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What is the ABC Model?

The
ABC Model, Ellis, A. (1991). The revised ABC’s of rational-emotive therapy (RET). Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 9(3), 139–172.
which stems from and was initially taught in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, describes the relationship between an adversity or activating event, your beliefs about the event, and behavioural or emotional consequences. There is a tendency to think that negative or anxiety-provoking events cause emotional and behavioural consequences. For example, if you were repeatedly spoken over in a discussion, you might suggest that this event caused you to feel angry, lash out, and talk badly about the “offender” behind their back. However, the ABC Model proposes that adversities do not cause emotional or behavioural consequences. Instead, it is your beliefs, and specifically your irrational beliefs, about the adversity that ultimately determine the consequence.

Although the ABC Model recognizes that all three components (A, B, and C) are interconnected, it emphasizes the B to C connection as an area of personal control. This model focuses on identifying automatic, negative thoughts (ANTs) and changing those thoughts/beliefs to create more positive consequences. Let’s return to the previous example: In response to being repeatedly spoken over in a discussion, your initial thought might be that the other person is deliberately cutting you off and trying to sabotage you. You might think that they are stuck-up, full of themselves and disrespectful.

Identifying these thoughts and beliefs helps you understand why you felt angry and decided to retaliate by lashing out. By changing your thoughts and beliefs about a situation, you can change the outcome (i.e. consequence). For example, if in response to being cut-off, you thought that the other person simply didn’t hear you or that they were insecure and nervous, then you might develop feelings of compassion or empathy (rather than anger). In doing so, you would be able to calmly discuss your experience with the person individually, after the meeting (instead of lashing out).

Adding the ‘D’ and the ‘E’

The ABC Model can be expanded by adding ‘D’ and ‘E’, to create the ABCDE Model. In this expanded model, the ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ continue to represent the same thing – Adversity, Beliefs, and Consequences. The ‘D’ stands for disputes or arguments that you can make against the irrational belief, ‘B’. By countering irrational beliefs, you slowly rewire your brain and develop more positive automatic thought patterns. The ‘E’ stands for
the new Effect, Jorn, A. (2018, October 8). Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. PsychCentral.
and refers to the “new, more effective emotions and behaviours that result from more reasonable thinking about the original event”.

Two of the main strategies for disputing distorted or unhelpful thoughts are the Worst-case/Best-case/Most-likely process (described below) as well as the process of finding evidence for and evidence against the belief (taught in the next lesson). Learning and using these disputation skills will encourage you to approach life more realistically and optimistically.

How can I dispute worries?

The Worst-case/Best-case/Most-likely Process. One of the most common tools for disputing worries is the Worst-case/Best-case/Most-likely process. Adapted from Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte’s book,
“The Resilience Factor”, Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles. Broadway Books.
this process involves the following steps:
  1. Identify the adversity or trigger that caused, or is causing, the worst-case scenario thinking and intense worry.
  2. Make a list of things that will happen if the worst-case scenario is true, letting yourself spiral into the deepest and darkest “hole”. Create this list by starting with the most automatic, negative thought and asking yourself, “Then what happens?”. It’s normal for the list to become progressively more depressing and unrealistic.
  3. Identify the percentage likelihood of each scenario, given the adversity identified in step 1. If you did it correctly, then the percentage likelihood will become increasingly smaller as you go down the list.
  4. At the opposite extreme, identify the best-case scenario. Make a list of progressively more positive scenarios by asking yourself “Then what happens?”. By the end of this list, it’s normal to think that it’d be more likely to live in a world with rainbows and unicorns than for the best-case scenario to occur (given the adversity).
  5. Identify the percentage likelihood of each scenario, given the adversity identified in step 1. If you did it correctly, then the percentage likelihood will also become increasingly smaller as you go down the list.
  6. Use the worst-case and best-case scenarios to develop a more balanced, healthy and realistic perspective. With this perspective, create a list of the most-likely scenarios.
  7. Identify the percentage likelihood of the most likely outcomes, given the adversity.
  8. Given the most likely scenario, create an action plan for how you can cope with the outcome.

What are the benefits of teaching students the ABC Model?

Teaching students about the ABC Model promotes their mental health and challenges them to take responsibility for their wellbeing, while simultaneously preventing the onset of mental illness. For all
children and adolescents, Morin, A. (2020, May 6). Benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Teens. Verywellmind.
learning cognitive reappraisal strategies can improve communication with others, reduce fears and phobias, and interrupt maladaptive thought processes that are associated with addiction and self-destructive behaviours. Furthermore, these strategies
can help children and adolescents Morin, A. (2020, May 6). Benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Teens. Verywellmind.
improve their self-esteem, become more resilient, and create more positive thought patterns.

Where can I learn more?

Healthline – What is the ABC Model in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Verywellmind – Benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Teens

Argot Magazine – Should we Teach Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in Schools?

The Behaviour Institute – CBT in the Classroom

What will students learn?

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…

  • Confidently explain why optimism is not a character trait but an explanatory style that they can adopt and learn
  • Understand the connection between their beliefs about an activating event and the emotional or behavioural consequences (i.e. the B to C connection)
  • Identify common, irrational beliefs that they hold
  • Cultivate a more optimistic explanatory style by using the Best-case/Worst-case/Most-likely process to dispute worries
References
Beecuz

Ellis, A. (1991). The revised ABC’s of rational-emotive therapy (RET). Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 9(3), 139–172.

Jorn, A. (2018, October 8). Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. PsychCentral.

Morin, A. (2020, May 6). Benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Teens. Verywellmind.

Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles. Broadway Books.

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