Rational Emotive Therapy; How to Challenge Reoccurring Irrational Thoughts

albert ellis founder of rational emotive therapy

Albert Ellis Ph.D. Founder of RET

“Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect.  It means you’ve decided to look beyond imperfections”

If you are suffering from depression, poor self-esteem, or anxiety, Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) can help you learn how to feel good. Albert Ellis developed rational emotive therapy in the 1950’s.

RET is one of the many cognitive behavioral treatment techniques currently used in the mental health field

This therapy focuses on helping the client change those events that can be changed, to gracefully tolerate those that cannot, and to develop the capacity to discriminate between the two. It was based on the idea that psychological problems are caused by self-defeating thoughts, such as “I must be loved or approved by everyone” and “If I don’t find the perfect solution to this problem, a catastrophe will result”. Once such thoughts are changed, emotional and behavioral changes will follow. My task is to help you recognize the illogical and self-destructive thinking processes and to help you replace them with healthier, positive ones.

Some of the 60,000 thoughts we have per day may cause negative emotions that if untreated, can lead to depression, poor self-esteem, anxiety, and other insecurities that may be self-destructive. RET is a therapy that empowers you to change your thinking and to have a more profound understanding of how your thinking affects the way you feel. RET enables you to modify your patterns of thought by increasing awareness and training your mind, empowering you to minimize emotional distress and promote well-being.


RET helps you identify the emotional and practical problems in your life

RET helps delineate the difference between the two. You will be able to minimize emotional disturbances, obtain self-actualization, and experience an improvement in your quality of life.

For instance, Susan is a very successful lawyer, a great mother to two young children and an outstanding wife. The law firm where she was employed downsized, and as a result her case load decreased as did her salary. For the past month, Susan was waking up at 4 a.m., she was eating uncontrollably and cried almost on a daily basis. Some of Susan’s statements in treatment were as follows:

“I am very scared that I will lose my home; I feel like a bad wife and mother; I just feel like I am going to lose my mind!”

Emotional problem: Susan is upsetting herself about her current setbacks, why not continue doing your best at your firm without generalizing that EVERYTHING is a failure in your life. She fails to remember that she plays a crucial role in her family, and is has been able to carry a balanced life with a successful career and a stable home.

Practical problem: This would involve the success of her business. How can she increase her salary, what are other work related options?

Many people may believe that the practical problem causes the emotional problem, yet it is our thoughts and the perceptions about that event that cause the emotional response.

ABC model

Activating event (activating experience)

Our perception of an unfortunate environmental occurrence.

ie. Susan’s decrease in her caseload and decrease in salary due to changes in her company.

Belief system

Our irrational and rational beliefs about the event. These are our automatic thoughts. Irrational beliefs are the ones that we want to address with RET. These thoughts typically consist of “must’s/should’s.” They are also referred to as “thinking errors.”

Three main irrational beliefs are:

“I must be an outstanding component or I am worthless.”

“Others must treat me considerably, or they are absolutely rotten.”

“The world will give me happiness, or I will die.”

In Susan’s case her irrational beliefs will consist of “I must make ,000 a year, or I am a failure”

Consequences: Emotional and Behavioral

These are the negative emotions such as depression, panic, rage that stems from our beliefs.

Ellis adds the D and the E, D stands for disputation in which you learn how to challenge and debate your irrational thinking. When you are successful at accomplishing this task, then you can move on to E. At this point, you should ultimately enjoy the positive psychological effects of rational beliefs.

I believe empowerment is the key to therapy. Empowerment is the ability to be adaptive and flexible with a positive attitude and good problem-solving skills that enables us to meet our needs over the course of our lives. We all face life challenge. The key is to modify our thinking patterns and find a way to maintain positive self-esteem over the course of our lives, regardless of what kinds of challenges face us.