REBT Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes

The book that reveals the fundamental falsehoods at the heart of REBT/CBT

Cover444Many of this author’s criticisms of REBT apply equally to all forms of CBT which utilise 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 disturb-ability 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.

drjim-counsellor9For anybody to practice these forms of therapy, without taking Dr Byrne’s critique into account, would be a grave error and a serious miscalculation.

These systems of therapy are enjoying a short-lived popularity which will end in tears.

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 philosophising 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!

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!

Get this book today, if you want to eliminate these errors from your own thinking and your own work.  Or you want to avoid learning them in the first place.  This book will also inform you of the importance of fairness and morality in counselling and therapy, and improve your capacity to think about the human body-brain-mind, and the true causation of emotional disturbances.

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REBT has been found by this author to be unfit for therapeutic purposes, because it omits the body; blames the client for their upset; uses a naive realist view of the client as a freely choosing mind on legs; and because it is based on a harsh, extreme form of Stoic philosophy, which denies the impact of the environment on the body-brain-mind of the counselling client.


Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes:

The case against Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (RE & CBT)

By Dr Jim Byrne


Edited by Renata Taylor-Byrne


Published by the Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy – (E-CENT) – Hebden Bridge – 2017

Distributed by the CreateSpace Publishing Platform (An Amazon Company)



Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications, Hebden Bridge, UK

First published in 2017

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2017

The right of Jim Byrne to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.


All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or utilized in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photo-copying, recording or otherwise, without permission in writing from the Publisher.


Published by the Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), 27 Wood End, Keighley Road, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX7 8HJ, UK.

Telephone: 01422 843 629


Distributed by the Create-Space Publishing Platform (An Amazon Company)


Cover design by Charles Saul.


ISBN-13: 978-1545379592



Summary  7

Preface  11

Foreword  23


Chapter 1 – Theories of Human Disturbance  33

Chapter 2 – The ABC Model and extreme Stoicism   51

Chapter 3 – Comparing the ABC model to the SOR model 83

Chapter 4 – The nature of extreme Stoicism   93

Chapter 5 – Understanding Human Emotion  111

Chapter 6 – Summary critique of the ABC-D-E model 159


Introduction to Part 2  177

Chapter 7 – The Psychological Models Underpinning REBT  181

Chapter 8 – Beyond REBT: The case for moving on  207

Chapter 9 – Additional Limitations of the ABCs of REBT  227

Chapter 10 – Fairness, Justice and Morality in REBT and E-CENT  243

Chapter 11 – Self-acceptance, Competence and Morality issues 283

Chapter 12 – Clarifying my Split from Albert Ellis 329

Chapter 13 – Some strengths and weaknesses of REBT  347

Chapter 14 – My final farewell to Dr Albert Ellis 367

Reflections upon these historical documents 377


Chapter 15 – Reflective Summation  385

References 443


Appendix A – On the largely non-conscious nature of human beings 461

Appendix B – The Six Windows Model of E-CENT  465

Appendix C – The E-CENT Emotional Needs Assessment Checklist 473

Index 479

Footnotes 485



I would like to acknowledge my debt to Renata Taylor-Byrne for her editorial feedback and advice; and for her research and writing input on the relationship of diet and exercise to emotional functioning.  To Brian Marley for his significant inputs on the structure and content of the index.  To Dr Michael Edelstein for his willingness to debate the REBT position on fairness with me. To Charles Saul for his elegant cover design. And to all those authors from whom I have drawn inspiration for both my critique of REBT, and my development of a new philosophy of counselling psychology.  Those authors are too numerous to mention here, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the crucial contributions of Alice Miller, Antonio Damasio, Eric Berne, Joseph LeDoux, Nicholas Humphrey, Douglas Hofstadter, John Bowlby, Lavinia Gomez, Oliver James and David Wallin.

I stand on the shoulders of giants!

Jim Byrne, July 2017


About the author

Jim Byrne has a doctoral degree in counselling from the University of Manchester (UK); a master’s degree in education; and a diploma in counselling psychology and psychotherapy.  He was originally trained as a rational therapist, but has since diversified by amalgamating about fifteen different systems of counselling and therapy into a new, holistic approach to helping client’s with problems affecting their body-brain-mind-environment complexity. Dr Byrne, who is a Fellow of the International Society of Professional Counsellors, has been in private practice, as a professional counsellor, for more than eighteen years, and during that time, he has written extensively on the subject of counselling and psychotherapy, and in particular, how to understand the mind of the counselling client; and how to promote secure attachment, and effective emotional self-regulation, in counselling clients. One of his long-term projects, from about 2003 onwards, has been to try to understand the REBT model of human emotion, which he has finally achieved in this book.

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This book contains a summarized account of the author’s journey through Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) – from beginning to end.  He began, in 1992, as a fanatical supporter of REBT, which is the original form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Then, while trying to rescue REBT from two critics (Bond and Dryden, 1996), in the period 2001-2003, he accidentally uncovered several flaws in the foundations of this theory of therapy.

Next, he wrote a series of papers, exploring some of the weaknesses of REBT – all the time hoping he would be able to salvage a defensible core of the therapy.  But eventually, this led him to the development of a completely new theory of therapy, which rejects virtually all of the major theoretical and practical elements of REBT – apart from those moderate Stoical and moderate Buddhist influences that went into the origin of Dr Albert Ellis’s theory. (See Byrne 2013 and 2016a).

The intellectual journey described in this book took twenty-five years to complete.

The whole of Part 1 was written in 2017.  This is a critique of the fundamental flaws in REBT (and in all forms of CBT which are based on the ABC model; and in much of extreme Stoicism and extreme Buddhism).

But most of Part 2 – which contains the historical documents – was written between 2009 and 2012, apart from the Introduction to Part 2 and the Reflections upon those historical documents, which were both written in 2017. And Chapter 7 which was written in 2003.

Although this book is a critique of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (sometimes called Rational Emotive & Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), some of the key criticisms apply just as much to all forms of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which utilize the ABC model (which includes Beck [1976] and Burns [1990]); and which subscribe to a famous (or infamous) statement from Epictetus to the effect that “…humans are not disturbed by what happens to them”.  (Epictetus was a first century CE slave, of Greek origin, who grew up in slavery in Rome, and gained his freedom because of his learning of philosophy. [Irvine, 2009; and Epictetus, 1991]).

Chapter 1, below, establishes a fundamental flaw in the core concept of REBT, (which it shares with most systems of Cognitive Therapy and CBT therapies [including those of Beck, Burns, Maultsby, Meichenbaum, and others]): the idea that humans are disturbed, and disturbable, because of their thinking, and their thinking about their thinking.  This theory was borrowed from Epictetus, an ancient Roman philosopher, and then re-created, or somewhat modified, by Dr Albert Ellis, on the basis of a bit of ‘pure reasoning’, (Ellis, 1962), which Dr Byrne has discovered was then – historically – invalidated by an extensive piece of empirical research by Dr Martin Seligman. (See: Peterson, Maier and Seligman, 1995).

This claim (that people are upset by their thinking) is clearly irrational – meaning “not logical or reasonable” (Soanes 2002), for three main reasons:

  1. Humans are mainly emotional or feeling beings from birth, and our thinking, in socialized language, is grafted on to our affective states.
  2. Humans are not often (and certainly not normally) disturbed in the absence of a real, noxious, activating event [or a recollection or anticipation of a real noxious activating event]. Take away the noxious event or stimulus, and the disturbance normally abates.
  3. The idea that humans are not disturbed by what happens to them comes from an ancient Roman philosopher (Epictetus), and is not supported by modern psychological studies. Modern psychological studies, in behaviourism, attachment theory, existential studies, social psychology, and many other sources, support the idea that people are shaped by their experiences; affected by their relationships; and that emotional disturbances are inherent in human existence.

Dr Byrne’s book could have ended at that point, but he goes on to examine Dr Ellis’s further attempt to support his theory with a case study – illustrating the use of his ABC model to help a disturbed therapy client. (The ABC model says: ‘A’ is an Activating event [normally a negative experience], which triggers a ‘B’ which is a Belief [normally an ‘irrational belief’]. The belief, then, ‘more directly causes’ the person’s outputted ‘C’ or Consequent emotional and behavioural response).

However, Dr Byrne has shown, by meticulous analysis of that case study, that it did not provide any significant support for Ellis’s theory – which was borrowed from Epictetus – which claims that the client was not upset by his negative experience, but rather by his ‘irrational beliefs’ about the experience.

Then, in Chapter 3, Dr Byrne compares Dr Ellis’s ABC model with the SOR model of neobehaviourism, (which says this: A Stimulus [S] impacts an Organism [O] producing an outputted Response [R]).   As a result, he (Byrne) finds that it is essential to ‘add back the body’ to the ABC model; and once that is done, the core theory of REBT falls apart, because now we are dealing with a whole-body-brain-mind-environment-complexity, rather than a simple ‘belief machine’.

Furthermore, this complex-body-brain-mind engages in ‘warm-perfinking’ – (which means, perceiving-feeling-thinking) – which is coloured by emotion from beginning to end), rather than cool thinking and reasoning.

Again, this book could have ended there, and REBT would have been broadly invalidated as a theory of human disturbance.  But Dr Byrne goes on to link the ABC model to the concept of ‘extreme Stoicism’, which is ‘a philosophy of wishful thinking about impossible goals’!

In Chapter 5, Dr Byrne reviews the research on innate emotional wiring; higher cognitive emotions (which are socially shaped); and culturally specific emotions. He looks at the fact that emotions evolved, to guide our actions, long before our ancestors could communicate with speech.

We know that those guiding emotions reside in the most primitive parts of the brain, and that they control the development of our thinking, in interaction with our earliest social environment (meaning mother, father, and significant others).  And our thinking depends upon our feelings.  Feelings, it seems, are both regulated and regulating.  (Hill, 2015). Language is woven into our socialized experience, but only as one of many strands, the most fundamental one of which is innate feelings about everything we see, hear and apprehend.

In Chapter 6, Dr Byrne presents a succinct refutation of the various REBT positions, and a restatement of his own (emotive-cognitive embodied narrative therapy) E-CENT position on:

  1. The ABC model;
  2. The concept of ‘awfulizing’;
  3. The concept of ‘Demandingness’;
  4. The idea that ‘I can’t stand it’;
  5. The REBT process of ‘disputing’ irrational beliefs;
  6. And, the so-called ‘Effective new philosophy’.

At the end of this process of critical analysis, very little is left of the philosophy of REBT.

Then, in Part Two of this book, in Chapters 7 to 14, the author sums up his long journey from his early attempts to rescue REBT and its ABC model from their critics (Bond and Dryden, 1996), and shows how the whole theory fell apart in his hands, over a period a several years, as he wrote seven papers of critical reflection.

Finally, in Chapter 15, he produced an extensive, reflective summation of the entire book’s content.


Hebden Bridge, July 2017


Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne


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For more information about this book please take a look at this page: What’s Wrong with REBT?***