‘People are disturbed not by things, but by their view of things.‘-Epictetus
REBT emphasizes that the key to emotional health, even in the face of life’s adversities, is RATIONAL THINKING. In the context of REBT, it is useful to consider the reasons the 4 words: RATIONAL, EMOTIVE, BEHAVIOR, and THERAPY have been used to make up the name:
1) RATIONAL – REBT stresses that irrational thinking leads to emotional problems. Irrational thinking, in the context of the therapy, has the following characteristics: it is rigid, it is extreme, it is false and it is unconstructive. Rational thinking, on the other hand, is seen to be flexible, true, non-extreme, and constructive.
Irrational thinking tends to lead to unhelpful emotional responses such as anxiety, which, in turn, lead to unhelpful behaviors.
2) EMOTIVE – in this context, the word ’emotive’ means ‘relevant to emotions’. REBT is concerned with reducing feelings of emotional distress, but, importantly, it also recognizes the fact that, in life, people will, inevitably, experience NEGATIVE FEELINGS WHEN FACED WITH ADVERSITY, BUT THESE NEED NOT BE UNHEALTHY.
REBT sees NEGATIVE EMOTIONS AS BEING SPLIT INTO TWO DISTINCT CATEGORIES:
i) UNHEALTHY NEGATIVE EMOTIONS (UNEs)
ii) HEALTHY NEGATIVE EMOTIONS (HNEs)
The theory states that UNEs we experience as a reaction to adversity are a result of IRRATIONAL BELIEFS ABOUT OURSELVES, OTHERS, and THE WORLD IN GENERAL. We need to change our irrational beliefs to rational ones so that we may experience HNEs rather than UNEs. The theory incorporates the ABC model to help illustrate this. In the ABC model A, B and C stand for the following:
C: Consequences of beliefs (eg emotions)
Let’s consider, with this model in mind, the following scenario :
First, an adverse event occurs (A) – a colleague at work snaps at you
this leads to you having a belief (B). The belief (B) may be IRRATIONAL or RATIONAL. Let’s look at examples of both:
(B) IRRATIONAL: ‘It is imperative that my work colleague likes me’
(B) RATIONAL: ‘I would prefer it if my work colleague liked me, but it is not a catastrophe if she does not.’
These opposing two responses then give rise to commensurate emotional responses:
(B) IRRATIONAL leads to UNEs eg Anxiety
(B) RATIONAL leads to HNEs eg Concern (the emotion of concern, whilst a negative emotion, is also a healthy one).
In order to illustrate further how negative emotions can be both healthy and unhealthy, below are two lists. The left-hand column is a list of unhealthy negative emotions (UNEs), whilst the list on the right gives the healthy negative emotion equivalents (HNEs):
UNEs — HNEs
ANXIETY — CONCERN
DEPRESSION — SADNESS
GUILT — REMORSE
SHAME — DISAPPOINTMENT
HURT — SORROW
INTELLECTUAL VERSUS EMOTIVE UNDERSTANDING: it has already been stated that REBT views irrational beliefs as rigid, false, not sensible, and non-constructive. The example given of an irrational belief was; ‘it is imperative that my work colleague likes me’ whereas the rational response would be: ‘it would be nice if my work colleague liked me but it is not a catastrophe if she does not.’ REBT states that we need to understand ON AN INTELLECTUAL LEVEL that the second response is the rational one but that this INTELLECTUAL UNDERSTANDING is not sufficient on its own.
If we only understood intellectually, our ‘head would understand but our heart wouldn’t’ – this would mean we would not FEEL any different: we would still have a UNE (ie anxiety), consistent with an IRRATIONAL BELIEF. So, REBT emphasizes that our understanding that the rational belief is the correct one needs to be not only INTELLECTUAL BUT ALSO EMOTIVE. Only then can we feel, think and act in a way that is consistent with the rational belief (ie in a CONCERNED rather than ANXIOUS manner).
3) BEHAVIOR: REBT states that IRRATIONAL BELIEFS lead to NON-CONSTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR whereas RATIONAL BELIEFS lead to CONSTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR. In our example about the work colleague, this idea might be illustrated by the irrational belief leading us to AVOID our work colleague whereas the rational belief might lead us to approach her assertively and talk the problem through calmly and maturely.
Below are examples of how UNEs can lead to unhelpful behavior whilst HNEs can lead to helpful behavior:
UNE – DEPRESSION leading to withdrawal from enjoyable activities/EQUIVALENT HNE – SADNESS leading to participation in enjoyable activities after a period of adjustment
UNE – GUILT leading to begging for forgiveness/EQUIVALENT HNE – REMORSE leading to asking for forgiveness
UNE – SHAME leading to withdrawal from others/EQUIVALENT HNE – DISAPPOINTMENT leading to contact with others and talking things over
UNE – HURT leading to sulking/EQUIVALENT HNE – SORROW leading to assertiveness and communicating with others.
4) THERAPY – in order to get the most out of REBT, it is necessary to first address one’s maladaptive (unhelpful) responses to life’s adversities BEFORE dealing with the practical side of the actual problems. The rationale behind this is that otherwise, the unhelpful responses will impede the individual’s ability to deal with the particular adversities in an effective way.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).