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A Brief History of REBT, CBT and Psychology

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Hundreds of years ago, doctors of the time were smart enough to recognize that the “mental health” problems people were having stemmed from the brain.

But, they were prehistoric

In this article you will discover A Brief History of REBT, CBT and Psychology, Hundreds of years ago, doctors of the time were smart enough to recognize that the “mental health” problems people were having stemmed from the brain.

But, they were prehistoric, enough to believe that drilling holes in a person’s skull or other practices that are too disturbing to mention here would solve the problem.  

Obviously, this did not work. 

Then, around the turn of the 20th century, a new field of science immerged… psychology.

Early psychologists focused on psychoanalysis, which uses talk therapy to slowly work back in time or deeper into the patient’s unconscious mind, revealing and confronting root causes of their emotional problems, which stem from within the patient’s past.

There was also an exclusive focus on mental illness and psychological dysfunction.

Then behaviourism was the next wave of psychology, and it focused on helping people change their behaviours rather than focusing on how they felt.

The person’s actions were the focus, rather than their inner experience.

Both the emotional and behavioural focuses helped, but they both largely ignored the way people THINK… it turns out they were missing the most important factor to human psychology.

To most people today, the idea that our thoughts have a significant impact on our life experience seems like common sense, even if they don’t understand how it works, exactly.

But, in the 1950/60s when Dr. Aaron T. Beck created CBT and Dr. Albert Ellis created REBT, they were the first to put the puzzle together that human thinking is a factor in emotional and behavioural problems.

Still, and interestingly, both Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck were trained in psychoanalysis and began their career as psychoanalysts, these two giants independently began to question the efficiency of psychoanalysis and turned instead to examining the roles of cognitive processes in emotional disturbances.

While their origins are distinct, there is a fundamental agreement between REBT and CBT that (a) our cognitions may affect our behaviour, and (b) our cognitions may be changed, and (c) our behaviours and emotions may change as a result of our changes in cognitions.

It was revolutionary!

“People are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” —      Albert Ellis
Both Beck and Ellis recognized that the process of helping a client become aware of their underlying problems and unconscious issues didn’t usually lead to a change in their behaviour or lives.

If it did work, it would take a really long time.

Dr. Beck noticed that his patients who struggled with depression had what he referred to as “automatic thoughts” that were often distorted and kept them in patterns of negative emotions and behaviour.

Dr. Ellis recognized that patient’s thoughts stemmed from beliefs which were often irrational and contributed to their emotional problems and behaviours.

They both began experimenting with methods of helping clients change their thoughts and beliefs in order to change their emotions and behaviours.

CBT and REBT were born.

This new perspective in psychology moved toward the underlying belief that the human mind can be trained and enhanced in order to produce happiness, fulfilment, and optimum performance, and away from the focus on mental disorders and dysfunction. 

CBT/REBT instead, recognizes the dysfunction of the faulty programming and seeks to reprogram it.
Unlike other forms of psychotherapy used then, and today, CBT/REBT focuses on the “here and now” thoughts and beliefs and does not go digging back into the past looking for the root of emotional problems.

I'd love to give you a Free Gift for reading this far, It's both a course and a book called "The Human Mind Owner's Manual" forgive me, please continue reading and learning...

When Ellis was a young man, he had a fear of talking to women.

He used himself as a test subject and for a month he visited a park nearby, where he made himself talk to 100 different women.

The result was that as he continued exposure to the activity that he feared, his fear diminished.

This behavioural self-experiment was so successful that he began using exposure therapy, as well as a variety of other behavioural processes, as part of his therapeutic process.

Over time, it was found that much of what was previously deemed “mental illness” was, in fact, simply normal human thought dysfunction and not mental illness after all.

Mental illness was no longer seen as a permanent condition or defect, but rather a result of dysfunctional, irrational thinking patterns, which could be changed.

What was revolutionary about this was: The realization that by changing a person’s thoughts, their emotional reactions could be changed, and therefore their behaviours could be changed as well.


What this meant is that for the first time psychologists believed that people could change and fix mental illness.

The reason it seems like common knowledge today is that this discovery was the biggest shift in the understanding of how the human mind works - EVER.

In the 60+ years since Ellis and Beck introduced these new concepts, psychologists have learned so much more about the human mind - all thanks to the door these two opened with this new perspective.

It has become clear that the original viewpoints of psychotherapy, including that the human mind was primarily dysfunctional, are not true.

In fact, the human mind is resilient and adaptable.

It can unlearn bad habits and create permanent, dramatic change by learning new ways of thinking.

We have more control over our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours than we ever could have imagined.

By the late 1990’s, the positive psychology movement that grew out of these methods was in full swing.

This concept has become the focus of all of the most influential major movements in modern psychology.

The self-help and human potential movement, as well as the field of life coaching, are based on this notion of self-empowerment.

I'd love to give you a Free Gift for reading this far, It's both a course and a book called "The Human Mind Owner's Manual" forgive me, please keep reading and learning...


Knowing this, let’s look at that hand of cards we’ve been dealt.

While there may be specific situations that life has placed in front of us, the truth that most people do not realize is that it is not what is on the card that impacts how we feel or what we do because of it.

Rather, how we PERCEIVE what we are dealt is what causes our emotional reaction.

And then our emotional reaction is what determines our behavior.

This can be a really hard idea to accept for many people.

Many people have become very attached to the idea that the reason they are angry is because their boss snapped at them.

The reason they failed the test is because they spilled their coffee on themselves that morning, then they were late to school, and their teacher handed them a paper that they received a D on just before test time.

And after all that, OF COURSE they were anxious… who wouldn’t be?

And, they’re already poor at taking tests, so under these conditions - with these cards they were dealt that day - it obviously would lead to failing the test, right?

The truth, however hard it may be to hear, is that they’re wrong.

None of those reasons is why they failed the test.

They may have failed the test in part because they did not study and were unprepared.

But, more than anything, they failed the test because they do not know how to direct their own thoughts and emotions. 

The truth is that they could have had a better way of thinking about each of the cards they were dealt that day.

They could have chosen to ease their own anxiety.

They could have been more in control of how they responded to what was happening, but they didn’t know HOW because no one ever teaches this stuff!

And the person who felt angry because their boss snapped at them?

Think about this… do you really think their boss reached inside of their body and created the neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that produce the feeling of anger inside of that person?

No, of course not. So, where did the anger come from?

It came as the body’s response to an angry THOUGHT.

And, while it may seem reasonable or even normal for someone to think an angry thought when someone else snaps at them, the unfortunate (or I guess fortunate) truth is that it is 100% their CHOICE what they think about it and how they allow it to make them feel.

Essentially, by reacting to their boss’ actions with anger, they handed their boss the right to choose their emotional experience.

They gave away their power.

So, if at this point you’re ready to swallow the pill that your thoughts and emotions and the behaviours you take because of them ARE YOUR CHOICE… read on…

Here are a few more examples….

  • It wasn’t your boss who handed you the “you’re fired” card… you handed yourself the “getting fired” card by slacking off at work.
  • It wasn’t the other person or God that punished you with the “getting pregnant from a 1-night stand” card… you grabbed a hold of that card all on our own by choosing to have unprotected sex with a stranger.
  • The most important truth that must be accepted in order to finally be in control of our own lives is the fact that WE cause most of the cards we’re dealt. 

And the reason we choose to act in the way that brings about these things we do not want is because we act based on how we FEEL.

We feel angry that we didn’t get a raise and so we slack at work… and we end up getting fired.

We feel desperate for attention and approval and get tipsy at the bar and it feels so good to be wanted that we let our guard down and end up having a baby with a stranger.

Our emotions drive our actions.

And the key here - hear this - is that our THOUGHTS drive our emotions.

If we learn how to think differently, we can learn how to control our emotions (more of the time).

And if we are in more control of our emotions, we can more deliberately choose our behaviours. 

And if we choose our behaviours, we can stop choosing the ones that lead to the life circumstances that we do not want.

I don’t expect you to understand how this works yet or even to believe it 100%. 

I don’t expect you to be willing to accept your own personal responsibility for your life quite yet.

But, I anticipate that if you have never heard this before, you like the idea of being in control of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. 

And, if you already knew how this works to some degree, I’m guessing you’d love to know HOW to do it better!

More articles to come!!

Thank you for reading this article “A Brief History of REBT, CBT and Psychology”

I really hope that you enjoyed it and will take action on the advice given in this article.

I wish you good luck on your journey.

I hope its contents have been a good help to you so this year can be your best year at achieving your goals and ambitions.


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About the author

Carl Dunn

Hi I’m Carl Dunn and I’m super excited to offer you a warm and meaningful welcome to Mindset Mind.
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