How Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) Helps Addiction Recovery

by | Dec 16, 2022 | Recovery, Treatment | 0 comments

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of behavioral therapy developed by psychologist Albert Ellis in the 1950s. REBT is an action-oriented therapy focusing on helping individuals deal with irrational beliefs by managing emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in healthier, more realistic ways.

What Is REBT?

The base concept of REBT is that emotions such as anger, depression, and anxiety are caused by our beliefs, and not a direct result of the events one experiences. Irrational beliefs influence how people perceive and respond to events and life situations, and as they are “irrational” the effects are generally negative. Thus, changing irrational beliefs should have a positive impact on emotional issues. REBT’s goal is to identify these beliefs and develop strategies to replace them with more rational thought patterns, bringing a level of control to one’s emotional state. In other words, REBT replaces one perspective with another.

Irrational thoughts often lead to irrational behaviors as a person tries to live up to their distorted beliefs of reality. Because this is almost impossible, they suffer feelings of defeat and inadequacy. To manage these negative emotions, they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. REBT can help the addict challenge and change the damaging beliefs that are literally driving them to drink. However, recognizing irrational thinking is not enough. These irrational thoughts must be replaced with healthier ones, and that takes work.

Properly done, REBT can be effective in treating anxiety, anger, addictive behaviors, depression, eating disorders, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and social anxiety. REBT is also helpful in combating burnout at work or school, and even in improving athletic performance when used in combination with other sports psychology programs.

How Does REBT Work?

Here is the REBT process in a nutshell:

The therapist talks with their patients to uncover any beliefs that are inconsistent with reality or irrational. Patients learn to question whether these beliefs are valid. They learn to identify which thoughts lead to negative emotions, and to determine if they make logical, rational sense. When a belief is identified as irrational, they train themselves to think different thoughts which replace the negative belief with a rational, positive one.

The core of REBT is as easy as ABC: A (Activating Event) – the situation that causes/triggers the emotional issue; B (Beliefs) – the beliefs one holds about the event; and C (Consequence) – the emotional reaction to the event.

Imagine someone who believes that they must be perfect in everything they do. They get passed over for a promotion — this is the Activating Event. Because they must be perfect in their own eyes, this triggers the irrational Beliefs that they are a failure, and they should be ashamed and give up. Or, they drive themselves harder and further, raising the bar on what they expect of themselves. The Consequence is that the person feels shame, guilt, depression, or anger — and resorts to drugs or alcohol to manage these feelings.

REBT says that a different Belief would lead to a different Consequence. If negative thoughts about the situation are replaced with positive ones, a better Consequence can occur.

REBT Techniques

REBT uses several techniques, but they can be added as D and E to the ABC above.

D (Dispute) – Recognizing that Beliefs are irrational and Disputing them, dialing back the emotional and behavioral consequences; and E (Effective behavior) – resisting the irrational Beliefs and changing responses to more beneficial behaviors.

To help deal with the Activating event, problem-solving techniques can be useful, including assertiveness and social skills, decision-making skills, and conflict resolution skills.

Changing irrational Beliefs can be helped by logical or rationalizing techniques, guided imagery, reframing/looking at events in a different way, humor, and disputing irrational thoughts.

Coping techniques such as relaxation, meditation, or hypnosis can help manage the emotional Consequences of irrational thoughts. Other techniques such as “imagining the worst” or “blowing it out of proportion” may be used.

REBT helps people make the distinction between healthy negative feelings and unhealthy feelings of stress and anxiety and encourages people to understand that they have choices in how they react.

REBT therapists say that a person’s belief system about a negative event is responsible for emotional distress, and they remain in distress because they continue to adhere to that belief system rather than trying to change it. Psychologically healthy people can accept themselves, others, and the world for what it is. Negative things will occur, but they can tolerate them by accepting them or working to change them. They still experience negative emotions, but these are healthy because they stem from rational beliefs.

When people are able to see that it is their personal beliefs and perceptions that cause their anxiety — instead of external events — it makes a tremendous impact on those struggling with addiction. The change to positive reactions and thought patterns will reduce their urge to resort to substances as a coping mechanism and keep them from returning to their self-destructive ways.

The addicted individual must learn to accept himself as worthy, with or without others’ approval. The addict also must learn to accept others, and their love and support in his life, and to see the world as a positive place full of love and opportunity.

REBT is a relatively short-term treatment, only requiring 10-20 sessions to meet treatment goals. It is very action-orientated, and will likely involve homework assignments between sessions. This provides opportunities to apply these new skills to daily life. The only way to get better is through the hard work of changing beliefs. It takes time and practice, and clients have to take responsibility for their own treatment.

Why Choose Bridges Of Hope?

Bridges of Hope is a Joint Commission-accredited dual-diagnosis adult substance abuse treatment program. Our program is designed to achieve long-term recovery. We are licensed by the State of Indiana Department of Mental Health & Addiction.

Our treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. We leave nothing to guesswork as we utilize therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices. We place superior patient care as our highest priority and offer them all-inclusive treatment services.