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The ABC's of REBT

Updated on June 3, 2015


The premise behind Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) is that it is not what happens to us that causes us anxiety and depression but how we interpret and manipulate these event in our mind. We cause ourselves pain by accepting irrational beliefs about the world without checking their veracity. In this model emotional and behavioral change comes about through intentional and practiced cognitive restructuring.

Ellis contended that we allowed ourselves to be constrained by the, "tyranny of the shoulds." Types of internal statements involving terms like should, ought, and must often indicate an irrational or absolutist belief that effects first our mood and then our behavior. Statement such as;

People ought to treat me fairly.

I must not embarrass myself.

I should get this raise.

These statements place unrealistic expectations on ourselves and on the world and result in either disappointment or undue worry and depression. One of the main tools of REBT centered therapy is disputing these beliefs and replacing them with healthier ones through the repeated use of the ABC model of REBT.

Disputing Belief

The out-of-session homework upon which REBT is based first requires a client to note the beliefs that they constantly tell themselves that precipitate their self-deprecating thoughts. This can take some digging because these beliefs often become so automatic that they are nearly subconscious. The irrational beliefs that lead to real neurosis are statements such as, "I must always do everything perfectly or even trying is pointless, " or ,"I shouldn't find love, I don't deserve it." It is statements of these absolutist nature that need to be evaluated and discarded.

An REBT therapist would probe further,"Why must everything be done perfectly, What would happen if it wasn't?" and, "Why don't you deserve love, what did you do that makes you unworthy of it." They would continue challenging these beliefs in this dialectical way until the client saw the irrationality of these beliefs. Once the client begins to challenge some beliefs in sessions with a mental health care provider they are often given the assignment of continuing this process in everyday life by use of the ABC model.

A stands for Activating event.

This is what happens in life that sends someone into an emotional and behavioral downward spiral.

B denotes a particular Belief about the activating event.

This is the irrational belief that leads to the emotional and behavioral problem.

C is for the Consequence.

What were the eventual result of reacting to the activating event with this automatic thought?

An Example journal entry for practicing these ABS'c might look like this;

Activating event-The person I said, "hi," to in the office didn't say. "hi," back.

Belief-That person doesn't like me because no one does or should.

Consequence-I withdraw from people.

This represents the problematic thinking that leads to neuroses, stress, anxiety, and depression. One would continue the exercise by;

D-Disputing the irrational belief.

Maybe they were preoccupied or didn't hear me. Maybe they like me just fine in fact most people once they get to know me like me just fine.

E-Evaluate the emotional and behavioral affects of this new belief.

Once this internal dialogue is modified, after much awareness, introspection, and practice, new emotions and behaviors characterized my less stress and more positivity should arise.

Now such a reformulation of long ingrained modes of thought and perceptual patterns will take time and practice before someone casn consistently replace them with more realistic and useful beliefs about the world. But this model has proven highly efficacious for a number of Axis I disorders and the ABC model can be used in brief solution-focused therapy because it is relatively ease to learn and use.


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