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Integrating Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) with NLP: Substituting Rational Thinking for Irrational Thoughts

by Frances Coombes(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 223 - July 2015

Anxiety is Taught and Learned and it is on the Increase  
The world has not changed - it is not a more dangerous place - however  many of the people who inhabit it are thinking more irrationally, and this can impact on us all. Our complex culture has developed faster than our brains and how we use them, and we are still walking around with our Stone Age responses from when anxiety was a key survival instinct.  Despite the fact that the ‘feeling’ we have about what is going on around us is not commensurate with the real risk involved, it is how we ‘feel’ - our beliefs and emotions about the risk that drive us to feel anxious.

A mental Health Foundation report (In the Face of Fear) published in 2009 estimated that over 7 million people in the UK are suffering from anxiety and Anxiety disorders. This figure is an increase of more than 800,000 since the early 1990s and does not include those people who do not visit their GP, or those who turn to drink or drugs in an attempt to manage their symptoms.

Frances Coombes 223 Irrational Thoughts


Do Humans have a Bias Towards or Away from Rational Thinking?
It seems we have both.  Albert Ellis, the Psychologist who devised Rational Emotive Therapy in the 1950s said that “human beings are biologically predetermined to take what we desire and want in life and turn it into a need”.  This, he said, is at the “core of emotional disturbance” and the behaviours that spring from that disturbance.

Integrating NLP and REBT
I integrate Albert Ellis’s disputing of irrational beliefs into most of my NLP trainings and therapeutic coaching sessions.  Ellis said in 1984, that if children were taught simple rational thinking in schools, it would help combat some of the more irrational thinking they might be subjected to elsewhere.  If all children were taught rational thinking they would then at least possess a means, a tool, a method, for thinking logically.   

The specific types of thoughts that are at the core of psychological disturbance are self-deprecating beliefs such as  “I am worthless”, “Unlovable”, “bad”, “stupid” or “unwanted”.  These beliefs are vigorously challenged in REBT using empirical, logical and pragmatic disputation.

Irrational Beliefs Largely take the Form Of

  • Rigid demands and self-depreciation, ‘he must do what I want’, ‘they must accept me’, ‘if they don’t accept me then I am worthless’;
  • Awfulizing - turning a bad situation into an awful situation.  ‘it is awful, the end of the world if he doesn’t want me any more’  Nothing really is that awful, we just make it that way in our mind;
  • Low frustration tolerance beliefsThings must not be difficult for me in life, everything should come easily, and if it doesn’t happen then life is terrible’;
  • Self Damning (Or Damning other People -‘ they are ‘bad’)I did not pass the test, I am a failure.’ ‘I did not succeed, therefore I am worthless.’ ‘You did not do what I wanted you to do - so that makes you a terrible person’;


A demand is the rigid expression of a desire for something and takes the form of an absolute such as ‘I must succeed,’ ‘I have to’, ‘I absolutely should’ e.g. ‘I must not fail’.

A demand is essentially a ‘non acceptance’ belief. It is inconsistent with reality.  Your successes are not you; your failures are not you.  If you rate yourself according to how well you perform an act, then you must continue to improve in order to maintain your self-esteem;  this is not humanly possible.  If you rate yourself - then you berate yourself.  Human beings simply cannot be 100 per cent perfect all the time.

Acceptance does not mean ‘approval’. It simply means the acceptance and acknowledgement of the situation.

Self-deprecation Belief

This is a global negative rating of yourself. It is rating yourself as ‘totally bad’, ‘a total failure’ e.g. ‘I am a failure or worthless because I failed’.  This statement is often based on a single instance of failing.


‘Awfulizing’ is an unrealistic rating of how bad it is that a person’s demand has not been met. The badness of the situation is rated at 100% or more bad. The person believes that it is the worst thing that he/she can ever experience. e.g. ‘it’s awful that I failed’.

Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT)

This is an irrational rating of a person’s ability to handle or cope with difficulty or frustration e.g. ‘I cannot tolerate failure’, ‘I cannot tolerate mistakes’.

The Difference between holding a Rational or Irrational Belief

REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) makes the distinction that people can have rational healthy beliefs about a situation, or irrational unhealthy beliefs. 

  • Irrational beliefs are rigid, inconsistent with reality, illogical and unhelpful to the individual in pursuit of his/her goals;
  • Rational beliefs are flexible, consistent with reality, logical and helpful to the individual in pursuit of her/her goal.

Here is an Outline to help you Identify your Irrational Beliefs


Briefly summarise the situation that you are disturbed by To identify irrational beliefs look for dogmatic demands (musts, should, absolutes) To dispute ask yourself
  • Where is holding this belief getting me?
  • Is it helpful or self-defeating?
  • Where is the evidence to support the existence of my irrational belief?
  • Is it consistent with reality?
  • Is my belief logical?  Does it follow from what I have said?


The next stage would be to create a healthy preference belief, one which is rational, flexible, consistent with reality, logical and helpful to you. 


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About Frances Coombes

Frances Coombes Advanced Dip CBT/REBT Dip CBT offers one-to-one therapeutic coaching in North West London and on Zoom.  She is a is a CBT/REBT psychotherapist in North West London, a NLP Master Practitioner and Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapist and runs life coaching groups in London and on Zoom.  She teaches NLP at The City Lit in Central London and tutors at the City Lit and Mary Ward Centre in central London on Using REBT for Managing Stress and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). She runs goal setting and REBT coaching groups for vulnerable people for inner London authorities and charities.  

Her most recent book is Motivate Yourself and Reach Your Goals, pub, November 2013, Hodder Headline. Available on and  For extract visit To inquire or book personal development courses contact Frances on Tel: 07818 896 795; 



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