What Is The ABC Model? The ABC Model In A Nutshell

The ABC model is a technique used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps individuals understand the meaning of their reactions to adversity; developed by American psychologist Albert Ellis to explain why different people have different reactions to stress and adversity, the ABC model is an acronym of three components that explain how a person perceives an external event: adversity, belief, and consequence.

Understanding the ABC model

The ABC model was developed by American psychologist Albert Ellis to explain why different people have different reactions to stress and adversity.

For example, why does one person caught in traffic honk the horn in anger while another tunes into relaxing music on the radio? 

Many individuals believe they must act a certain way in response to negative events. However, Ellis found the actions of the individual were based on their thoughts about negative events.

Put differently, emotion and behavior are not determined by the event itself but the way in which the event is cognitively processed and evaluated.

The ABC model is effective in helping people change unhelpful or unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving.

Outside of a traditional doctor-patient environment, it is used by carers working in residential settings and also by teachers who have disruptive children in the classroom.

The three components of the ABC model

The ABC model is an acronym of three components that explain how a person perceives an external event:

Adversity (A)

The situation or event.

Belief (B)

Our explanation of why the situation or event occurred.

The belief may be rational or irrational. 

Consequence (C)

The resultant feelings or behaviors that our belief causes, sometimes called the consequence.

Rational beliefs lead to healthy consequences, while irrational beliefs lead to unhealthy consequences.

Some clinicians use a further two components to help patients transition to more productive ways of thinking.

They are.

Disputation (D)

Or the questioning of an irrational belief to make it a rational belief. For example, a young woman may consider herself to be a social outcast after not receiving a party invitation.

Her irrational belief that nobody likes her may cause sadness, anger, and frustration.

However, she then disputes her self-critical thoughts. Being overlooked for one party does not make her unlikeable, especially since she was invited to three other parties in the previous month.

What’s more, she barely knew the person organizing the party – so it’s perhaps no surprise she wasn’t invited. In any case, the woman realizes that her thoughts are simply thoughts.

They do not have the power to determine what sort of person she is or how she behaves.

New effect (E)

By rejecting an irrational thought and replacing it with something more realistic, the woman does not react negatively to being overlooked for the party.

To avoid reacting negatively to a similar situation in the future, she may choose to write a formal commitment to adopting rational thoughts.

ABC model examples

The ABC model is relevant to numerous clinical and non-clinical situations.

A few of these are described explained below to show how an individual can use the model to practice healthier ways of thinking.

Interaction with a co-worker

  • Activating event – when Mary arrives at work one day, her co-worker Terrence walks past her desk without saying a word or acknowledging her presence.
  • Beliefs about the event – Mary takes the perceived indiscretion personally and she is immediately reminded of a minor disagreement the pair had over a month previous. 
  • Consequences of the event – Mary feels disrespected, angry, and resentful toward Terrence for not making the effort to greet her.

Mary then returns to the activating event and utilizes the extra two components of the model we discussed earlier: Disputation and New Effect. 

Her notes read as follows:

  • Disputation of the event – why else may Terrence have ignored me that morning? Perhaps he had been in a car accident and was a little flustered. Or maybe he’d just had an argument with his spouse on the phone before entering the office. Whatever the reason, it left him distracted and likely had nothing to do with me. I am sure that Terrence will interact with me later in the day when he is ready.
  • New effect – instead of believing that Terrence’s actions are personal and the result of a minor disagreement, I choose to believe that in all likelihood, he has forgotten about the conversation and in any case, is not the sort of person to hold a grudge. For the rest of the day, I will not waste any more time expelling energy on an issue that does not concern me.

Interaction with a superior

  • Activating event – later in the month, Mary is asked by her boss Matt if she has completed preliminary research on an important marketing campaign.
  • Beliefs about the event – upon hearing the question, Mary thinks to herself “Matt doesn’t believe I work hard enough” and “He is trying to catch me out like he did with Tony yesterday.
  • Consequences of the event – believing the question to be a trap, Mary reacts defensively to the question and answers that she is nearly finished with the research despite this being untrue. She feels annoyed for being singled out and frustrated at herself for the way she reacted.

During her lunch break that day, Mary returns to the activating event and thinks about how the situation could have been handled differently.

She also discusses the situation at her next appointment with a therapist:

  • Disputation of the event – Mary’s therapist lets her know that her assumption that Matt believes she is lazy is an example of fortune telling. This is a cognitive distortion where one predicts a negative outcome without considering the odds of that outcome. The therapist then encourages Mary to consider whether the available evidence really justifies her beliefs. In all likelihood, Matt was acting as any boss should in asking for a progress report.
  • New effect – to reduce the likelihood of a similar reaction in the future, Mary develops a balancing statement to keep things in perspective. One of these reads as follows: “There is a chance Matt believes I am a lazy worker, but it’s more likely he put me on the spot because the deadline was imminent, and he was receiving pressure from his own boss to deliver. I also recognize that my anxiety related to the unfinished work and then having to lie about it compounded the problem. This is nothing to do with Matt.

Key takeaways:

  • The ABC model is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. It was developed by psychologist Albert Ellis, who discovered that individuals react negatively to their thoughts about an event – and not the event itself.
  • The ABC model has three components that explain how a person reacts to an external event: adversity, belief, and consequence. Some clinicians supplement the model with two more components to help the individual adopt healthier beliefs.
  • The ABC model is used by psychologists to treat patients with poor mental health. It is also used by carers in residential facilities and in schools to treat disruptive children.

What are the 3 stages of ABC model?

The three main components are:

Some also use two further components:

What is an example of the ABC model?

What is ABC learning model?

The ABC is the acronym of three components that explain how a person perceives an external event: adversity, belief, and consequence, and it is used by psychologists to treat patients with poor mental health. It is also used by carers in residential facilities and in schools to treat disruptive children.

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Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger

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