The ABC Model

The ABC Model: How To Use CBT To Create New Beliefs


In today’s blog post, I thought that I would do something a little different. We’re going to explore the ABC Model of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

I’m currently in the process of taking my Level 4 qualification inCBT. This is one of my first steps towards becoming a fully accredited performance coach and I intend to take many more qualifications in the next few years.

As such, I thought it might be worthwhile sharing some of the amazing tools and techniques that I learn across the different courses that I take.

In the last couple of weeks I learned of an extremely interesting model of psychology called the ABC Model. It’s a practical, powerful way to make massive shifts in your beliefs and behaviours and to improve your life.

It was first spoken about by Albert Ellis who is seen as one of the founding fathers of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

His contribution to CBT was Rational Emotive Therapy which was then later updated to be Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT).

The foundation of REBT and, by extension, CBT was his ABC model of irrational beliefs. This was later updated to be known as the ABCDE Model of Emotional Disturbance.

What Is the ABC Model?

The ABC model was created to demonstrate that emotional and behavioural consequences are not caused by their triggering events.

Rather, it is an individual’s beliefs about the initial event which determine the consequences.

It shows that challenging irrational beliefs and replacing them with more rational new beliefs can lead to more positive consequences and emotions.

The Breakdown

A – Activating Event

This can be any event which occurs. It is a fact with no meaning attached to it. For example, a man calls his girlfriend during a Hen Party and she does not answer the phone.

B – Belief (Irrational)

This is any irrational belief about the activating event. Following the above example, an irrational belief might be “I’m not as important to her as her friends are” or “she’s ignoring me, so she must be being unfaithful to me”.

C – Consequences

These are either emotional or behavioural and lead directly from beliefs. For example, “I feel worthless because she values her friends’ company over mine” or “two can play at that game, maybe it’s time I started talking to my ex-girlfriend again”.

D – Disputes

To counter these irrational beliefs, the individual must argue against them. For example, “is there another reason why she might not have answered her phone? After all, she may not have even heard the phone ringing.”

E – New Effect or New Emotion

As a result of taking a more reasonable approach to thinking about the activating event, more effective emotions and behaviours can come to the forefront. “She must be having a good time. I’ll try to call her later.”

Therapeutic Applications

In CBT or REBT, you are actively encouraged to dispute and argue against their irrational beliefs.

Only after confronting and take a reasonable approach to their beliefs about the activating event can the client assimilate more effective emotions and behaviour (New Effects).

Initially, when an irrational approach to an activating event is taken then behavioural and emotional problems occur.

However, after therapeutic intervention the client tends to show more adaptive or constructive behaviour.

This approach is effective in treating issues such as anger management. It’s also effective for issues such as depression, anxiety and stress.

However, this approach is less effective in dealing with grief and other related emotions. This is because the focus should be around legitimising and normalising the client’s feelings rather than disputing them.


As a core foundational component of CBT, the ABC model demonstrates that it is ultimately an individual’s beliefs that are the cause of the emotional and behavioural consequences rather than the thing that happens.

The continuation of this model (ABCDE) provides a therapeutic framework for changing beliefs and, in so doing, changing the consequences and creating a new effect in the client’s life.

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