What is Disputation and How Can it 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. 

Disputation and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy

REBT is a form of psychotherapy focused on changing emotional and behavioral problems to empower you to live a fuller life. Developed in the 1950's by psychologist Albert Ellis, REBT is based on the belief that we don't get disturbed or thrown off course by circumstances, but instead in 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 where 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 and then actively working to correct them yourself. This is a strategy that can help you continually combat your anxiety. 

The Role of a Therapist in Disputation

Unlike some other forms of therapy, your healthcare provider will likely be very involved in your treatment, actively working with you to identify key issues and correcting irrational behaviors. A good therapist is empathetic and persistent, helping you lead a productive life.

While other forms of therapy look to identify the causes of irrational behavior and anxiety, in REBT and disputation, the cause is not necessarily explored. Instead, through disputation you look to correct the behaviors and move forward, without recognizing the root cause. 

Hard Work and Disputation

REBT and disputation is not easy; it is not simple like taking a medication, but if you work hard at it, it can have much longer-lasting results.

It requires a great deal of dedication and effort on your part. 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 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.

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


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. 


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

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