Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) for Addiction Treatment

Rehabs use different types of addiction treatment therapy to help people identify thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that may contribute to substance misuse, and teach them new, healthier ways to cope.1

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a therapeutic approach that’s sometimes used during addiction treatment. Read on to learn more about the possible benefits of REBT and how to get help if you or a loved one has lost control of their drinking or drug use.

What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)?

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a type of therapy designed to reduce emotional pain by focusing on the impact of a person’s irrational beliefs on their emotions and then shifting those beliefs into more rational ones.2

Dr. Albert Ellis created REBT in the 1950s as a way to address what he perceived to be the shortcomings of psychoanalysis. Ellis adopted certain concepts from Stoic philosophy, including the idea that it is not what happens to people, but their reaction to what happens that leads to distress.3

The basis for REBT is that people’s interpretations of events, not the actual events themselves, are what causes suffering and pain. These interpretations can lead to irrational beliefs, which can lead to unhealthy or negative emotions and consequent dysfunctional behaviors.2,3

REBT emphasizes personal empowerment and responsibility, because people have the ability to change their beliefs about negative life events, and these changes may also help them modify the ways they respond to these events.3

REBT eventually served as the foundation for the development of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).4

REBT vs CBT: What’s the Difference?

REBT and CBT share many similar concepts. REBT and CBT both involve examining the influence of irrational thoughts and beliefs on a person’s behaviors, and both aim to change these negative thoughts and behaviors into more positive ones.4

In fact, professionals sometimes refer to REBT as “rational‐emotive and cognitive‐behavior therapy, recognizing its influential role in the CBT approach.”4

Despite the apparent similarities, there are also some differences between REBT and CBT. For example:3–7

  • REBT focuses more on a person’s appraisal or evaluation of a situation and how that influences their behavior, while CBT looks more at a person’s descriptive or inferential thoughts (i.e., thoughts that develop from a person’s direct observation or dysfunctional reasoning).
  • REBT’s emphasis is on rational and irrational beliefs, which may differ from other CBT approaches. Rational beliefs are considered flexible, reasonable, and consistent with reality, whereas irrational beliefs are defined as rigid, inconsistent with reality, and unreasonable.
  • REBT believes that emotional pain stems from ongoing irrational thinking, whereas CBT believes that psychological difficulties result from a person’s reaction to a situation based on their thoughts (a slightly different perspective compared to REBT).
  • Generally speaking, REBT therapists may be more direct and use humor more often than CBT therapists.

Benefits of REBT

REBT may provide a number of benefits, including:2,7,8

  • Helping people identify and change irrational, catastrophizing beliefs that can lead to negative behaviors, such as substance use, aggression, sleep problems, and procrastination.
  • Developing healthier ways of thinking that help decrease emotional distress and pain.
  • Learning to accept reality, even when the reality is unpleasant. This includes self-acceptance and acceptance of things beyond control.
  • Increasing productivity and satisfaction at home, work, and school.
  • Strengthening relationships.
  • Improving overall emotional health and wellness, including symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

The ABC Model of REBT

REBT is based on the ABC model of cognitive restructuring, which Ellis designed to help people understand how their beliefs directly lead to emotional and behavioral consequences.2,9

The ABC model includes:2,9

  • A, the activating event. This refers to the event or situation.
  • B, the belief system. This refers to what you tell yourself about A.
  • C, the consequence. This refers to how you end up feeling based on B.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy may be used for drug or alcohol addiction treatment to help people struggling with substance misuse examine and change their negative thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors related to substance use.8

This can involve the use of different techniques, such as disputing, where the therapist asks questions that challenge irrational beliefs. For example, “Is it really true that you cannot cope without a drink?”2

Through this process, people learn to think more rationally, modify their behaviors, and develop mindfulness and acceptance so they can deal with stressors of daily life without needing to use substances as a coping mechanism.2

Is REBT Effective?

More research is still needed to determine the effectiveness of REBT for addiction and other mental health disorders. However, REBT may be especially useful for people with co-occurring disorders, like anxiety or depression.4,10–12

A meta-analysis found that REBT had moderate to strong effects for a variety of psychological conditions, including symptoms of distress, anxiety, anger, and depression, which may support its usefulness for a wide range of mental health disorders.4

For example, one study showed that REBT helped decrease the need for medication and primary care visits in people with dysthymia, a mild form of depression.10

Another study found that REBT reduced depressive symptoms and associated irrational beliefs in undergraduate medical students, as well as improved emotional functioning in students with generalized anxiety disorder.11,12

What to Expect During an REBT Session?

REBT can be provided during individual or group therapy. Groups typically involve 6–12 participants, but this can vary by the setting.4,13,14

During group therapy, people will work on the ABC model and discuss whether their thoughts and beliefs are rational, and then be encouraged to challenge and change their maladaptive beliefs.9

The therapist may also introduce different REBT therapy techniques, such as problem-solving, relaxation, assertiveness training, social skills training, decision-making skills, conflict resolution, and other cognitive restructuring methods.13

Using these techniques, participants can build and practice coping and other skills, either with the therapist or with other group members, to learn how to apply these skills in their daily lives.15

REBT for Drug Addiction Near Riverview, FL

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol misuse, professional treatment can help. Our Tampa metro area inpatient rehab facility offers REBT and other behavioral therapies as part of a comprehensive and personalized treatment approach designed to help people recover from addiction.

At River Oaks, our admissions navigators are available around the clock to discuss your rehab options and answer any other questions you may have about using insurance to pay for rehab or other ways to pay for rehab.

Call us at to learn more about the levels of addiction treatment available and get admitted today.

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