REBT is based on the assumption that what we label our “emotional” reactions are largely caused by our conscious and unconscious evaluations, interpretations, and philosophies. Thus, we feel anxious or depressed because we strongly convince ourselves that it is terrible when we fail at something or that we can’t stand the pain of being rejected. We feel hostile because we vigorously believe that people who behave unfairly to us absolutely should not act the way they indubitably do, and that it is utterly insufferable when they frustrate us.

Like stoicism, a school of philosophy that existed some two thousand years ago, rational emotive behavior therapy holds that there are virtually no good reasons why human beings have to make themselves very neurotic, no matter what kind of negative stimuli impinge on them. It gives them full leeway to feel strong negative emotions, such as sorrow, regret, displeasure, annoyance, rebellion, and determination to change social conditions. It believes, however, that when they experience certain self-defeating and unhealthy emotions (such as panic, depression, worthlessness, or rage), they are usually adding an unrealistic and illogical hypothesis to their empirically-based view that their own acts or those of others are reprehensible or inefficient and that something would better be done about changing them.

Rational emotive behavior therapists — often within the first session or two of seeing a client — can almost always put their finger on a few central irrational philosophies of life which this client vehemently believes. They can show clients how these ideas inevitably lead to emotional problems and hence to presenting clinical symptoms, can demonstrate ex actly how they forthrightly question and challenge these ideas, and can often induce them to work to uproot them and to replace them with scientifically testable hypotheses about themselves and the world which are not likely to get them into future neurotic difficulties.