Cognitive behavioral therapies are a common choice among mental health professionals working in a clinical setting. This grouping of therapeutic approaches includes cognitive processing therapy (CPT), cognitive therapy (CT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Keep reading to learn 50 REBT questions to ask your clients in therapy sessions.
As evidence-based approaches, these therapeutic interventions can be used successfully to treat a variety of mental health concerns with clients who have a range of personal characteristics. Each of these therapeutic approaches has its own techniques and interventions and can be tailored to your client’s unique needs.
REBT is a cognitive-behavioral therapy that was developed in the 1950s by Albert Ellis. With REBT, irrational beliefs are viewed as the core of emotional distress. REBT works to change unhealthy and maladaptive beliefs into healthier ones which can decrease the overall level of mental health distress. REBT can be an effective therapeutic approach for a variety of mental health concerns including anger, depression, anxiety, and individuals who have relationship concerns or difficulties.
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With the use of REBT, it is believed that it is our beliefs about an event that lead to emotional distress, rather than the event itself. Our beliefs can impact how we see each situation that we find ourselves in, for better or worse. Individuals who have unhealthy internal beliefs may find themselves thinking and acting in ways that add to their levels of emotional distress. By helping clients learn to differentiate irrational beliefs from normal, or healthy beliefs, they can evaluate challenging situations as they arise.
You may find that using worksheets in your counseling sessions is an effective strategy for your clients. Worksheets can reinforce important concepts that you teach your clients, and can be used by clients as a reminder outside of sessions. Additionally, worksheets can be used to guide therapy exercises and interventions. Examples of REBT therapeutic worksheets that could be used in a therapy session include:
- REBT Should Statements Worksheet
- REBT Catastrophizing Worksheet
- REBT Jumping to Conclusions Worksheet
- REBT Discounting the Positives Worksheet
- REBT Overgeneralization Worksheet
Getting Ready for Your First REBT Therapy Session with a New Client
Meeting with a new client for the first time can involve a number of formalities, including assessments, screeners, and other paperwork. It is important that we remain mindful of the therapeutic alliance during these steps and make our clients feel as though we are genuinely interested in them. If we are unfamiliar with the paperwork we are completing, we may, unintentionally, be more focused on our computer or assessment form than we are with our client who is sitting with us.
Familiarizing yourself with the needed paperwork and forms can help you personalize your first session with a new client. You can use your own language, have a relaxed posture, and work to maintain eye contact. The forms that you need to complete will depend on the setting and population that you are working with. You may be expected to complete a biopsychosocial assessment, informed consent, and consents of release where appropriate.
Taking time to review paperwork that you have received beforehand can also help personalize your first session. If your client completed a screener or a questionnaire, you can learn about their presenting concerns and what led to them coming into your office. Information from a referral source can also provide valuable information regarding the client’s mental health and history.
Another recommendation that may not be talked about as much is taking time to check in with yourself before meeting with a new client. As counselors, we are often expected to carry the weight of the stories and experiences of our clients without experiencing the effects of them. The risk of burnout for psychotherapists increases when we do not take the time, we need to prioritize our own mental health and needs.
If you have time throughout your day to practice self-care practices, we strongly encourage you to do so. However, this is not always a realistic option. You can work to formulate and follow a wellness routine that helps you feel your best physically and mentally. After all, we cannot pour from an empty cup.
Common Questions to Ask REBT Clients
REBT questions can be used to clarify and reinforce topics discussed in sessions. If you use worksheets in your sessions, your questions can be guided by the exercise that you are utilizing. Examples of REBT therapy questions include:
- Can you tell me about an emotion that you are uncomfortable sitting with?
- Can you tell me about a time when you were able to cope with an uncomfortable emotion in a healthy manner?
- What emotion, or emotions, are you comfortable sitting with and expressing?
- Can you tell me what proof you have to support that belief or thought?
- Is there any proof that your belief or thought is false or untrue?
- Can you trace that belief back to its origin? Where do you think it came from?
- How do you feel that belief impacts your actions and behaviors?
- Do you have any beliefs that you recognize are unhealthy, or not truthful, that you are unable to shake?
- Can you share with me your thoughts about living in the moment? What does this look like for you?
- Can you describe to me your understanding of an irrational belief? Are there any personal examples of beliefs you carry that come to mind?
- What benefits do you think you could gain if you work to improve your unhealthy beliefs
- Are there any barriers that you may experience as you work to develop healthier beliefs and thoughts?
- Can you share with me who you can turn to for support when you need help
- Are there any behaviors that you would like to decrease or stop engaging in? Tell me a bit about why this came to mind for you.
- How will you know that you are making progress? What changes will be present?
- Can you think of a time when you were able to recognize that your belief was unhealthy?
- What does catastrophizing look like in your life?
- Can you tell me about your go-to coping skills?
- Provide your client with a list of coping skills. You can then ask them if there are any coping skills that they would like to try after reviewing the list. What has helped in the past?
- What barriers do you experience regarding your ability to use healthy coping skills when you experience emotional distress?
- Are there any coping skills you use that you feel are counterproductive or unhealthy? As an example, using drugs or alcohol to numb emotional distress
- Let’s take a moment and explore the worst-case scenario. What would that look like in this situation?
- Take a moment to think about what it is you fear about that situation. Now, how would that fear look if we took it a step further and exaggerated it?
- Can you tell me what feelings you are experiencing at this moment?
- What are your thoughts like at this time? Do you believe that your thoughts are normal or are they unhealthy at this moment?
- Do you feel as though you are making excuses in this situation?
- Is the evidence for or against this belief?
- What does self-acceptance mean to you? What would help you increase the amount of self-acceptance you have?
- What are you needing in order to evaluate your beliefs?
- When we look at the core irrational beliefs associated with REBT (Demandingness, Frustration Intolerance, Awfulizing/Catastrophizing, Global Rating of self, others, and life), which do you feel you can relate to?
- Could you be confusing a belief with a thought?
- How does that belief make you feel?
- Can you think of a time when that belief had a positive or helpful outcome?
- Could you be jumping to conclusions or getting ahead of yourself with this?
- How can you put yourself first and prioritize your needs?
- Can you tell me what makes this situation awful or hard for you?
- How do you feel after making mistakes or errors?
- How do you feel you are progressing with working on your thoughts, feelings, and actions?
- Review the three basic musts associated with REBT. Ask your client if they feel that they can identify with any of the beliefs.
- How do you feel the three basic musts affect your emotions?
- I understand that you want that, but why do you feel you must get it?
- How do you feel when I say that we are all fillable individuals?
- Can you tell me things about yourself that you like or are proud of?
- What does happiness mean to you?
- What is different about you when you feel happy?
- Are there any barriers that you feel are stopping you from being as happy as you could be?
- What is stopping you?
- How do you feel after hearing yourself say that?
- How do you feel when you imagine that scenario?
- What haven’t you done before in a situation like this?
Final Thoughts On Asking the Right REBT Questions
Thank you for reading this resource on 50 REBT questions to ask clients in therapy sessions. As a cognitive behavioral therapy, REBT can be an effective tool for mental health professionals to have in their skill set. As with other therapeutic approaches, it is important to be mindful of the limitations of REBT and the mental health concerns it is known to treat effectively.
When mental health professionals determine which therapeutic approach they will use in a clinical setting, it is important to choose a therapy that aligns with how you view and interpret mental health concerns. All approaches have their own unique beliefs and characteristics that make them stand apart from the rest. By choosing an approach that matches your belief and understanding of mental health concerns, you can have a genuine approach to counseling.
There are a variety of great resources available to mental health professionals who are interested in learning more about REBT. We encourage you to look at Continuing Education courses and other training opportunities in your area. Once you have successfully developed the knowledge and skills associated with REBT, you can begin applying your new skill set to your clinical work.
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- David, D., Cotet, C., Matu, S., Mogoase, C., & Stefan, S. (2018). 50 years of rational-emotive and cognitive-behavioral therapy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of clinical psychology, 74(3), 304–318. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22514
- Turner, M. J. (2016, September 5). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), irrational and rational beliefs, and the mental health of athletes. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01423/full