What Is the ABC Model in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapy.
It aims to help you notice negative thoughts and feelings, and then reshape them in a more positive way. It also teaches you how these thoughts and feelings affect your behavior.
CBT is used to manage a variety of conditions, including anxiety, substance use, and relationship problems. Its goal is to improve mental and emotional functioning, and ultimately, quality of life.
This form of therapy also focuses on the present instead of your past. The idea is to help you cope with troubling situations in a healthy, effective manner.
The ABC model is a basic CBT technique. It’s a framework that assumes your beliefs about a specific event affect how you react to that event.
A therapist may use the ABC model to help you challenge irrational thoughts and cognitive distortions. This allows you to restructure these beliefs and adapt a healthier response.
How ABC therapy modeling works
The ABC model was created by Dr. Albert Ellis, a psychologist and researcher.
Its name refers to the components of the model. Here’s what each letter stands for:
- A. Adversity or activating event.
- B. Your beliefs about the event. It involves both obvious and underlying thoughts about situations, yourself, and others.
- C. Consequences, which includes your behavioral or emotional response.
It’s assumed that B links A and C. Additionally, B is considered to be the most important component. That’s because CBT focuses on changing beliefs (B) in order to create more positive consequences (C).
When using the ABC model, your therapist helps you explore the connection between B and C. They’ll focus on your behavioral or emotional responses and the automatic beliefs that might be behind them. Your therapist will then help you reevaluate these beliefs.
Over time, you’ll learn how to recognize other potential beliefs (B) about adverse events (A). This allows opportunity for healthier consequences (C) and helps you move forward.
Benefits and examples of the ABC model
The ABC model benefits mental and emotional functioning.
If you have inaccurate beliefs about a situation, your response may not be effective or healthy.
However, using the ABC model can help you identify these inaccurate beliefs. This lets you consider whether they’re true, which improves how you react.
It also helps you notice automatic thoughts. In turn, you can pause and explore alternative solutions to a problem.
You can use the ABC model in various situations. Here are examples:
- Your co-worker arrives at work but doesn’t greet you.
- You’re friendly with all your classmates, but one of them hosts a party and doesn’t invite you.
- Your cousin is planning her wedding and asks your sibling, instead of you, to help.
- Your boss asks if you’ve finished an assignment.
- Your friend doesn’t follow up with lunch plans.
In each scenario, there’s an event that may spark irrational thoughts. These thoughts can lead to negative emotions like:
Using the ABC model can help you explore more rational thoughts, and in turn, develop more positive emotions.
How medical professionals treat cognitive distortions and irrational beliefs with the ABC model
During CBT, your therapist will guide you through a series of questions and prompts.
Here’s what you can expect them to do when using the ABC technique:
- Your therapist will have you describe the adverse situation. This may be an event that has already happened, or a potential scenario that you’re stressed about.
- They’ll ask how you feel or react to that event.
- Your therapist will have you identify the belief behind this response.
- They’ll ask questions about this belief and challenge whether it’s true. The goal is to help you recognize how you interpret situations.
- They will teach you how to recognize alternative explanations or solutions.
Your therapist will customize their approach to suit your specific situation, beliefs, and emotions. They may also revisit certain steps or include other types of therapy.
How to find a therapist
Visit a licensed therapist if you’re interested in CBT.
To find a therapist for you or your child, you can obtain a referral from:
- your primary care physician
- your health insurance provider
- trusted friends or relatives
- a local or state psychological association
Some health insurance providers cover therapy. This typically depends on your plan. In some cases, preexisting mental or physical conditions may dictate what’s covered.
If your provider doesn’t cover CBT, or if you don’t have health insurance, you might be able to pay out of pocket. Depending on the therapist, CBT may cost $100 or more per hour.
Another option is to visit a federally funded health center. These centers may offer more affordable therapy options.
Regardless of where you find a therapist, be sure they’re licensed. You can also see if they have specialities, like in marriage problems or eating disorders.
In CBT, the ABC model is a framework for changing irrational thoughts. Its goal is to challenge negative beliefs and develop more practical, rational ways to handle stressful scenarios.
Your therapist may combine the ABC model with other types of CBT frameworks. They might also assign “homework,” which is designed to help you apply what you’ve learned into real-life situations.
With your therapist’s guidance, you can learn how to approach daily stressors in a more positive way.
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