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Rational emotive therapy

Rational emotive therapy

Rational behavior therapy see Rational emotive therapy


Rational emotive therapy (RET) is a psychotherapeutic approach which proposes that unrealistic and irrational beliefs cause many emotional problems.


RET is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The primary focus of this treatment approach is to suggest changes in thinking that will lead to changes in behavior, thereby alleviating or improving symptoms. The therapy emphasizes changing irrational thinking patterns that cause emotional distress into thoughts that are more reasonable and rational. RET can be used to treat people affected from disorders such as anxiety, depression and stess.


There are no major precautions, except that persons entering treatment must be willing to change behaviors that promote symptoms.


Rational emotive therapy was developed by Albert Ellis in the mid-1950s. Ellis proposed that people become unhappy and develop self-defeating habits because of unrealistic or faulty beliefs. In research reports from Ellis in 1979 and 1987 he introduced the model that most irrational beliefs originate from three core ideas, each one of which is unrealistic. These three core and unrealistic views include: 1) I must perform well to be approved of by others who are perceived significant; 2) you must treat me fairlyif not, then it is horrible and I cannot bear it; 3) conditions must be my way and if not I cannot stand to live in such a terrible and awful world. These irrational thoughts can lead to grief and needless suffering.

As a therapy, RET is active. The RET therapist strives to change irrational beliefs, challenge thinking, and promote rational self-talk, and various strategies are used to achieve these goals. These strategies may include: disputing irrational beliefs (the therapist points out how irrational it would be for a client to believe he or she had to be good at everything to be considered a worthwhile person), reframing (situations are viewed from a more positive angle), problem solving, role-playing, modeling , and the use of humor. The client may also be requested to complete certain exercises at home, and bibliotherapy (reading about the disorder) may also be used as components of RET.


Before a client begins RET, he or she may undergo an assessment with the therapist. This assessment is called a biopsychosocial assessment, consisting of a structured interview. The questions and information-gathering during this assessment typically cover areas such as past medical and psychological history, family and social history, sex and drug history, employment and education history and criminal history. The interview provides information for a diagnosis or a tentative diagnosis that requires further testing or consultation.


Aftercare may or may not be indicated. This is usually decided on between the patient and mental health practitioner. Aftercare follow-up may be recommended if the affected person is at risk of relapse behaviors (returning to old behaviors that the client had sought to change).


There are no real risks associated with RET. There is a possibility that treatment may not benefit the affected person. This possibility becomes more likely for patients who have multiple psychological disorders.

Normal results

The person undergoing RET will begin to understand the repetitive patterns of irrational thoughts and disruption caused by symptoms. The individual in therapy will develop skills to improve his or her specific problems, and usual results include improved self-esteem and the development of a sense that life events change and that outcomes may not always be favorable.

Abnormal results

There are no abnormal results per se, but persons who are unwilling to change and adhere to treatment recommendations may not gain any new beneficial behaviors.



Coon, D. Essentials of Psychology. 7th ed. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1997.


The Albert Ellis Institute. 45 East 65th Street, New York, NY 10021. Telephone: (800) 323-4738.

Laith Farid Gulli, M.D. Nicole Mallory, M.S., PA-C

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