By Dr. Catherine O’Sullivan Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is an evidence-based subtype of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) that the clinicians in our practice are well-trained in. This form of therapy is similar to standard CBT, which focuses on how your thoughts affect your feelings and resulting behaviors, but REBT goes one step further to […]
By Dr. Catherine O’Sullivan
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is an evidence-based subtype of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) that the clinicians in our practice are well-trained in. This form of therapy is similar to standard CBT, which focuses on how your thoughts affect your feelings and resulting behaviors, but REBT goes one step further to consider what your pattern of thoughts reveals about the underlying beliefs you hold about yourself, your environment, and the world. REBT then guides us to consider whether these beliefs are rational or irrational, as we become most disturbed when our beliefs are irrational. REBT also highlights that not all negative emotions are bad. Some are healthy and in proportion to the stressor that is present and some are exaggerated, likely because we hold an unhealthy irrational belief about it.
How do we incorporate this into our everyday lives? Let’s consider an example.
As I write this, I am 8 months pregnant. I can relate to the struggles of many of our patients who are expectant and new moms. Along with pregnancy comes changes in body image, weight, and mood, among other things. We frequently encounter pregnant patients who are self-conscious about the size of their “bump,” as some are uncomfortable about carrying small while others may be uncomfortable with carrying large. Oftentimes, we start to define our discomfort with ourselves based on our perception of others’ opinions.
For instance, I am a naturally thin person; therefore, the physical changes and normal weight gain associated with pregnancy have been obvious. Given that our therapists are also trained maternal mental health professionals at Trinity, I was aware of the discomforts and transitions of pregnancy, but I was not necessarily prepared for the rush of comments about my size that I would receive from others. Since even people who practice therapy are human, we continue to have some automatic reactions to situations, but we also try to use the skills we have been trained in to help us through difficult times.
Even as early as 5 months into pregnancy, I was being told, “Wow! It must be a big baby!” “You look like you’re ready to pop!” or “Any day now, huh?” All of these comments being said in close succession led me to think, “I can’t believe I look that different. There must be something wrong with me,” and of course, these thoughts led me to feel worse.
In reality, could these comments have been made with an attempt to be positive? Possibly. But for me, I was viewing them through the belief that there was something inherently wrong with me in my pregnancy, and each comment only reinforced my irrational belief, which is likely based on the anxiety that comes with being a first-time mom. To interpret the comments with the idea that, “There must be something wrong with me” places demands on myself and the world that are irrational given that there was no evidence that there was anything wrong and also highlighted a secondary belief that people must not say anything about my size, which is unfair given that my body has obviously changed and people are free to make comments without discretion, whether they meant well or not.
As we consider REBT, this can be organized as:
Activating Event: Others making comments about size
Belief: There must be something wrong with me
Consequences: Feeling self-conscious, anxious
Dispute: Empirical- There’s no evidence to support anything wrong with me
Emotional effects/Replacement Belief: I would prefer that they don’t, but people are free to make comments about changes even if I don’t like it. I know that I am healthy and progressing well and thinking this way can allow me to feel relieved/less sensitive.
In an REBT framework, we are trained to look for the absolutes, such as “must,” “should,” “always,” or “never.” These absolutes indicate that we are making demands about ourselves, others, or the world which are unrealistic, and in order to cope, we have to alter the way we are perceiving and interpreting messages while challenging our underlying irrational beliefs. While it may sound complicated, with regular practice it becomes routine, and even for therapists, we must all review our negative automatic thought patterns when new circumstances arise to allow us to adapt more healthily. More simply put, living and coping well is all about perspective, and through therapeutic methods, we help patients and ourselves to learn to cope more readily with the changing stressors of life.
For more information about REBT, view this page
To schedule an appointment with one of our clinicians for psychotherapy or maternal mental health, contact:
Marina Goldenberg- Bergen and Rockland counties: 551-250-1017 x 4, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Maria LaPorta- Bergen and Rockland counties: 551-250-1017 x 5, email@example.com