REBT: The limitations and errors in this system of counselling and psychotherapy

Updated on 27th October 2019

The main, new book that reveals the fundamental falsehoods at the heart of REBT

Front cover3 of reissued REBT bookMany of this author’s criticisms of REBT apply equally to all forms of CBT which utilize the ABC model of human disturbance.

Dr Byrne begins by showing that Dr Ellis was wrong on two major counts:

Firstly, Ellis’s claim that there is a difference in degree of disturbability of humans and other animals, and that the cause of that difference is the existence of language, and the capacity that provides to humans to think about their experiences, and to think about their thinking.  Dr Byrne presents scientific evidence to refute this line of reasoning by Dr Ellis.

And secondly, Ellis’s claim that he had evidence (in the form of a foundational case study) that people are upset by their thinking, plus their thinking about their thinking.  In a line by line analysis of the relevant text from Dr Ellis’s 1962 book, Dr Byrne destroys the basis of this false claim.

Byrne then explores the value and veracity of some of the core principles of Stoicism , which are built into REBT/CBT, and finds that they do not stand up to scrutiny!


There are at least seven key errors in the foundations of REBT, many of which overlap CBT practice.

These systems of therapy are enjoying a short-lived popularity which will end in tears. (The Swedish government have already evaluated their massive investment in CBT, and found that it made not one jot of difference to the target it was supposed to hit: [getting workers off incapacity benefit, and back into work]. The British government should follow suit.  ‘Evidence-based’ should mean that evidence of efficacy is collected – by impartial evaluators – and published!)

If you are an REBT or CBT therapist, then you need to review the content of this book, to understand the errors at the heart of this system of philosophizing about human emotional and behavioural disturbances.

And if you are a student who is considering using some elements of REBT in your future counselling or therapy work, then you need to read this analysis.  You need to know that it is based on some serious errors which, it is not too strong a claim to state, are forms of madness!  (The precise form of madness underpinning REBT is what I call ‘Extreme Stoicism’ – the elements of Stoicism which assume that a human being can learn to live like a rock or a lump of wood; to ignore pain and sorrow; to agree that ‘nobody can harm them’; to agree that they are not upset by the horrible things that happen to them, but rather by their Silly Beliefs!  And that they choose to upset themselves! [Total madness!])

For more information about this book, please click this link: A Major Critique of REBT.***


It is madness to deny the impact of the social environment upon the body-brain-mind of the client.  It is madness to blame the client for their emotional disturbances.  And it is madness to copy the delusions of a first century Roman slave, instead of being informed by the research evidence of modern social psychology, neuroscience, and interpersonal neurobiology!

…For more, please visit the ABC Bookstore Online for REBT Critiques.***


REBT Discounts the Human Body

Humans are seen a simple ‘belief machines’


Front cover paperback 2Before Albert Ellis began to develop his theory of psychotherapy, in the 1950’s – see Ellis (1962) – the dominant therapies in New York City were Freudian and post-Freudian analysis, and Behaviour Therapy.  Those theories of psychotherapy contained, at their core, a physical organism: the ‘It’, or the human body.

Albert Ellis was a damaged man, who had experienced significant levels of neglect, bordering on abandonment, including spending months in hospital, at the age of four years, and again at the age of six years, with almost no visits from his parents. There is also evidence of earlier neglect at home.

It seems he developed a particular personality adaptation[1] to the ways in which his parents ignored his emotional needs. This caused him to deny his own need for emotional comfort; and he became highly stoical (just like a substantial proportion of humans raised in industrialized societies).  Then, as a teenager, he discovered books on the philosophy of Stoicism – including the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca.  Those writings echoed with his own adaptation to neglect and indifference; and to emotional suffering in general. And he created his theory of psychotherapy under the influence of those philosophies of self-disregard or self-neglect; and in the process he denied or dumped the importance of the human body (which was central to earlier theories of therapy) and replaced it with a disembodied “belief system”.  A disembodied mind on legs!


This book is a brief, summary critique of the main errors contained in the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) theory.  And especially the invalidity of the ABC model, which asserts that nothing other than beliefs intervene between a noxious experience and an emotional-behavioural reaction. (The body is ignored!)

The aim of this book is to deconstruct the ABC’s of REBT/CBT, and extreme Stoicism, and to replace them with a more holistic, more humane, and more realistic model of the whole-body-brain-mind-environment-complexity, which is what a human being truly is.

But this is not mere humanism of the kind developed by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.  This is a new kind of holistic, organism-environment-dialectic. It could not have been anticipated by Dr Albert Ellis, who learned his psychology in the 1930’s and 40’s.  My critique of REBT depends upon the most recent neuroscientific discoveries; their elaboration into ‘affect-regulation theory’ and ‘interpersonal neurobiology’ (IPN); plus very recent research on the gut-brain-connection[2]. And also the biochemistry of physical exercise and the stress response. This new, cutting-edge philosophy of psychotherapy is called Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT).

Against Albert Ellis’s ABC model, we offer the Holistic-SOR model, which summarizes the many variables that intervene between our experiences and our emotional and behavioural performances or outputs. These include: diet and nutrition; sleep and relaxation; physical activity and exercise; family of origin experiences; current relationship experiences; current external stressors, including socioeconomic factors, and living conditions; etc.


Whole cover paperback 1

Part 1 describes the background to this critique; and who the book is intended for. Target audiences include REBT and CBT practitioners; students of counselling and therapy; individuals interested in the distinction between moderate and extreme Stoicism and Buddhism; and many others.

I then describe the small element of REBT which I have retained in my approach to counselling and psychotherapy (which is a slightly modified form of Rational Emotive Imagery). And then I present a brief refutation of the core irrational beliefs of REBT, which are: demandingness; awfulizing; low-frustration tolerance; and condemning and damning of self, other people and the world.

One of the points that I make about the ABC model is this: The ABC model is an equation derived from the first century, extreme Stoic philosopher, and former slave, Epictetus.  It did not come out of cognitive science.  And it cannot be fitted into cognitive science as a significant element or component.

The ABC model could also be seen as an oversimplification of the Stimulus-Organism-Response (SOR) model of the neo-Behaviourists, who believed that the state of the organism as a whole determined its response to any incoming stimulus.


Back cover paperback 3Then, in Part 2, I explore theories of human suffering. This includes a consideration of the Stoic and Buddhist theories of suffering; Freud’s theory; plus Alan Watts, Melanie Klein and John Bowlby’s perspectives. This is followed by a brief consideration of the behaviourists, cognitive psychology, and the emergence of Albert Ellis’s theory. I then distinguish between long-suffering and short suffering approaches to therapy; and I am definitely in favour of the shortest possible approach – brief therapy – but not at the cost of dumping the client’s history and feelings.

I then describe my ‘positionality’: or how I am positioned in relation to the discipline of REBT. I begin with how I got into studying Albert Ellis’s writings, to deal with my own career crisis; and then training as an REBT therapist; and then practicing as an REBT therapist for about 10+ years, until the death of Albert Ellis, in 2007.  My main moves away from REBT occurred between 2007 and 2009.

In this book, I will argue that Dr Albert Ellis was, to a significant degree, an extreme Stoic, and that to that degree he was a destructive, harmful influence, not just within the world of counselling and therapy, but – because there are no Chinese walls between the therapy room and the wider society – also on the political-economic discourse of the period from 1975 onwards, when some of the worst forms of neoliberal insensitivity to the suffering of the poor arose in the US and the UK.

…End of extract.  For more, please go to


[1] Joines and Stewart (2002), in the References.

[2] Enders, G. (2015) Gut: The inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ.  London: Scribe Publications.



The Amoralism of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT):

The mishandling of self-acceptance and unfairness issues by Albert Ellis


By Dr Jim Byrne


This book is an extensive, detailed critique of two of the central ideas of REBT: (1) The concept of ‘unconditional self-acceptance’; and (2) The idea of life as being fundamentally unfair, and that it should be accepted as such, and never complained about.  In the process we also deal with Albert Ellis’s idea that people should never be blamed for anything; that praise and blame are bad; that guilt and shame are to be eliminated, and never taken to be indicators that we’ve done something wrong. Along the way we have a debate with Dr Michael Edelstein about the role of fairness in couple relationships.

Part 2 explores the concepts of justice and fairness, including defining objective terms for judging fairness in practice.

Part 3 looks at what is wrong with the ideas of ‘unconditional positive regard’ and ‘unconditional self-acceptance’; and the importance of teaching morality: in particular the importance of praise and blame, and the moral emotions of guilt and shame.



Jim Byrne is a doctor of counselling with more than twenty years’ experience in private practice.  He was originally trained as an REBT therapist, and went on to study more than a dozen systems of counselling and therapy.  He doctoral studies concerned ethical research in counselling and therapy.



“It was a hopeless thing, he thought, this obsession of his to present the people of the Earth as good and reasonable. For in many ways they were neither good nor reasonable; perhaps because they had not as yet entirely grown up. They were smart and quick and at times compassionate and even understanding, but they failed lamentably in many other ways.”         

Clifford D. Simak, Way Station.


Unlike the speaker in Clifford Simak’s novel, quoted above, Albert Ellis and Carl Rogers were perfectly happy to present their individual clients as ‘good and reasonable’, even when they’d done terrible things; and grossly immoral things.

Even Anthony Burgess – whose film, A Clockwork Orange, had to be withdrawn from public viewing because of the large spate of copycat crimes committed by young men who saw the film – was clear that we live in a world of good and evil:

“The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities.”

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange


…End of extract.  For more, please click the following link: The Amoralism of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.***


Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer:

A critique of the simplistic ABC model of REBT

By Dr Jim Byrne


Front cover, Ellis and the Golfer3
Cover design by Will Sutton

This is a book of reflections upon a case study, presented by Dr Ellis in his 1962 book about the theory of Rational Therapy.

The ‘unhappy golfer’ is in Dr Albert Ellis’s office, in New York City, somewhere around the end of the 1950’s.  He tells Dr Ellis that he feels terribly unhappy about being rejected by his golfing peers, and Dr Ellis tells him: This is something you are doing to yourself!

Ellis uses the unhappy golfer to introduce his readers to his simple ABC model of Rational (REB) Therapy, which claims – in those places that matter most – that a person cannot be upset emotionally in any way other than by their own beliefs!

This book sets out to refute this simplistic idea.

For more.***

Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer.***



2 thoughts on “REBT: The limitations and errors in this system of counselling and psychotherapy

  1. I’d love to read more about your criticism of REBT. I don’t like the way REBT dehumanizes people for not living up to the stoic ideal. I also don’t like that REBT takes literally the metaphor of mental illness and treats suffering as a disease. I recently posted some clips of Szasz and Ellis debating to my blog,
    It is so obvious that Ellis lacks the ability to think outside of the box or in abstract terms. I think you are correct in that he found a religion that worked for coping with life and applied it to the rest of human suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. RET brings artificial difference in thought and emotion. Thought need not be precede emotion always as REBTs believe. Emotion is powerful force and can be precede action due to habitual force. People who are emtional oreiented could not get much help from REBT.


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