The “ABC” Model

The “ABC” model is a key component of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). The basic tenet of the ABC Model is that our emotions and behaviors are not directly determined by life events, but rather by the way we process, internalize, and create narratives around these events.

REBT separates rational beliefs from irrational beliefs, and the goal of the ABC Model in treatment is to help clients accept their rational beliefs and dispute any irrational ones. You can use the ABC Model to consider how events are impacting you and your emotions, and start to find ways to change your subsequent feelings and behaviors.

What can the ABC model help with?

REBT is an action-oriented form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that aims to correct inaccurate or irrational thinking by focusing on concrete behavioral changes. REBT can be helpful for anyone whose goal is to reframe specific negative thought patterns.

The ABC Model itself can help with any of the following conditions or issues:

What is the “ABC” Model?

The ABC Model traditionally consists of three elements:

In an updated version of the model, the“ABCDE" Model, we include “D” for Disputation of Beliefs and “E”  for the new Effect, or the result of holding healthier beliefs.

Download Your Free ABCDE Model Worksheet

“A” – Adversity or Activating Event

Consider the event that triggered your emotional response. This is whatever happened right before you noticed yourself feeling an emotion such as anxiety, sadness, or anger. When you become more mindful of events that typically trigger strong emotional responses, you can learn to watch out for these events in the future and be better prepared to cope with them more effectively.

“B” – Beliefs

We often create a narrative about what an event means.  The goal of this model is to avoid characterizing your beliefs as “right” or “wrong” and simply notice what they are. We often have irrational beliefs that serve to fuel maladaptive emotional reactions and perpetuate a cycle of negative thinking.  A belief is typically deemed “irrational” when it lacks clear evidence, is overgeneralized, or is based on faulty reasoning.

“C” – Consequences

Consequences aren’t just the outcome of an event or decision. Consequences can be both internal and external, with behavioral and emotional impacts. The ABC model isn’t a rigid process where events lead to beliefs that result in consequences; the type of belief matters (irrational vs. rational), and we have can develop awareness to change our beliefs and how we deal with consequences.

“D” – Disputing

This step involves actively restructuring irrational beliefs by mindfully examining, questioning, and challenging them. Ask yourself the following questions to dispute these beliefs:

  1. Does this belief fit with reality?
  2. Does this belief support the achievement of my interests and goals?
  3. Does this belief help to foster positive/healthy relationships?
  4. Does this belief contradict reasonable, logical thinking?
  5. Does this belief seem reasonable and logical given the context in which it occurred?
  6. Is this belief generally detrimental or generally helpful?

These questions are intended to separate rational thoughts from maladaptive thoughts, and bring about greater self-awareness and insight.

“E” – Effects

Once you are able to identify, challenge, and reframe your irrational beliefs, you can begin to create an alternative line of thinking based on more reasonable and realistic beliefs.

Consider seeking support from a therapist

It’s important to realize that the ABC model is not intended to stop you from experiencing healthy, rational emotions, such as appropriate loss, regret, realistic fears, or frustration. Not all emotions require challenging or reframing. Most often, emotions can be an incredibly valuable and useful tool. Other times, when emotional responses are causing unnecessary hardship or are based on maladaptive thinking, using the ABC with the assistance of a therapy can be helpful. A therapist who specializes in the following types of therapy can help you to restructure your irrational thinking: