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How Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Are Different

Mental health practitioners can apply a variety of theories and techniques to help their clients develop healthy emotional expression and navigate difficult situations. How therapists approach their clients depends on each client’s specific needs, and what works for one person may not have the same effects for another. 

Two popular methods of treatment are Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). They both offer effective ways to confront issues caused by poor mental health, and though they have factors that are akin to one another, each treatment method has a different approach when it comes to addressing the challenges those who live with cognitive distortions have. 

What is Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy?

Introduced in 1955 by Dr. Albert Ellis, REBT deviated from the typical therapeutic approaches and theories that were commonplace at the time. Eventually resulting in the CBT that has become popularized in contemporary mental health practices, the two types of therapies share a lot of similar factors while also having their own unique approaches to getting effective mental health treatment.  

The goals of REBT are to alter your underlying beliefs or notions you have about yourself, those around you, and life in general. By learning to accept your individual qualities, your mental health will see massive improvements. 

How REBT Works

The focus of REBT is on how human emotions and behaviors are generated through the different attitudes, beliefs, and ways of thinking that individuals possess, rather than by events that occur. Instead of your negative feelings being a direct reaction to a stressful situation, they are a result of your preconceived notions about life and the belief system that you follow. 

An important factor of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy is its promotion of Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA). In REBT, your weaknesses are not targeted as flaws and your behavior is not treated as a score to be judged. As a patient of the therapy, you will be shown the positive aspects of yourself and how your behaviors are not something to be ashamed of. 

A woman holds a flower to her chest and has her eyes closed
Realizing that your behaviors are not inherently in need of being fixed is an important aspect of REBT. Rather than viewing negative characteristics about yourself as flaws, make an effort to view them as part of your identity, and seek out ways to associate them in a positive light. 

Demands of REBT That Fuel Distortion

Certain belief systems will cause increased levels of anxiety and other emotional disturbances that will affect your ability to have rational thought, which harms the state of your mental health. This  can lead to developing depression, temper management issues, and substance abuse problems.  

These following three demands fuel cognitive distortions in REBT:  

  • You want to do well in life, so you must get approval from others, or else you are no good.
  • You want others to treat you well, so they must, or else they are no good.
  • You desire for life to go well and it must, or else it is no good. 

The fact that REBT looks to the philosophical foundation for mental illness and other emotional disorders sets it apart from CBT, whose main goal is to build concrete skills as a way to overcome cognitive distortions. 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has gone through its fair share of changes since its introduction in the world of psychology, but its roots stem from REBT, so it is no wonder that the two share some similar characteristics. 

Despite any techniques between the two that happen to overlap, CBT employs different methods for helping patients achieve better emotional control and manage difficult circumstances. The focal point of CBT is to recognize destructive patterns or behaviors that are negatively influencing aspects of your life, and working to overcome those problem areas through the implementation of concrete skills that you develop during sessions. 

A stack of books on a shelf, including one about CBT
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the most common methods of therapy used by mental healthcare professionals, and it can effectively reduce symptoms of certain mental health conditions, such as depression. 

How CBT Works

Like REBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is concerned with human behavior and the emotional reactions clients have to certain situations, due to  the beliefs and attitudes they have developed throughout life experiences. CBT is typically a short term treatment that focuses on establishing skills to work through mental health problems and increase self-esteem by improving aspects about yourself. 

While REBT preaches Unconditional Self Acceptance, CBT seeks to achieve this acceptance by helping you work toward unlearning the negative qualities about yourself while reinforcing positive attributes. This is not necessarily self acceptance because you are focusing on how other factors of your personality give you value in an effort to negate the more negative aspects.  

CBT is concerned in finding the root cause of disturbing thoughts and does not distinguish between different ones, unlike REBT, which aims to understand how secondary disturbances can influence mental health conditions. 

An illustration of a woman with an outline of her brain against an orange background
REBT and CBT both offer their own ways of responding to emotional disturbances and one method is not particularly better than the other as general treatments. 

Making A Decision

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to seeking treatment for mental health conditions that have negative influences on your ability to live comfortably. Whether you will witness more benefits from Rational Emotional Behavioral Therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy depends on how you function as a person, so different methods work for different people. 

Take time to learn about yourself. Understand how you react to certain situations and what techniques produce the best outcomes for your mental health. Once you can identify these attributes, obtaining effective care for your mental health will be all the more achievable.

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