In CBT, what do we mean by beliefs?

As I’ve mentioned before (click here) Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) is a form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) that has a very particular view on your emotional problems, namely that you are disturbing yourself by the beliefs that you hold in any given event or situation. But, what does REBT mean by beliefs and how exactly do they disturb you? 

REBT borrows from the teachings of Epictetus (AD55-AD135), a Stoic philosopher who said, “People are not disturbed by things, but by the view which they take of them.”

And by view, he meant beliefs.

Let’s say that you are about to go on a date. You’ve been on a few and they’ve not gone to well, you like this new person a lot, and you’ve got your hopes up. There are two ways you could look at that date.

Way number one is this: “I really would prefer my date to go well, but it doesn’t absolutely have to. I won’t like it my date doesn’t go well, but it won’t be the end of the world and I’m not a total loser, even if it doesn’t go well, I am a worthwhile but fallible human being who simply went on a date that didn’t work out.”

This is a very healthy belief in that it’s rational, it expresses what you would like to happen, but allows you to accept that you can’t guarantee it. With this belief, you’ll be worried, for sure, but in a calm-but-excited way that is appropriate to you going on a first date with someone you like. And more calm and excited is how you are going to come across, which helps you to create a more positive dating experience.

Way number two is this: “My date absolutely must go well, it would be the end of the world if it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, it’s all my fault, I’m such a total loser and I’ll never find love.”

This is a very irrational and unhelpful belief. With it, you are going to make yourself feel tense and anxious, not only before the date, but also all the way through it too. And tense and anxious (and possibly a little desperate) is how you will come across.

How do you think that date is going to go? Not looking good, is it?


“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” 

– Shakespeare, Hamlet Act II, Scene ii –


Primarily an unhealthy belief is a demand (as in ‘my date must go well’). Demands take the form of words such as ‘must’, ‘got to’, ‘have to’ and ‘should.’ We don’t like demands as they are:


  • Rigid and absolutist
  • Often fly in the face of reality
  • Do not make sense
  • Do not help you achieve your goals


A healthy belief is a preference in which the demand is negated (as in ‘I would prefer it if my date went well, but it doesn’t absolutely have to’). We like preferences as they are:

  • A flexible expression of the same desire
  • Fit in with the reality of the situation
  • Make sense
  • Help you achieve your goals


So, if you are thinking, feeling, or acting in a way that you don’t like, but don’t seem to be able to change, REBT, helps you to identify and challenge those unhealthy distress-causing beliefs that you hold in the face of that event, whilst at the same time helping you to identify and re-enforce a serious of healthier and more helpful beliefs.

Change your beliefs and you change the way you think feel and act.

If you would like to find a therapist skilled in the use of REBT, CBT or both, then you are reading one here. You might also want to check out the rather excellent database of therapists over at Find Me A Therapist (click here).