The fundamental principles of REBT are best understood by an appreciation of the ABC model. This model assumes that as individuals we disturb ourselves about experiences by the beliefs we hold.
Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy was the first intentional form of cognitive behaviour therapy. Albert Ellis spent much of his life developing the philosophical and scientific basis of the therapy and the theoretical model behind it. Within the field of psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy, Ellis was the first to argue that all humans disturb themselves about their experiences of life and this disturbance occurs as a consequence of our beliefs about an experience.
Ellis encapsulated his theory into a memorable mnemonic, the ABC. Here A stands for Adversity, B for beliefs and C for Consequences. In some of his early work, Ellis was keen to challenge (dispute) any thinking pattern that might lead to unhealthy or self-defeating consequences about an event. However, as time progressed he, and others, have refined the REBT model, such that before Aaron Tim Beck introduced Cognitive Therapy in the mid 1960s, the REBT model had specified that it was Irrational Beliefs in particular that led to distress. Thus, in REBT there is a clarity about the types of beliefs at B that will contribute to the distress experienced at C. This is one of the key distinctive features of REBT. In elegant REBT therapists seek to help clients discover their irrational thinking tendencies, characterised by demands, awfulising, low frustration tolerance and conditional self (other, life) acceptance. By disputation and homework clients are helped to change their beliefs to more rational ones, preferences, anti-awfulising, high frustration tolerance and unconditional self (other, life) acceptance.
Thus, if we were to experience an event, such as attending a job interview, we might well get ourselves anxious about it beforehand. When anxious (an unhealthy negative emotion) we may act self-defeatingly, such as avoiding thinking about the interview (thereby preparing poorly), which is inconsistent with our goal of getting the job. In order to get anxious we need to infer that something about the interview might not go well (e.g. "The panel will think I'm stupid"; "I'll talk a load of rubbish"; "I'll just dry up and be unable to answer questions"). These inferences in REBT are called the Adversity (the A of the ABC). In themselves, they are insufficient to produce an emotional response of anxiety. For example you might make yourself feel angry, embarrassed, ashamed, or anxious if you predict that other people will think you are stupid. Hence, in order to get anxious there has to be other cognitive processes at work. In REBT this is where Irrational and Rational beliefs come in. In response to our prediction we could get ourselves anxious if we were to demand that "I'd love to know that they won't think I'm stupid, therefore I have to know, and if I don't know it will be awful and unbearable". If we were to believe that, with conviction, we would almost certainly get anxious about the interview.
REBT is a goal-orientated, philosophically elegant form of cognitive behaviour therapy. The primary aim of the therapy is to give it away to the client so that they can help themselves have a more fulfilling, or at least less miserable, existence.