There are many different therapy approaches, theories, and techniques used by mental health providers to engage with their patients to help them navigate their circumstances as well as develop healthy emotional skills. The particular modality that a provider employs can vary depending on a variety of factors, including preference. Though it ultimately boils down to the needs of a particular client.

Many of the popular lines of thinking apply better to certain situations or help to engage with patients who have an overarching emotional need. The two most common types of therapy are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT).

Though you might be wondering, what are the key differences between the two?

What Is Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy?

Known by many therapeutic professionals as REBT, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, is essentially an early form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is essentially the parent modality that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy evolved out.

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy was originally pioneered by Albert Ellis in the 1950s. Where he postulated that individuals are impacted by their thinking, and focusing on the surrounding situations rather than the situation itself. Ellis then went on to theorize that this self-imposed perception plays a critical role in how a person feels.

With Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, the underlying goal is to essentially alter the individual’s beliefs about themselves, or those around them, or perhaps to alter their perception of life in general. REBT does this by focusing on irrational, or self-defeating behaviors that an individual may be emotionally invested in. This includes feelings like:

  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Pity
  • Regret
  • Negative self-defeating emotions

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Theory, which is more commonly known as CBT, is a therapy modality that essentially evolved out of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. The theory behind CBT focuses on an individual’s behaviors as they directly relate to their current or past emotional state. In CBT the therapist aims to identify patterns in behavior or thoughts that are having a negative impact on that patient life. The goal is to generate awareness of these patterns in a way that helps the patient change their future behavior in a positive way.

What Are The Major Differences Between REBT & CBT?

There are some significant theoretical differences between Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Theory. These differences are focused on the relationship between the individual’s emotions as well as how they relate those emotions to their surroundings, their environment, and the experiences as they relate to their behavior.

These differences go deeper in the modalities and techniques of how they alter that behavior in the future. This includes the following concepts

Focusing On Self-Acceptance Vs Reinforcement

Both Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Theory emphasize self-esteem, though their approaches are very different. The core principles of REBT believe in something called Unconditional Self-Acceptance, where the individuals think of themselves highly regardless of the influence of others, their surroundings, or their circumstances.

In contrast, Cognitive Behavioral Theory seeks to address the negative feelings the individual feels or assesses toward oneself by reinforcing the individual’s positive attributes about themselves. This means that a CBT therapist might acknowledge that an adolescent patient is struggling with a certain subject in school. Though that does not make them unintelligent. The CBT therapist would then enforce positive attributes by highlighting all of the ways that the client is smart in other subjects or in other areas of life.

The Recognition of Secondary Disturbance

When it comes to behavioral theories in general the term “Secondary Disturbance” generally refers to a second-tier thought that is stacked on top of another which causes cognitive dissonance. An example of this might be an individual who feels guilty about always feeling anxious. In this dynamic, the underlying anxiety is the first disturbance, and feelings of guilt represent the secondary disturbance.

Taken in this context, Rational Emotive Behavioral Theory recognizes secondary disturbances as something that plays an integral role in the overall mental health condition. Whereas a cognitive-behavioral theory therapist will generally ignore the line of distinction between the disturbing thoughts. Instead, a CBT practitioner would search for the root cause for all of those thoughts together.

Dealing With The Context of Anger

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was also a common-sense psychologist of his age, who believed that nature outfits human beings with our emotions for a reason and that it is the “Hexis” or disposition behind the emotion that imbues it with positive virtue or negative connotation. In this way, the level at which anger is viewed as appropriate or inappropriate can vary widely between REBT and CBT.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Cognitive Behavioral Theory is not absolute in its thinking that some types of anger can be constructive. One example of this would be a patient who is having difficulty asserting themselves or is perhaps in a relationship where someone is taking advantage of their kindness. In this instance, a mild degree of anger and confidence might be appropriate in the situation to aid the patient in finding the courage to speak up for themselves.

However, REBT directly disagrees with this approach wholeheartedly. Instead, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy maintains that all anger is wrong at its core. In doing so, REBT recognizes and aims to teach alternatives to anger.

While both schools of thought believe in the usefulness of assertiveness, CBT does not remove anger from the possible emotional center of the solution.

Within the mental healthcare industry, both REBT and CBT are seen as valid in their application in the current patient setting. The theory that a therapist chooses for treating a patient ultimately comes down to what works best for the patient, based on their core beliefs, or what the therapist most strongly believes will help the individual succeed.

The underlying goal of both Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Theory is to provide the patient with the best tools to help them alter their behavior in a positive, healthy way in the future.