Beyond REBT - The birth of CENT
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Albert Ellis's REBT philosophy is critically reviewed by Jim Byrne, who is developing a post-REBT therapy called Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT).  CENT includes the use of moral words like 'should' and 'must', which were rejected by REBT.  CENT incorporates moral philosophy as the foundation level of its own construction.

This is an extract from Dr Jim Byrne's book on The Birth of CENT: 


Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2010


This chapter begins with a process of defining ‘irrational beliefs'.  The word ‘irrational' as used in everyday language means ‘not logical or reasonable'.  In REBT this may have been the original meaning of ‘irrational beliefs'.  However, over time, ‘irrational' came to mean ‘not self helping', in the sense of not promoting goal-achievement by the client[1].  It also came to mean specifically the use of words like ‘should' and ‘must'; and describing relatively bad situations as being ‘awful'. (Ellis and Dryden, 1999, page 14-15).

We then proceed to re-examine the source of human disturbance, and look at how the attitudes and expectations of the individual, interacting with the situation in which they find themselves, jointly create the individuals emotions.  It is not a matter of attitudes per se, or situations per se; but rather the dialectical interaction of the two which gives rise to reasonable or unreasonable emotional reactions.

Counselling and therapy clients may be assumed to engage in the construction of arguments, the conclusions of which are either logical and defensible, or illogical, unreasonable and indefensible.  It is argued that rational and cognitive counsellors should develop skill in the use of critical thinking to help their clients to unpick the logic of their arguments, and to construct less distressing arguments in the future.

Instead of developing a range of skills for questioning the logic of a client's arguments, REBT set about constructing a process of ‘disputing irrational beliefs', which essentially teaches new REBT therapists to challenge every ‘should' or ‘must' they find in their client's language; to look for such ‘shoulds' and ‘musts'; to look for and dispute any uses of ‘awful', ‘terrible' and ‘horrible'; etc.  This chapter challenges the efficacy of this ‘disputing approach', and also argues that it has evolved into a form of Logical Positivism, which denies the validity of moral ‘shoulds' and ‘musts'.

It is argued that, because the ‘demanding words', including ‘should', ‘must' and ‘ought' are essential to our ability to construct a moral argument and conduct a moral discourse, we cannot justify developing a system of therapy which tries to eliminate all use of should and must.  We must learn to distinguish between different uses of ‘demanding words', including logical imperatives and moral imperatives.

It could be argued that, when Albert Ellis began to develop his system of Rational Therapy, in 1953 onwards, it was progressive to try to help individuals, oppressed by excessive, authoritarian, guilt-inducing religious beliefs, to loosen their shackles, and to dump a lot of their ‘crazy ideas' about guilt and shame.  However, it can equally be argued that the progressive cause today is to restore morality to a high status in our degenerating societies in the west; and to reinstitute ‘appropriate guilt' and ‘appropriate shame' to their rightful places at the core of our moral-emotion education.  This lesson can be learned from reading about social decay in a ‘quality broadsheet' newspaper today; and it was brought home to the supporters of Albert Ellis by the way they perceived him to be treated in the final few years of his life by some of his former colleagues.

Reintegrating moral philosophy with counselling and therapy is central to the agenda of the Institute for CENT Studies.



[1] Ellis, A. and Dryden, W. (1999) The Practice of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.  Second edition.  London: Free Association Books.

Click here to download Ch.3: Beyond REBT...

REBT was the original form of CBT, but it is now being significantly revised by Dr Jim Byrne, who found serious faults in REBT at the time of Dr Albert Ellis's removal from office, in 2005.  Dr Byrne has been patiently evolving a new model of mind which integrates Freud, Klein, Berne, Ellis, the Buddha and various Narrative approaches; as well as moral philosophy.