Background: Since the cognitive revolution of the early 1950s, cognitions have been discussed as central components in the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses. Even though there is an extensive literature on the association between therapy-related cognitions such as irrational beliefs and psychological distress over the past 60 years, there is little meta-analytical knowledge about the nature of this association. Methods: The relationship between irrational beliefs and distress was examined based on a systematic review that included 100 independent samples, gathered in 83 primary studies, using a random-effect model. The overall effects as well as potential moderators were examined: (a) distress measure, (b) irrational belief measure, (c) irrational belief type, (d) method of assessment of distress, (e) nature of irrational beliefs, (f) time lag between irrational beliefs and distress assessment, (g) nature of stressful events, (h) sample characteristics (i.e. age, gender, income, and educational, marital, occupational and clinical status), (i) developer/validator status of the author(s), and (k) publication year and country. Results: Overall, irrational beliefs were positively associated with various types of distress, such as general distress, anxiety, depression, anger, and guilt (omnibus: r = 0.38). The following variables were significant moderators of the relationship between the intensity of irrational beliefs and the level of distress: irrational belief measure and type, stressful event, age, educational and clinical status, and developer/validator status of the author. Conclusions: Irrational beliefs and distress are moderately connected to each other; this relationship remains significant even after controlling for several potential covariates.

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