How Can Disputation Help Manage Social Anxiety?

Disputation Is Part of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

man talking with female therapist

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Disputation is a technique used in rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) within cognitive restructuring to treat social anxiety and other mental illnesses. The basic process involves questioning thoughts and beliefs that maintain your anxiety and make it hard for you to move forward.

What Are REBT and Disputation?

REBT is a form of psychotherapy focused on changing emotional and behavioral problems to empower you to live a fuller life.

Developed in the 1950s by psychologist Albert Ellis, REBT is based on the belief that we aren't destabilized by circumstances, but instead by how we process information and construct our views.

Through REBT, you will better understand your motivations and how you create irrational or self-defeating thoughts. It is an educational process in which your therapist will work with you to identify these thoughts and practice how to question them and replace them with more productive and rational ideas.

Disputation is the process through which you question your irrational thoughts and take a step back to dispute them. In order for you to change your behaviors and lessen your social anxiety, you need to identify the irrational constructs in your thoughts and then actively work to correct them yourself. This is a strategy that can help you continually combat your anxiety.

How Does Your Therapist Help?

Your REBT therapist will actively work with you to identify key issues and correct irrational behaviors. A good therapist is empathetic, persistent, and helps you lead a productive life.

Other forms of therapy may help you identify why irrational behavior and anxiety exist, but the cause is not necessarily explored in REBT and disputation. Instead, you work to correct the behaviors and move forward without focusing on root cause. 

REBT and Disputation Are Hard Work

REBT and disputation are not easy. The process requires a great deal of dedication and effort on your part (and your therapist's). However, the results can be long-lasting.

Outside of your therapy sessions, your therapist will likely assign you homework assignments to work on through your daily routine. These assignments can be as simple as a reflection or as difficult as confronting something you fear head-on, like forcing yourself to attend a party or event that would normally trigger your social anxiety. Through this, you will actively work against your fears.

The Two Forms of Disputation

  1. In cognitive disputation, your therapist will ask you questions challenging the logic of your responses. This can be an emotional experience and unsettling. It can cause you to reinterpret long-held beliefs and perceptions.
  2. In imaginal disputation, your therapist will encourage you to use imagery to examine different aspects of situations that upset you. By imagining different angles in a given situation, you can change how you reflect on a situation and adjust your responses accordingly.

A Word From ​Verywell

Through disputation, you become empowered to manage your anxiety by managing future adversity. It a lifelong technique to promote your ability to handle your fears moving forward. Though it is hard work, the effort that you put in now will allow you to reap benefits for years to come. If you feel as though you are living with social anxiety, ask your doctor whether therapy such as REBT might be an option.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ioana Alina Cristea, Stefan S, David O, Mogoase C, Anca Dobrean. REBT in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adults. Springer; 2016. doi:10.1007%2F978-3-319-18419-7

Additional Reading
  • Ellis A. The Practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, 2nd edition, 2007. 

  • Ellis A. Early theories and practices of rational emotive behavior theory and how they have been augmented and revised during the last three decades. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy. 2003;21(3/4).

  • Ellis A. The Albert Ellis Reader: A Guide to Well-Being Using Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. 1998.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.