Rational Emotive Therapy (RET)

Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) - Toolshero

Rational Emotive Therapy: this article explains the Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), developed by Albert Ellis in a practical way. Next to what it is (Definition and Goal), this article also highlights the method of Observation, interpretation and evaluation, Irrational thoughts, The ABC of Rational Emotive Therapy and Criticism. Enjoy reading!

What is Rational Emotive Therapy (RET)?

The definition of Rational Emotive Therapy (RET)

The Rational Emotive Therapy method or RET method is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Rational Emotive Therapy focuses on the relationship between thinking and emotions. It shows how people can better deal with stressful situations. Once ineffective thoughts are eliminated, stress is given less space.

It is often not events themselves that upset someone, but the reaction to those events and the way in which events are thought about. The Rational Emotive Therapy method of psychologist Albert Ellis is aimed at learning to deal with these destructive thoughts about events.

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The method is designed so that everyone, based on a step-by-step plan, will be more empowered and confident.

Are you a worrier? Do you overthink situations and decisions you have to make? Do you often lie awake when you have an important day? Then this article may be for you!

What is the purpose / goal of this method?

The aim of this method and of psychologist Albert Ellis is to make people more resilient to stressful situations. It focuses on converting ineffective thoughts and feelings into thoughts and feelings that are constructive for the situation. It ensures that you gain insight into the functioning of body and mind.

As indicated, the cause of stress or dissatisfaction are often sought outside ourselves, while these are much more often present within ourselves. External influences are only partly the cause of stress and tension. Mostly, the thoughts and mental attitude we adopt towards these events determine how we feel.

Irrational thoughts that arise are often unproductive and even less constructive. Yet these thoughts are the cause of sometimes very strong emotions. These thought patterns must therefore change, as is the goal in schema therapy.

Rational Emotive Therapy is about Observation, interpretation and evaluation

Rational Emotive Therapy makes a distinction between three things: observation, interpretation and evaluation. Observation is actually observing and describing a situation or event.

The interpretation is the meaning given to this observation. This meaning can be right or wrong, or accurate vs. inaccurate.

The evaluation is the rating assigned to the interpretation. These thoughts can give an event an emotional charge.

The evaluation part plays a crucial role in the development of (intense) emotions. The evaluation ensures that events acquire an emotional charge. These can lead to unproductive and unconstructive behavior.

Irrational thoughts

In his studies, psychologist Albert Ellis lists common irrational thoughts and ideas in the workplace. These can be divided into three main thoughts.

  1. I have to perform well in social areas, such as finding love or the approval of others to consider myself worthwhile;
  2. Others have to treat me nice and well, otherwise they are worthless people;
  3. Life must be comfortable and pleasant, otherwise it is worthless.

Addicted to love

People who are in great need of love and affirmation are afraid of rejection and therefore avoid confrontations and conflicts. The most important thing for them is to be liked. The underlying idea is: everyone has to like me, otherwise I’m not worth having.

The irrational thing about this thought is the requirement that it is necessary for others to approve of you before you matter.


Perfectionism is about the exaggerated demand to be infallible and flawless. A perfectionist finds it very difficult to make mistakes and almost never accepts this from him or herself, but also not from others. This also makes it difficult for them to delegate. They prefer to do everything themselves because they think they can do the job best.

The idea behind the perfectionist is: I am a failure if I make a mistake. And: others have to treat me fair and nice, otherwise they are worthless people.

Frustration tolerance

People with a low tolerance for frustration demand that the world be fair. The underlying idea is: life must be easy and interesting, otherwise it is a worthless existence.

Disaster thinking

Disaster thinking, or doom-mongering, is a thought pattern in which a person moves from one disastrous scenario to another. A very small and unimportant incident can be a trigger for this person to enter a negative thought spiral. The end of the spiral almost always means a personal disaster for the person.


Another common and irrational demand is that the world should be just and that everyone must abide by the rules. People who find this often condemn other people who do not follow the rules. The irrational thing about this thought is that reality is not accepted.

The ABC’s of Rational Emotive Therapy

The Greek philosopher Epictetus once said: “people are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.” This is also the case according to Albert Ellis.

In the theory of Rational Emotive Therapy, the letters ABC are used. The ABC model was also developed by Albert Ellis. The A (activating event) stands for reason, the B (belief) stands for the glasses through which we look at a situation and the C stands for the consequences.

The ABC model and theory states that A cannot be the cause of C, rather B. So it is not the events that cause you to have a certain feeling, but rather the way you interpret these events.

Beliefs can be changed by practicing putting on different glasses, new perspectives. It is best to adopt a perspective that is more realistic and better suited to the situation. The feeling (C) that goes with this is then more positive. For example, feelings of distress, shame, fear or inferiority can be experienced less frequently.

Some people think that the purpose of this method is to disable or weaken emotions. That is not true. Emotions that do belong to a particular situation should be encouraged. It is about forming a realistic image of reality, with matching emotions. Exaggeratedly strong emotions are, as it were, weakened until they are at a healthy level.

An example. When a loved one of someone has passed away, sadness is very normal. That sadness can be accompanied by crying or anger. However, it is not normal for someone to show these kinds of emotions when getting a traffic ticket. Then it is important that the situation is reviewed so that it can be concluded that the emotions are too intense for the situation.

Criticism on the Rational Emotive Therapy method

Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) has been labeled as pseudoscience by some researchers because it follows some unsubstantiated hypotheses.

There is also criticism on the scientific underpinning of the model. For example, it is questionable whether cognitions can be irrational and it is argued that each cognition is functional within the context of a person.

This criticism has led to the development of therapies such as attentional cognitive therapy, also known as mindfulness, and acceptance and commitment therapy. These are methods where the goal is not so much to change the content of cognitions as to change their function for the client.

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Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation about the RET method? Have you heard about Rational Emotive Therapy before? Do you see similarities with other aspects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Have you ever used this method? Or schema therapy? Do you have any tips or comments? Or are you missing an article on a similar topic?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Ellis, A. (1974). Rational-emotive theory: Albert Ellis.
  2. DiGiuseppe, R., & Bernard, M. E. (1990). The application of rational-emotive theory and therapy to school-aged children. School Psychology Review, 19(3), 268-286.
  3. Walen, S. R., DiGiuseppe, R., & Dryden, W. (1992). A practitioner’s guide to rational-emotive therapy. Oxford University Press.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2022). Rational Emotive Therapy (RET). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero: https://www.toolshero.com/psychology/rational-emotive-therapy-ret/

Original publication date: 08/08/2022 | Last update: 10/23/2023

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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