What is REBT?

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of psychotherapy and a philosophy of living created by Albert Ellis in the 1950's.

REBT (pronounced R.E.B.T. — it is not pronounced rebbit) is based on the premise that whenever we become upset, it is not the events taking place in our lives that upset us; it is the beliefs that we hold that cause us to become depressed, anxious, enraged, etc. The idea that our beliefs upset us was first articulated by Epictetus around 2,000 years ago: "Men are disturbed not by events, but by the views which they take of them."

The Goal of Happiness

According to Albert Ellis and to REBT, the vast majority of us want to be happy. We want to be happy whether we are alone or with others; we want to get along with others—especially with one or two close friends; we want to be well informed and educated; we want a good job with good pay; and we want to enjoy our leisure time.

Of course life doesn't always allow us to have what we want; our goal of being happy is often thwarted by the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." When our goals are blocked, we can respond in ways that are healthy and helpful, or we can react in ways that are unhealthy and unhelpful.

The ABC Model

Albert Ellis and REBT posit that our reaction to having our goals blocked (or even the possibility of having them blocked) is determined by our beliefs. To illustrate this, Dr. Ellis developed a simple ABC format to teach people how their beliefs cause their emotional and behavioral responses:

A. Something happens.
B. You have a belief about the situation.
C. You have an emotional reaction to the belief.

For example:

A. Your employer falsely accuses you of taking money from her purse and threatens to fire you.
B. You believe, “She has no right to accuse me. She's a bitch!”
C. You feel angry.

If you had held a different belief, your emotional response would have been different:

A. Your employer falsely accuses you of taking money from her purse and threatens to fire you.
B. You believe, “I must not lose my job. That would be unbearable.”
C. You feel anxious.

The ABC model shows that A does not cause C. It is B that causes C. In the first example, it is not your employer's false accusation and threat that make you angry; it is your belief that she has no right to accuse you, and that she is a bitch. In the second example, it is not her accusation and threat that make you anxious; it is the belief that you must not lose your job, and that losing your job would be unbearable.

The Three Basic Musts

Although we all express ourselves differently, according to Albert Ellis and REBT, the beliefs that upset us are all variations of three common irrational beliefs. Each of the three common irrational beliefs contains a demand, either about ourselves, other people, or the world in general. These beliefs are known as "The Three Basic Musts."

  1. I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances or else I am no good.
  2. Other people must treat me considerately, fairly and kindly, and in exactly the way I want them to treat me. If they don't, they are no good and they deserve to be condemned and punished.
  3. I must get what I want, when I want it; and I must not get what I don't want. It's terrible if I don't get what I want, and I can't stand it.

The first belief often leads to anxiety, depression, shame, and guilt. The second belief often leads to rage, passive-aggression and acts of violence. The third belief often leads to self-pity and procrastination. It is the demanding nature of the beliefs that causes the problem. Less demanding, more flexible beliefs lead to healthy emotions and helpful behaviors


The goal of REBT is to help people change their irrational beliefs into rational beliefs. Changing beliefs is the real work of therapy and is achieved by the therapist disputing the client's irrational beliefs. For example, the therapist might ask, "Why must you win everyone's approval?" "Where is it written that other people must treat you fairly?" "Just because you want something, why must you have it?" Disputing is the D of the ABC model. When the client tries to answer the therapist's questions, s/he sees that there is no reason why s/he absolutely must have approval, fair treatment, or anything else that s/he wants.


Albert Ellis and REBT contend that although we all think irrationally from time to time, we can work at eliminating the tendency. It's unlikely that we can ever entirely eliminate the tendency to think irrationally, but we can reduce the frequency, the duration, and the intensity of our irrational beliefs by developing three insights:

  1. We don't merely get upset but mainly upset ourselves by holding inflexible beliefs.  
  2. No matter when and how we start upsetting ourselves, we continue to feel upset because we cling to our irrational beliefs.  
  3. The only way to get better is to work hard at changing our beliefs. It takes practice, practice, practice.


Emotionally healthy human beings develop an acceptance of reality, even when reality is highly unfortunate and unpleasant. REBT therapists strive to help their clients develop three types of acceptance: (1) unconditional self-acceptance; (2) unconditional other-acceptance; and (3) unconditional life-acceptance. Each of these types of acceptance is based on three core beliefs:

Unconditional self-acceptance:

  1. I am a fallible human being; I have my good points and my bad points.
  2. There is no reason why I must not have flaws.
  3. Despite my good points and my bad points, I am no more worthy and no less worthy than any other human being.

 Unconditional other-acceptance:

  1. Other people will treat me unfairly from time to time.
  2. There is no reason why they must treat me fairly.
  3. The people who treat me unfairly are no more worthy and no less worthy than any other human being.

Unconditional life-acceptance:

  1. Life doesn't always work out the way that I'd like it to.
  2. There is no reason why life must go the way I want it to
  3.  Life is not necessarily pleasant but it is never awful and it is nearly always bearable.

REBT Today

Clinical experience and a growing supply of experimental evidence show that REBT is effective and efficient at reducing emotional pain. When Albert Ellis created REBT in the 1950's he met with much resistance from others in the mental health field. Today it is one of the most widely-practiced therapies throughout the world. In the early days of REBT, even Dr. Ellis did not clearly see that consistent use of its philosophical system would have such a profound effect on the field of psychotherapy or on the lives of the millions of people who have benefited from it.

Shameless Happiness

This introduction to REBT is based on Shameless Happiness, a concise booklet that outlines the basics of REBT.

About The Author:

Will Ross — is the webmaster and co-founder of REBTnetwork.org; he tutors REBT self-helpers and is the author and publisher of online REBT self-help materials.



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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