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Rational Emotive Therapy and what it says about your irrational beliefs

Rational Emotive Therapy and what it says about your irrational beliefs

September 26, 2022

The Rational Emotive Therapy (RET, for its acronym in English) is a form of therapy that is part of cognitive-condutive therapies and Albert Ellis, who proposed the model during the second half of the 20th century.

The early start of this approach began with the development of a whole philosophical system and a set of self-instructions that the same author, curiously, would end up self-applying in order to solve their own emotional problems, highlighting their social anxiety.

But this contribution to the history of psychology is more than a simple therapeutic tool. It also tells us a lot about how that part of us works that is based on irrational beliefs .


  • Related article: "Types of psychological therapies"

Basic operation of Rational Emotive Therapy

The irrational term used in the RET can easily be confused. From this model, we act rationally when we feel appropriately and we act functionally according to our goals .

Irrational beliefs, therefore, refer to those cognitive phenomena that mediate our emotions and our behavior and that distance us from our goals.

Explained very succinctly, the rational-emotive therapist would be in charge of detecting the irrational beliefs of the patient that are generating emotional suffering and move away from well-being. Through training in certain skills, dialogue, and the prescription of tasks, the therapist tries to reformulate these irrational beliefs and replace them with rational beliefs.


These rational beliefs are defined in the RET as those that help the person:

  1. To present or choose for itself certain values, purposes, goals and ideals that contribute to happiness.
  2. To use effective, flexible, scientific and logical-empirical ways to achieve these values ​​and goals and to avoid contradictory or counterproductive results.
  • Maybe it interests you: "Are we rational or emotional beings?"

Convenient feelings and inconveniences

Since RET, there is a difference between convenient feelings and inconvenient feelings

A convenient feeling can be positive (love, happiness, pleasure, curiosity) or it can be negative (pain, grief, discomfort, frustration, displeasure). Regardless of whether they are positive or negative, convenient feelings help us to minimize or eliminate blockages or frustrations that occur when for some reason we do not see our wishes and preferences fulfilled.


On the other hand, the inconvenient feelings, besides not helping us to see these wishes and preferences fulfilled, they generate additional suffering . Negative inconvenient feelings (depression, anxiety, inadequacy, despair, uselessness) tend to make the circumstances worse. Positive negative feelings (grandiloquence, hostility and paranoia) produce an ephemeral sense of well-being that soon produces unfortunate results and greater frustrations.

Convenient feelings tend to generate convenient behaviors and inconvenient feelings tend to generate inconvenient behaviors. Some intensify their own development and coexistence, others are counterproductive and socially harmful.

Irrational beliefs, inconvenient feelings and inconvenient behaviors are three interactive elements that generate a dangerous vicious circle.

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The ABC of irrational thinking

To understand the role that irrational beliefs play, it is useful to become familiar with the ABC scheme. In this scheme there are three elements:

A. Events

B. Beliefs

C. Consequences

The A refers to Activating Events. These are nothing other than the circumstances we encounter in life when we pursue our goals. They are the things that happen to us.

These events, these things that happen to us, give rise to a series of consequences.

In the ABC scheme, the C are the Consequences. These consequences are of three types:

  • Behavioral
  • Emotional
  • Cognitive

According to this scheme we could deduce that A (what happens to us in life) explains our reactions C (Consequences), or what is the same: the events explain why we act as we do , why we feel this way and why we think so. However, this is not exact, because there is an element missing in the scheme, this element is B: the Beliefs. This element is what mediates between what happens to us and how we react. In other words: "There is nothing good or nothing bad, but thoughts that do it that way". Shakespeare

If in B of the scheme we have Rational Beliefs, the Consequences that are derived from the Events will be adjusted, adapted, in other words: healthy. If, on the contrary, we have Irrational Beliefs, the Consequences that derive from the Events will be mismatched, mismatched, they will produce unproductive suffering and will contribute to the creation and maintenance of psychological symptoms.

An example of irrationality

Juan loses the job. Juan thinks he needs his job to be happy. Juan falls into a deep depression.

Event: Loss of employment. Thought: "I need this job to be happy". Consequences:

  • Behavioral: lock yourself in house, isolate yourself, do not look for work.
  • Emotional: deep sadness.
  • Cognitive: "I am useless, I will not achieve anything, I will not go back"

Pedro loses the job. Pedro wishes he had not lost his job, but he assumes it's better to be flexible and look for another option. Pedro look for other alternatives .

Event: Loss of employment. Thought: "I liked my job, I would prefer to keep it but it is not essential". Consequences:

  • Behavioral: look for work, continue with your life adjusting to the new situation.
  • Emotional: some moments of decay and others of psychic improvement.
  • Cognitive: "It's a pity that I got fired, I'll look for something else, what if I set up a company?"

The same thing has happened to Juan and Pedro, but the interpretation they have made of the situation is very different and this interpretation gives rise to very different results.

Main Irrational Beliefs

In his first formulation Albert Ellis synthesized in 11 Irrational Beliefs the main thoughts that induce us to discomfort:

1. Irrational search for affection

It is an extreme need, for the adult human being, to be loved and approved by each significant person in their environment.

We all want to be loved and approved, but this is not always possible, sometimes even with respect to our own family.

  • Maybe you're interested: "The chemistry of love: a very powerful drug"

2. Radical self-sufficiency

To consider myself as a valid person, I must be very competent, self-sufficient and able to achieve anything that I propose .

Having virtues and competences that we take pride in is healthy, but sustaining something as important as self-worth on these foundations is dangerous.

3. Spite

People who do not act like "should" are vile, evil and infamous and they should be punished for their evil .

People do things the best they know or can, those who commit acts that we consider unfair do so out of ignorance, because they are mired in emotional states they can not control, because they are confused, etc. Everyone can correct themselves.

4. Dramatization of problems

It is terrible and catastrophic that things do not work the way you would like them .

Sometimes things do not go as you want, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

5. We can not control our lives

Human disgrace and discomfort are caused by external circumstances, and people have no ability to control their emotions.

It is not events that make us suffer but our interpretation of them. We can learn to identify and control our emotions.

6. Obsessions

If something is or can be dangerous, I must feel terribly uneasy about it and I must constantly think about the possibility of it happening.

Constantly preventing danger is not only untenable for the body and the mind but it is also useless, as there are things beyond our control. You have to learn to tolerate uncertainty.

7. Avoiding problems is the best

It is easier to avoid the responsibilities and difficulties of life than to face them.

Denying or hiding the problems does not make them disappear, this may relieve us for a while but then the problem will continue to be present and may have worsened.

8. You have to be under the protection of someone

I must depend on others and I need someone stronger to trust .

Asking for help when one is not able to do something for oneself is something legitimate and wise, human beings are social animals and we help each other. However, we must not fall into constant and absolute dependence, one must learn to develop their capabilities and their autonomy.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Dependency Personality Disorder: what is it?"

9. The wounds do not close

What happened to me in the past will continue to affect me .

Analyzing the past helps us understand the present and avoid repeating problems in the future. To live constantly trapped in the past makes us lose the only moment in which we can really exist: the present moment.

10. Others' problems are ours

We must feel very concerned about the problems and disturbances of others.

Empathy, compassion, the care of our fellow men ... is something praiseworthy and human, nonetheless we do not help if we let ourselves be dragged for the miseries of others. We do not help those who are suffering or help ourselves.

eleven.Extreme perfectionism

There is a perfect solution for every problem and if we do not find it, it would be catastrophic.

Sometimes there are many ways to solve a problem: 3 + 3 = 6, the same as 5 + 1 = 6 or the same as 8-2 = 6. Often there is no perfect solution because when solving a problem, other new problems appear.

The good thing about being more rational

In summary, the central idea of ​​the RET is that thought plays a crucial role in human suffering , regardless of the circumstances. Adopting a more rational thinking style prevents us from feeling unwell and helps us achieve our vital goals.

Irrational Beliefs can be summarized in demands that one has towards oneself, towards others or towards the world. Let's learn to change our demands for preferences for a healthier life.

Bibliographic references:

  • Ellis, A & Grieger, R .. (1990). Rational emotive therapy manual. Bilbao: Editorial Descalrée de Brouwer, S.A.

THE BELIEF SYSTEM OF SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE (ABC model by Albert Ellis - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) (September 2022).


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