Assessment of Irrational Beliefs: Part 1

Inference chaining is typically conducted at the very first session and may be done a number of times depending on what problem the client is presenting. Inference chaining is an exploratory technique and very effective but hard to master for those that have limited training. Aaron Beck has similar technique but REBT predates it to my knowledge. The construct of irrational belief according to REB theory (Ellis & Bernard, 1985 Ellis & Dryden, 1987) includes absolutism or demandingness and the three core irrational beliefs of the demands for success and approval, for few hassles, and for quick and solutions to problems. In addition, REB theory hypothesizes that awfulizing, blame and low frustration tolerance are generated by the absolutism. These three cognitive processes are referred to as derivatives.

Inference chaining is illustrated in the following dialogue.

Therapist: So what was your major feeling?

Client: I guess I was angry.

Therapist: Angry about what? (Here the therapist has obtained C [emotional consequence] and is probing for A [activating event].)

Client: I was angry that he did not send me a birthday card. (Client provides inference about A)

Therapist: And what was anger provoking about that? (Probing to see if this is the most relevant inference in the chain)

Client: Well… He promised me he would remember. (Inference 2)

Therapist: And because he broke his promise?

Client: I felt that he didn’t care enough about me. (Inference 3)
Therapist: But let’s assume that is true for a moment. What would be distressing about that? (Probing for the relevance of inference 3)

Client: Well, he might leave me. (Inference 4)

Therapist: And if he did ? (Probing for relevance of inference 4)

Client: I’d be left alone. (Inference 5)

Therapist: And if you were alone ? (Probing for relevance of inference 5)

Client: I couldn’t stand that. (Irrational Belief of Low frustration Tolerance)

At this point the assessment for the absolutism can take place by saying:

Therapist: Suppose that indeed your boyfriend left you and you were alone what would be intolerable about that?

Client: I have got to have someone in my life. (Here the therapists can hypothesize by askign another question)

Therapist: …because you have to have love in your life?

Client: Yes, doesn’t everyone want that? (Irrational belief ‘I must be loved and approved of almost all the time.’)

Therapsit: Well yes most people want and prefer that someone to love them, but you are saying that you “can’t stand being alone or without someone loving you, like a boyfriend. So I think you are saying that you must have love not that you only prefer it.

Client: Well yes I feel I need that – I’m just one of those who needs it.

The dialogue detailed above can be distilled to demonstrate the mechanisms of irrational belief in producing irrational derivatives and illogical inferences.

Irrational Belief: I must be loved and approved by those I find significant.

Activating event in conflict with the Irrational Belief: My boyfriend didn’t remember my birthday.
Illogical Inferences: Therefore: He broke his promise.
Therefore: He doesn’t care enough.
Therefore: He’ll leave me.
Therefore: I’ll be alone.
Derivative – Therefore: I can’t stand being alone or I can’t stand the emotion of loneliness (i.e., the derivative of LFT)

Each of these inferences can themselves be generated by a specific absolutistic belief and have an irrational derivative, e.g., ‘Because he broke his promise, as he must never do, he’s an idiot (derivative of global rating)!’

Stay tuned for further disussion of inference chaining.


Ellis, A. & Bernard, M. E. (1985). What is rational-emotive therapy (RET)?  In A. Ellis & M. E. Bernard (Eds.). Clinical applications of rational-emotive therapy (pp. 1-30). New York: Plenum.

Ellis, A. & Dryden, W. (1987). The practice of rational-emotive therapy. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

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