methods help promote student critical thinking skills to reduce the negative effects of such self-talk. They may also help support student resilience (Bernard, 2004a)


Researchers empirically tested the REE curriculum with children (Albert, 1972; Brody, 1974; Katz, 1974; Knaus & Bokor, 1975; DiGiuseppe, 1976; Harris, 1976; Miller, 1977; Miller and Kassinove, 1978; Leibowitz, 1979; Ritchie, 1978; Buckley, 1983; Casper, 1983; Rose, 1983; Grassi, 1984; Greenwald, 1985; Hooper & Layne1985; DeStefano, 1988; Rosenbaum, 1991; Wilde, 1996; Streeter, 1999). The REE program demonstrates effectiveness in areas such as increasing rational thinking, boosting self-concept, and reducing neuroticism. Encouraging preliminary longitudinal data suggest that children taught rational concepts through an REE program, maintained their gains between the fourth and eight grades (Wilde, 1999). These results support the efficacy of the REE program.


We can use REE with diverse populations (Knaus, 1977, 1977a, 1980,1983, 1985, 2004). The program shows efficacy with learning disabled students (Knaus & McKeever, 1977; Meyer, 1981; Omizo, Chubberly & Omizo 1985; Lo 1986; Omizo, Lo & Williams 1986; Gruenke, 2000). It has effectively been carried out with a “special needs” population (Eluto, 1980). REE was used effectively with a moderately mentally retarded male with a history of angry outbursts and violence (Knaus & Haberstroh, 1993). The curriculum was researched and found effective in middle and high school settings (Block, 1976; Dye, 1980; Geizhals 1981; Handleman, 1982; Voelm, 1984; Sandilos, 1986; Wu, 1986; Kachman, 1988; Kachman & Mazer 1990; Hernaez, Morales, & Francisco 2000). When used with college students, the REE curriculum promoted improvement in social skills (Wu, 1987). REE has been effective in the reduction of stress among test-anxious college freshman (Balther & Godsey 1979). At the end of the life cycle, REE has been effectively used with elderly populations (Keller, Croake & Brookings 1975; Krenitsky 1978). This research suggests that REE can appeal to a broad range of groups at different ages, and that the system shows a pattern of efficacy with diverse populations.


REE can support the teaching process (Zionts, 1983; Vernon, 1990, 1994). There is promising research that suggests that incorporating the REE curriculum into the classroom correlates with increases in academic achievement (Katchman & Mazer 1989; Streeter, 1999).


The original REE lessons provide a framework for students to develop and deploy reasoning and problem solving skills. The lessons provide a tested way for students to develop a coping frame of reference. However, the field of psychology is marked by continuing contributions about human thoughts and behavior, and conditions for self-improvement, such as metagognitive approaches that support learning and development.

New and consequential social problems will predictably arise. Some social changes present new challenges. When I first developed the REE program, the issue of student obesity was moot. The latest trend in obesity about youth, the accelerating rate of depression among student aged groups, suggest augmenting the original REE program to address these emerging issues.

The following describes potential new learning module that can be fitted to the basic REE modules:

  1. Metacognitive training. This module illustrates the power of a self-management process that includes a process of problem analysis, goal setting, planning, implementation, and revision. The metacognitive model is associated with higher levels of academic performance.
  2. Critical thinking training. The ability to ask the right questions, and to insist on verifiable answers, is a major component in a critical-thinking skill set. This module builds upon the premise that students can learn and apply critical thinking skills.
  3. Communications skills training. Our impressions of reality influence our expressions of that reality. By exploring this impressions and expressions hypothesis, and by testing the idea in practice, students can improve personal communications effectiveness.
  4. Building interpersonal skills. The development of social skills, assertiveness skills, and conflict resolution skills add an important formal dimension to the original program.
  5. Environmental change techniques. Students experiment with constructive ways to alter environments to promote advantages and reduce adversity.

The following describes potential advanced learning modules that are logical additions to REE special topics. They address psychological factors that can interfere with both school learning and general mental health:

  1. Dealing with extensions of blame. Such a learning module can help children identify where blame is appropriate, when it is excessive, and what to do to prevent blame excesses. Decreasing blame excesses, opens opportunities for sensible risk-taking and experimentation.
  2. Frustration tolerance training. Children and adolescents with high frustration tolerance, will predictably demonstrate higher frequencies of efficient and effective actions compared to children and adolescents who do not. Frustration tolerance can be boosted by teaching ways to place reason between impulse and action.
  3. The application of REE to prevent substance abuse. This type learning module can involve recognizing and dealing with self-defeating temptations. The module can include imaginative and critical thinking methods to increase student resistance to illicit drug and alcohol use.
  4. Preventing anxiety. This learning module can include both cognitive and exposure techniques to prevent and to intervene to correct needless worry, anxiety, and panic.
  5. Curbing Procrastination. Procrastination is a complex automatic habit process that involves diversions. This learning module includes procrastination recognition, procrastination thinking recognition, and action methods to counter this ancient nemesis. Students, who learn and practice methods to counter procrastination, are likely to get more done with less strain. Once learned and practiced, students can apply counter-procrastination strategies to overcoming inhibitions, fears, and depression, as well as to advance their positive interests.
  6. Reducing inattentiveness and distractibility. This learning module involves applying critical thinking methods and procrastination technology to reduce distractibility and to improve on task performances. This module can be especially helpful for students with mild and moderate forms or attention deficit disorder. Preliminary research on the application of cognitive therapy methods to enrich brain circuitry and function in depression is encouraging as to the application of similar methods in this area. (See Goldapple, 2004; Goldapple, Segal, Garson, Lau, Bieling, Kennedy & Mayberg, 2004; Mayor, 2004; Keightley, Winocur, Graham, Mayberg, Hevenor, & Grady, 2003.) Whether a school-based positive mental health REE program that teaches clear thinking skills can lead to a similar finding, is an open research question.
  7. Preventing depression. Over the past 50 years, students have progressively shown an increase in the prevalence of depression. Depression can affect the enjoyment of life, interpersonal relationships, and performance. A series of carefully designed lesson modules can serve as a prophylactic against depression.

A module on depression can have special value. Among the various forms of psychological disorders of childhood and adolescence, major epidemiological studies point to an accelerating rate of depression among youth. Early onset depression may affect adolescents more severely than adults (Rohde, Lewinsohn & Seeley 2000). Depressed children and adolescents are likely to become depressed adults (Lewinsohn, Rohde, Seeley, Klein & Gotlib 2002; Pine, Cohen, Cohen & Brook 2001). Unfortunately, only a small subgroup of students currently receive appropriate services for depression, and prevention programs are rare.

Procrastination is an automatic habit process that can strengthen with practice (Knaus, 1998 2000, 2002). This complex habit process is normally resistant to interventions and change. However, procrastination can be addressed through an REE framework where advanced learning modules are sequentially presented to address procrastination. For example, a module on procrastination can include subsections on procrastination thinking recognition, challenging procrastination thinking, and applying behavioral self-management techniques to improve follow through skills. Because procrastination tends to be a complex, change-resistant, automatic habit, a procrastination learning module can profitably be augmented by booster sessions to aid students to meet deadlines, such as homework and studying for tests, as well as for following through on meaningful self-development activities.


When applicable, REE lessons can be supported by original stories, and parent and teacher guidelines that accompany those stories. For example, in an upcoming story about a Polyped, we find a six-legged critter who experiences discomfort when water gets on its fur. When wet, the Polyped sneezes, wheezes and shakes. As the students soon learn, the sensations of wheezing and sneezing are real, but the fear is based on a false idea.

Once the Polyped accidently gets past such initial discomforts, it discovers that the water unleashes a Polyped strength. When the Polyped is wet, its middle legs turn to wings. The Polyped can fly. Then, the droplets of water that fall from its fur, make rainbows in the sky.

Once the difference between a real and imagined fear is established, students can explore the cause of the Polyped’s fear. Was it the water that caused the fear? Was it the thought of sneezing and wheezing? Was it how Polypeds imagined they would feel when wet, that caused the fear? The Polyped story sets the stage for a student to identify an imaginary fear, look at the thoughts behind the fear, recognize and challenge erroneous thoughts, and behaviorally address a foolish fear by gradually approaching the fear to make it less dangerous.

Through this story a young student can learn that one normally does not get rid of an imaginary fear without doing something else first. The fear will normally, gradually, dissipate the more one does something to approach and address the fear.

When students have explored a fictional fear through a story, they have started to develop a coping frame of reference on that topic. A story, such as the Polyped, can then be a preamble for an REE module on dealing with a most common student fear, which is speaking before a group. An REE group leader can start this exploration process with a question: What is the difference between a real danger, such as seeing a bear in the woods, and an imaginary danger, such as fear of speaking before a class?


REE can have an added value where parents carry out the program with their sons and daughters. The REE approach can be especially appealing to parents who believe that it is important for their sons and daughters to develop strong reasoning and psychological problem-solving skills.

Parents can adapt lessons from the REE manual to support their sons’ and daughters’ psychological development. This adaptation includes adjusting the modules to fit the environment. Family members, for example, can pantomime feelings for the expression-guessing game. With guided instruction, parents can create thought and feeling cards for the Mr. Head game, or use a standard set of cards. Through following story guidelines, such as how to use the Polyped story, a parent, teacher, or counselor can explore, with the student(s), the process of recognizing, understanding, and counteracting a needless fear.

The opportunity for educational agencies and parents to work in tandem to help students advance their reasoning and problem-solving skills, can appeal both to the educational agency and parents. When both schools and parents jointly use the REE lesson module approach, they have an opportunity to organize and coordinate a joint effort.

When REE cooperative planning is desired between the school and home, group discussions can prove productive. Groups of parents, teachers, and mental health professions can go over the purpose of lessons; consider the value of maintaining a non-blame learning atmosphere; invent ways to make the lessons instructive and fun; consider home-based techniques for implementing the ideas.

Group discussions give all parties of interest an opportunity to collaborate on a joint REE mission. In fact, this collaborative group can create their own mission. Here is a sample mission statement: To create conditions for students to develop reasoning and psychological problem-solving skills in order to promote effectiveness in meeting academic and community challenges.

The discussion group can consider goals. In the world of self-development, goals are like train stations along the track toward a destination that can never fully be reached. The goals can represent the different REE learning modules. This discussion approach can provide both the school and parent with a cooperatively derived product. This effort sets the tone and direction for the program.

Groups tend to establish operating norms through examining an issue that interests its members. Discussion groups that focus on the feasibility of structuring an REE linkage between the school and the community (home), and plans for implementation, are likely to promote a sense of joint ownership in the REE program. At the same time, while going through this mission, goal, plan process, the collaborative parent and school group are simultaneously following a metacognitive plan, which parents might find useful in helping their sons and daughters increase their academic and personal effectiveness.

A collaborative effort between REE group leaders and parent groups can boost individual REE learning module effectiveness. For example, an REE classroom behavioral assignment on opinions, assumptions, and facts can be started at the school, then implemented in the home. Families using guidelines from the classroom REE lesson on opinions, assumptions, and facts, can view news programs from the perspective of different countries or from the perspective of different commentators with opposing political views. The family group can work together to separate facts from assumptions, and facts and assumptions from opinions. The student can share the results of such an analysis during a follow-up REE classroom lesson on that topic.

Few things in life go without a hitch. Some parents may prefer not to participate in a home extension of the REE program, but want the school independently to initiate and follow through. Others can have a negative bias toward psychologically based programming, or would prefer the school use the time to drill on arithmetic. Some might prefer an alternative training program so students can feel good about themselves. If the alternative program is evidence-based, it is to the greater good that something formally gets accomplished in supporting student development of advanced reasoning and psychological problem-solving skills. Nevertheless, the REE curriculum offers a tested approach that can be launched with minimal preparation withing a short-time span.


The REE curriculum helps students build reasoning skills and their psychological problem-solving strengths. This educational approach promotes the development of fact-based beliefs and constructive proactive behaviors. Beyond that, the REE approach shows preliminary promise as an aid to boost student academic achievement.

The REE curriculum is uniquely positioned to meet future challenges, such as those outlined by the World Health Organization, the US Surgeon General’s report on children’s mental health, and The School Psychology Quarterly emphasis on evidence-based school mental-health programs. REE has the potential to contribute to the positive mental-health of children and youth of different nations and cultures, who struggle to improve their sense of perspective, self-concepts, tolerance for frustration, and psychological problem-solving skills. This primary prevention program can reduce the need for later interventions. As students improve their critical thinking skills, and stretch for excellence, their sense of positive self-efficacy predictably rises and stabilizes.

The tested REE psychological education program enjoys substantive research support. It fits within a general curriculum as a psychological-education critical-thinking component. Often the REE program is as much fun for the teachers to teach, as it is for students to learn.

Aspects of the curriculum, such as training in the scientific method and examining characters in classic literature, augment the REE program. Academic learning and REE mental health learning can also be supported through the use of special stories that present ideas that the students can explore and process through REE lesson extensions.

When REE represents a cooperative effort between the school, parent, and student, all will normally work in tandem toward the same goal. This can help boost the overall effectiveness of the program.


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Previous Essays


All Out! An Autobiograpy
This candid autobiography, the last work by renowned psychologist Albert Ellis, is a tour de force of stimulating ideas, colorful descriptions of memorable people and events, and straightforward, no-nonsense talk. Ellis, the creator of one of the most successful forms of psychotherapy-Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)-recounts the memorable episodes of his life; discusses how he coped with emotional problems at different stages of life; describes his love life; and subjects his own self-description to a ruthlessly honest critique. Click here to buy the book.

Shameless Happiness
A concise booklet that outlines the ABCs of unhealthy negative emotions and self-defeating behavior. Shows how to dispute your irrational beliefs. Great for beginners and experienced REBTers alike. Download the book.

Albert Ellis Tribute Book Series Launched
The series will include books of readings for professionals, psychology self-help, psychotherapy theory and practice, the application of philosophy to clinical practice, professional guides for working with special populations, and classroom and college texts. Learn more about the Tribute Series

Albert Ellis Documentary
A documentary about the life and opinions of psychotherapy's most important and influential voice. Watch a preview.

New eBook Released
How to Conquer Your Frustrations by Dr. William J. Knaus. Download the free eBook.

Free e-Book: Rational Emotive Education
Dr. William J. Knaus directly, forthrightly, and with no nonsense about it, shows almost any interested teacher how he or she may use REE in the course of regular classroom lessons and other activities. Download the free e-Book.

REBT Moves Forward
The outcome of two conferences points to an exciting future for REBT. More.

International REE Committee Formed
The formation of an international committee to advance Rational Emotive Education is a major step towards the introduction of REBT to school students around the world. More.

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