Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy…is a therapeutic approach to reducing undesirable behaviors by identifying and changing the behaviors’ precursors: thoughts and beliefs, and feelings.” (16) It is based on the principle that any person can choose his reaction to a situation. By choosing to not get upset, he can live a happier, more fulfilling life while avoiding anger and anxiety. (21).

Life is filled with disappointment. People are normally unreliable, and tend to let others down on a regular basis. Many negative events happen in life, most of which are beyond the control of the effected party. REBT teaches us that although we do not have control over the negative stimulus, we are empowered with control over our thoughts and beliefs surrounding it (25). If we allow ourselves to get upset every time something goes wrong, then we will waste all of our energy and accomplish little. Once we have changed out thoughts about an experience, our behavioral and emotional responses will also improve. (26).

The basis of REBT are the “Five Rational Questions”

  1. Is my thinking based on fact?
  2. Does my thinking help me protect my life and health?
  3. Does my thinking help me achieve my current and future goals?
  4. Does my thinking help me prevent unwanted conflict with others?
  5. Does my thinking help me feel positive about myself…and my world?(24).
A good example of where REBT can be put into practice, and one that is discussed in detail by Nucci in her article, is the process of signing up for classes in a university setting. When denied admission to a particular class because it’s full, or because the university failed to report prerequisites correctly, or for any other reason, many students become enraged. REBT says that the student’s response of anger is voluntary, and that they can choose to not be upset. Instead of being upset at the administration, we can be patient and in the future work to improve the students’ registration experience.
"The Rational Teacher: Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy in Teacher Education.", Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Volume 20, Issue 1. Spring 2002, p. 15-32.

Not only is RET based on the idea that you can choose how to feel, another important aspect is that it's often not the experience that causes an emotion, but rather your thoughts and beliefs about that certain experience. The first rational question that mblumber mentions above is therefore very important.

Is my thinking based on fact?

Let's clarify this with an example. You're walking in the street and you see someone you know. You wave at the person, but s/he looks the other way and doesn't say anything. Depending on your thoughts about this experience, you could have several different emotional reactions. You could think: s/he is ignoring me! And that would make you angry. Or you could think: s/he is probably mad at me, and that would make you feel anxious or sad. You could also think: s/he is probably not paying attention and s/he didn't see me. That thought probably would make you feel amused at the most.

The reality is of course that often you don't know why that acquaintance doesn't greet you. Depending on which reason you think s/he has, your emotional reaction varies. This makes it possible for you to train thinking positive thoughts about the things that you experience, which makes you feel better.

Someone not greeting you in the street is of course not something to get very upset about, depending on who it is... But the same approach can be used for more complicated situations. If you often get uspet about the way someone acts, it can help to change your thoughts and expectations about that person. Often people have thought patterns that make it difficult to see the objective reality separate from their thoughts and beliefs. If that is your case, it can be very helpful to have a therapist ask you the Five Rational Questions and guide you through finding the answers.

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