By Rachel Cunningham

The ‘Centre’ of my REBT practice

When you get handed a book on phenomenology at age 12 and actually like it you know your future is going to be an interesting one. Like a true phenomenologist I feel like I sort of fell into applying REBT with athletes during my MSc qualification at Staffordshire University. Sport has always featured in my outside interests. Through my MSc qualification I had the opportunity to apply the REBT approach, before which time I hadn’t come across Albert Ellis. There is something inherently eclectic about the REBT model as an action-oriented therapeutic approach and this is what really grabbed my attention at first.

I have always been an advocate for a person-centered (PCT) approach in practice, and my own work is influenced by Rogerian philosophy. But what I’ve found is that REBT is both capable of being mindful of the individual’s place in their own development and promoting collaborative cognitive restructuring. At the heart of both REBT and PCT is the appreciation of what makes us ‘human’ and the end goal for clients of being a fully functioning person. It was Ellis who initially referred to his approach as ‘Rational Psychotherapy’.

In one sense irrational beliefs are similar Roger’s notion of incongruence. In REBT there are dysfunctional self-beliefs leading unhealthy emotions and behaviours, or as Rogers might suggest, an imbalance exists between self-image and experience. In both cases the client is exposed to the potential of experiencing fear and anxiety.

So why REBT and not PCT? I think this comes from experience: working with athletes and within sport there are specific demands faced by your ‘clients’. In this context I have found counseling is most effective when involving some kind of direction for the individual. Athletes learn processes. Therefore it makes sense to have a therapeutic approach that reflects a process. I am not so naïve to suggest REBT is the only way but in the majority of the work I have done, it appears to be effective in helping athletes to return to fully functioning beings. What’s more is that, athletes appear to be able to adapt and implement the methods learned in the REBT process to new challenges and therefore achieve independence from the practitioner.

REBT both benefits from not being too ‘psychological’ to make it accessible and more importantly sellable to even the most skeptical individual.


Rachel Cunningham

Rachel Cunningham

After finishing my MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology with Staffordshire University in November 2014, I decided to continue my studies and pursue a PhD in this field. I am now working as a part-time Professional Teaching Fellow in the Department of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Auckland, NZ. I run the Sport Psychology module while studying for my PhD. My main areas of interest are using REBT with athletes, Resilience and Sports Injuries. I also work as a fitness instructor and have adopted a new Kiwi hobby in my time out here, it’s called ‘Tramping’.

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