Understanding Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

people sitting in a circle-therapy

Modern mental health and addiction treatment have a number of approaches that suit every person’s individual needs. A variety of therapies are being used in facilities across the United States to help give patients the best chance at a successful recovery. One such therapy that is being used is rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). First created in 1955 by Dr. Albert Ellis, the therapy has helped individuals heal from cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disturbances. Understanding this therapy and how it helps in addiction recovery can help you utilize it for your own recovery journey.

What is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy?

REBT is a therapy that helps individuals identify negative thoughts and feelings, challenge the rationale behind those thoughts and feelings, and learn how to put healthier, more productive reliefs in their place. Throughout REBT sessions, your therapist will work with you to identify current unhealthy thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that result in emotional distress and have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. After you have learned to identify these thoughts and feelings, you can change them into more positive behaviors, making you more productive, successful, and healthy.

The Three Musts

When Dr. Ellis was pioneering REBT, he came up with three “musts” that hold you back in life.

  1. I must do well.
  2. You must treat me well.
  3. The world must be easy.

Many individuals often believe and say these “must” statements either internally or externally. However, these statements can be burdensome to not only your mental health but your recovery as well. These can harm you because when things do not end up in a positive manner, you are going to react poorly. To address these “must” statements, Dr. Ellis came up with three effective philosophies known as:

  1. Unconditional self-acceptance (USA)
  2. Unconditional other-acceptance (UOA)
  3. Unconditional life-acceptance (ULA)

These approaches teach you how to refocus on coping and problem-solving methods that are more beneficial to your daily life. As you learn to implement these methods into your own life and recovery, you will begin to think less rigidly and find peace.


Many people believe that REBT is the same as or even a subset of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) due to its approaches and methods. However, the two treatment modalities have distinguishing characteristics that separate the two.

For example, REBT focuses on the secondary disturbance, which CBT ignores. Secondary disturbance occurs when you disturb yourself about your disturbance, such as being anxious about appearing anxious to peers on the first day of school. Another differing characteristic of the two involves approaches to self-esteem. REBT uses unconditional self-acceptance (USA) that teaches individuals how to unconditionally accept themselves rather than focusing on the person’s positive attributes as CBT does. The REBT approach is usually more beneficial and has a higher rate of success than the CBT method.

Even though the two therapies seem significantly similar, it is essential to understand their differences. It is especially important to compare the two when you are thinking of using one method in your own treatment plan, as you can make a more informed decision as to which is best for you and your recovery needs.

Benefits of REBT in Addiction Recovery

Recovery can be difficult for those that have been living in the black hole that is addiction. You become accustomed to living a certain way and therefore aren’t used to putting in the work that recovery requires. The pressures you put on yourself can exacerbate this situation, as you are harder on yourself for not recovering as quickly as you think you should or aren’t where you thought you would be by this time. REBT techniques help individuals recovering from addiction address these irrational thoughts about how they should be behaving to turn them into more positive behaviors.

For example, a person in recovery may tell themselves, “I should be over my triggers, and they shouldn’t bother me. Because I still struggle with them, I am a failure.” However, this phrase is unrealistic in the grand scheme of things, as recovery is an ongoing process, and even those with the best coping mechanisms will not always be immune to triggers. REBT helps individuals identify these harmful thoughts and beliefs in order to lessen them over time. It teaches them how to respond in more rational ways and recognize that they cannot control every aspect of their life. This aspect of REBT helps those currently in recovery to let go of the need for control and have a more successful journey.

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is a type of psychotherapy that treatment facilities across the country utilize to help individuals who are currently recovering from addiction and mental health issues. It supports healing by teaching individuals to challenge thoughts and behaviors about how they “should” act, think, or behave. Then, individuals learn to replace negative thoughts and behaviors with more positive ones conducive to a more successful recovery experience. If you are interested in REBT for your own recovery, check out Lakehouse Recovery Center. We offer virtual programs to keep you safe during the pandemic but are still accessible during these unprecedented times. We understand that the past year has been tough on everyone, which is why we vow to provide you with individualized, top-of-the-line care. Our various traditional and experiential treatment modalities combined with a focus on health and wellness are sure to provide you with a successful base for long-term recovery. Call us today to learn more at (877) 762-3707.