How does Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) connect with one's culture?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is quite universal in format and technique, thus can certainly be used with clients from different multicultural backgrounds. In fact, according to Robin and DiGiuseppe (1997) themselves, clients of diverse backgrounds are quite encouraged to

maintain their own cultural reality. Long-held beliefs, whether they be cultural, spiritual, or personal are only examined when they cause the individual dysfunctional emotions or behaviors

The issue with many therapies is that the abstract and ingrained ideas that often surface as a result of cultural programming are asked to be seen as "choices" that one opts to believe in, or not. For example, in Hispanic cultures the man of the house may still be held in higher esteem than the female, and this is an optional cultural construct that one can choose to uphold as a value. This is what is often suggested in traditional therapy, anyway: that the client deconstruct some established rigors. 

In REBT, however, the clinician works with those very constructs and accepts them as part of the "package" that comes with the client. The client does not need to visualize their beliefs as mere abstract concepts. To negate those concepts as part of the essential mechanism of thought of the client would be to deny the importance of these in the behavioral choices of the client.

Hence, clients are asked to create goals and visualize accomplishments from therapy still keeping every belief and value that they hold true. This being said, REBT is done from a cultural context, allowing the client to openly divulge the deepest beliefs that they have. 

The only time when a REBT practitioner may intervene in the thought process of the client (as far as these cultural beliefs go) is when the consequences of believing certain things may lead to hurting others. For instance, in some countries it is acceptable for men to discipline women through violence, or hurt small children to curb their behavior. When things touch upon the potentially illegal, the clinician has a legal and moral responsibility to detour such behaviors. 

One common argument that favors the cultural rationale of REBT is that every culture has a natural tendency to create rigor. Even in the most lax cultural groups (of which there are not many, if any, left), there are rules to be followed. That some groups apply specific constructs to this formulaic tendency does not change the fact that all cultures tend to do the same thing: they make rules.

This is the rationale behind REFT in allowing this rigor to stay there and simply work with the client, as is. In fact, there may be a potential for better bonding when a client sees that his or her cultural background is accepted no matter what. In this, REBT has an upper-hand when it comes to transparency, transference, and cohesiveness. 

Hence, the usual formula in REBT to help clients supersede fantastic thinking (abstract beliefs) with rational ones is by offering more action than reaction. In other words, if a client believes that a specific cultural belief is responsible for consequences that affect his or her behavior, the counselor will offer functional and active solutions to show the client that beliefs ALONE do not constitute action. For this reason, REBT is also quite beneficial in offering alternatives to multicultural clients who may feel obligated or trapped by their social constructs without knowing that there are solutions that do not need to go against their natural belief systems.