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Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy

REBT: Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT is one of the oldest forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, dating back to 1952. With a grounding in the idea that most situations are not inherently good or bad, only how you think about them is, REBT approaches therapy from the angle that you can retrain how you think and behave to live a happier and more fulfilling life without substance abuse. This idea stems from ancient philosophical traditions and was first defined by Albert Ellis, who also helped to define Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) during the same decade.

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With a focus on teaching addicts to question and challenge their own responses, to learn better and healthier responses, and to approach thoughts and behavior patterns by questioning why they have them and why they are there, REBT is extremely useful in treating not just addiction but also many of the underlying social and emotional problems behind addiction.

REBT in Drug Rehabilitation

REBT assumes that addiction is caused by a range of factors including thinking, behavior, and emotions. It approaches treatment holistically, working to address how the patient thinks, acts, and feels by addressing the root emotions and actions under the behavior.

Cognition – REBT approaches cognition from the idea that many people think themselves into feeling bad, into using, or into relapsing. For example, “Just one more time”, is a common example of a self-defeating thought for an addict. REBT works to teach each patient to question and approach these thoughts with logical responses that contradict the self-defeating thoughts. Over time, and with consistent reinforcement, this kind of training teaches most to think more positively and to question their own negative or self-defeating thoughts.

Behavior – REBT integrates behavior to help users overcome bad habits, by integrating a system of rewards and penalties, substituting negative behaviors with good ones, and creating a system of delaying desired behavior to build self-control. For example, the therapist may instruct an alcoholic to remove all alcohol from the home, to create a system of rewards for avoiding alcohol, or to approach alcohol use from the perspective of a negative experience. REBT also creates behavioral approaches for cravings, such as suggesting that someone who is still addicted delay taking a drink for so many minutes or hours rather than trying to just “not” do it, which often serves the dual purpose of building self-control and allowing patients to move past cravings successfully by not acting on them.

Images – REBT uses visual imagery including Rational-Emotive Imagery and Coping Imagery, where the patient is asked to picture and imagine their goals, why they want them, or how they feel achieving it. This works as a form of motivation, while giving patients the confidence that they can get there.

REBT asks users to question irrational beliefs, value insights, and to engage in acceptance of life as it happens.

REBT in Dual Diagnosis Addiction Treatment

While many forms of addiction treatment are designed to help with dual diagnosis, REBT is commonly used and often recommended by recovery groups such as SMART. Because REBT helps to eliminate negative or self-destructive behaviors, replacing them with positive and healthy coping techniques, it is often very useful for treating individuals with anxiety, depression, and trauma, where negative behavior plays into addiction.

REBT functions on the premise that our emotions and behaviors are influenced by how we think, and that we can retrain how we think to improve both. Its multidisciplinary approach works to tackle the problems behind addiction holistically, to treat both addiction symptoms and the underlying causes beneath them.


If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol addiction, we can help. Lighthouse Treatment Center’s detox facility in Orange County, California is a safe place to begin your journey to a new life. Call us today at (855) 934-1100 for a free consultation.