Page revised and updated on 16th August 2019
A living, growing critique of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy:
What’s wrong with REBT?
Using the principle of generosity, I could begin by saying this:
– If you want to be an Extreme Stoic, and to live apart from other people, and not impose your Extreme Stoicism upon others, then there is little that could be said against REBT – except perhaps that you are being cruel to yourself, and unnecessarily self-denying. But if that’s what you want to do, then it’s your life to be lived the way you choose.
On the other hand, if you want to live in a community or society, and to seek to influence others as they seek to influence you, then there is a lot wrong with REBT.
If you join REBT, follow REBT, promulgate REBT – as designed and promoted by Dr Albert Ellis – then you will tend to deny that there is a case to be made that people should treat each other fairly.
What are my objections to this ‘anti-fairness stance’?
Firstly, the REBT position on fairness is a formal rejection of the basis of most systems of morality. It is a rejection of the Golden Rule, which states that we should treat others as we wish them to treat us.
Secondly, you will tend to believe that you cannot use the word should at all – even though I use it to point to a moral prescription, rather than an absolute demand.
Thirdly, you will tend to echo Ellis’s anthem which says this: “Why must life be fair when it’s obviously unfair!” (Of course, the mistakes that Ellis makes here are these: (1) Life is not always unfair. Sometimes it’s fair! And: (2) To say that life should be fair, could either be an absolute demand, or a moral prescription; and a moral prescription is a valid ethical category of thought. But Ellis had no time for moral prescriptions, because he was an amoralist. And he was also a dogmatist, and not (as is sometimes claimed on his behalf) a Skeptic!
Fourthly, when somebody tells you that a friend of theirs hurt their feelings, you will tend to echo Ellis’s invalid equation, to the effect that “Nobody can hurt you, except by using a baseball bat or similar!” (But I have shown in my major critique of REBT that there is modern neuroscientific research which shows that physical pain and emotional pain are mediated and processed through overlapping areas of neurology, or brain areas, which means there is a substantial similarity between both kinds of pain! And emotional pain is a valid category of human experience, which should not be discounted by self-denying Extreme Stoics.
I could continue at great length with the list of things that are wrong with the basic principles of REBT. But let me instead present a quick extract from my major critique of REBT, and then a link to a page of additional information about that book:
“Please note that the way I differ from Albert Ellis here is this: I do not go hunting for the ‘belief’ that the client is assumed to have changed (when they successfully reduce the intensity of their emotional arousal).
Because in (my) E-CENT counselling theory:
- The client is assumed to be a largely non-conscious, habit-based being; and:
- We do not take the view that their beliefs cause their feelings.
- We do not think it is possible to distinguish, in practice, between thoughts, feelings and beliefs/perceptions. Instead, we believe that individuals ‘perfink’ – or perceive/feel/think – all in one grasp of the mind. Thus we do not fetishize the idea that the client can find the ‘belief’ that they ‘changed’ in order to change a feeling.
- We reject the ABC model, and substitute the Holistic S-O-R model, which is shown and discussed later, below.
- As early as August 2003 (and probably earlier), I was writing about the fact that stress was a multi-causal problem. That idea contradicts the ABC theory, which asserts that all emotional distress (including the common manifestations of stress: which include anger, anxiety and depression) are caused exclusively by the client’s Beliefs (B’s) – or, sometimes, caused exclusively by the client’s Beliefs (B’s) about their noxious Experiences (or A’s [Activating events]). Here is an example of my writing from August 2003:
“I have developed a stress management programme consisting of fifteen strategies which help you to work on your body, your emotions, your thinking, (your environmental stressors), and your stress management skills. This programme allows you to develop a stress-free life.” And this involved diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation, meditation, time management, philosophy of life, and much more besides.
- In Albert Ellis’s books, an exaggerated claim is presented to the effect that REBT could help the reader to fairly quickly and relatively effortlessly get rid of any problem, simply by changing their beliefs about the problems they encountered.
In this current book, below, I present an illustration of the fact that there never was any solid evidence that this claim is true. (See the case study of Albert Ellis working with a man who is distressed by his golfing peers discounting him, in Chapter 2, below).
I also demonstrate that, in the process of ‘disputing irrational beliefs’, the REBT model blames the client for their own upsets, thus excusing the harshness of current government policy in the US and the UK, where the rich are enriched and the poor are squashed! That squashing process hurts – (see Eisenberger, et.al. 2003) – and causes emotional distress and physical health problems (which REBT tries to deny and thereby effectively whitewash!)
…End of extract.
For more on this book, please click the following link: A Major Critique of REBT.***
Our critique of REBT is comprehensive
We have in fact critiqued every aspect of the G-ABC(DE) model of REBT, and deconstructed virtually the whole system. The only aspect of REBT that remains in our new system of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) is the essence of the technique called Rational Emotive Imagery (REI), and this is discussed in the major critique book, shown above.
A quick read about our critique
For those readers who want to know the essence of our critique, but who do not want to have to read a 500 page book, we have recently produced a brief, summarized version of our critique. This is titled: Discounting Our Bodies: A brief, critical review of REBT’s flaws.
The introduction of that new, briefer book begins like this:
“Before 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 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. 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.
For more information about this new book, please click the following link: Discounting Our Bodies: A brief, critical review of REBT’s flaws.***
All of this material is copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2019
 Joines and Stewart (2002), in the References.
 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
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.