The Role of the Counselor in REBT

With REBT, realistic thinking leads to realistic emotions.
i Andrea Morini/Photodisc/Getty Images

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT -- developed by Dr. Albert Ellis in 1955 -- is based on the theory that an individual’s beliefs affect her emotions. If you're a caring woman with a master's or doctoral degree in psychology, and you've completed the required REBT training, you can begin a career helping clients learn to disrupt negative belief systems and replace them with more positive ones. Essentially, your role as counselor is to refocus your clients' beliefs and emotional responses in a highly supportive manner.

Teaching the Client

    Your role as an REBT counselor is really one of a caring teacher imparting self-management techniques to your student, the client. Throughout your teachings, you'll keep to the REBT philosophy that all people are to be unconditionally accepted, regardless of their shortcomings. Your empathy, intelligence and knowledge are the tools you use to move your client away from thinking she’s a bad person because of some bad actions. You'll provide thoughtful guidance to your clients, teaching them to stop “rating” themselves as they adopt a more self-accepting attitude. Your compassion and skill will help clients gain control over negative self-talk, and replace it with a more realistic and rational thought process.


    REBT incorporates specific processes that you’ll master as a counselor. Chief among them is the A-B-C principle. It refers to: Activating event; Belief or thought process; and, Emotional Consequences. As you put this principle to work, you’ll determine what is or was the trigger event, the belief or thinking that followed, and the emotions experienced afterwards. After exploring the A-B-C principle with the client, you engage in “cognitive disputation,” where you use questions to refute the faulty logic of the client’s thought process. Then you lead the client through “imaginal disputation,” asking her to come up with more positive self-talk. You can provide the client with an “emotional control card,” a kind of cheat sheet listing both appropriate and inappropriate internal responses to a variety of situations, which she can carry with her.

Irrationality vs. Rationality

    Careers as rewarding as this one -- in which you're making positive differences in the lives of others -- may be hard to come by. An unbeatable combination of knowledge and kindness will be used to help people who may exhibit any number of irrational beliefs. These beliefs include: “It is absolutely essential to be loved or approved of by every significant person in my life;” “It is a terrible catastrophe whenever events do not occur as I'd hoped;” and, “The past determines my present behavior and, thus, cannot be changed.” More rational thinking might be: “Not every single person in my life is going to love or approve of me;” “It’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t turn out exactly like I’d hoped;" and, “I don’t have to slavishly follow what happened in the past; I have the power to change things.”

Counselor's Goals

    Some of the goals you can work toward achieving as an REBT counselor include, first and foremost, helping people live more productive and happier lives. There are other goals you can accomplish, such as helping your clients understand that situations don't in themselves create difficulties; rather, the person’s beliefs and ensuing thoughts can cause problems. You can help your clients realize that disasters don’t occur just because a desire isn’t met, and teach them how to appropriately respond to different situations, encouraging them to accept themselves and build a tolerance of others as a means to more fulfilling lives.

the nest