Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy: Know Your ABCs

Managing a mood disorder is a little like searching for the word zygodactylous in word puzzle.
My technique? I find all the Zs and then I look at all the letters surrounding those Zs, which is sort of the same thing I do when I’ve spun a web of depression and anxiety around myself.
The crossword puzzle, in cognitive behavioral terms, is called the REBT method, or the Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, which is based on the premise that our emotions and behaviors are born from our thoughts. Several psychologists have developed different exercises based on this model.
One that I use a dozen times a day is the ABC exercise psychologist Steven Curtis, Ph.D. shares in his book “Understanding Your Child’s Puzzling Behavior.” Of course, it’s my puzzling behavior I’m trying to get a handle on, but the title of this book makes it convenient for me to pull out in public.
The ABC worksheet has four columns and however many rows–or upsetting events– you want to analyze. The first column says “setting event,” the second “antecedent” or “A,” the third “behavior” or “B,” and the last “consequences” or “C.” You start with the B column. Describe the upsetting behavior.
For example, I recently came home from a doctor’s appointment and bawled my eyes out because the doctor was very condescending and I felt discouraged. My “B”: Doctor is a Big Bossy Bird-Brained Bully.
Then I consider A, the antecedent, what came before the behavior … well, I was experiencing a lot of unpleasant side effects from a medication and I was exhausted from trying to manage my poor health with a fulltime job plus motherhood. My “A”: Was exhausted and sick.
Third, I go to the C column, for “consequence,” and I write down the consequences of my behavior: I decided to stop taking the medication that made me sick and to look for a new doctor. My “C”: Yah, baby, taking back the power!
Finally, in the “Setting Event,” I listed the underlying situations or conditions that increased the chances of the upsetting behavior: Since the little square is too small to list my medical history, I just said, “I can be a tad emotional and unbalanced at times.” In other words, my “Setting Event”: Long, neurotic history!!!
This process is helpful in outlining some possible contributors to my behavior or the upsetting event, in clueing me in as to the effectiveness of the consequences, and in providing me with useful information I might use next time I’m tempted to go off on a doctor.
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  • Your Name

    The ABC approach to understanding certain negative behaviors we all
    have and would like to change is very helpful toward living a more healthy life. It helps to increase serenity in our lives and the lives of those around us. It’s hard to see which comes first: the understanding or the serenity…both seem necessary in the truly healthy life…and when well practiced can become automatic components of daily life. Thanks for both suggestions. p.s. I thought the Serenity prayer was from St. Francis??

  • Mike

    I believe that the Serenity Prayer existed in various forms prior to Reinhold Niebuhr, but it was his version that became popular.
    As for St. Francis, perhaps you’re thinking of the “Prayer of St. Francis”, which is different, but helpful just the same;
    Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
    Where there is injury, pardon.
    Where there is doubt, faith.
    Where there is despair, hope.
    Where there is darkness, light.
    Where there is sadness, joy.
    O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
    to be consoled as to console,
    to be understood as to understand,
    to be loved as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive.
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
    It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

  • Dr. Pam Garcy

    Hi–good of you to publicize REBT. The A-B-C’s you refer to are more in line with traditional behavioral theory (with A being an antecedent, B being the behavior and C being the consequence). However, in REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy), the A stands for the Adversity or Activating Event. The B stands for the Belief about A. The C stands for the emotional and behavioral consequences of the B.
    Albert Ellis’s works are really astonding & brilliant. If you want to learn more about him, I would recommend a site called or you can also visit my site which is–I use Ellis’s approach with my graduate students at Argosy University in Dallas & they love it.
    Pam Garcy, PhD
    Author of the #1 National Bestseller
    The Power of Inner Guidance: Seven Steps to Tune In and Turn On
    Coauthor of the Bestseller Wake Up And Live the Live You Love, Moments of Inspiration

  • Ron Pies MD

    Hi, All–I second Dr. Garcy’s accolades for the work of the late Dr. Albert Ellis, the originator of REBT. Despite many books written about this therapy, his 1961 book written with Dr. Robert Harper, “A Guide to Rational Living”, is still among the best introductions to the topic, in my view–and remains relevant, even nearly 50 years later!
    —Best, Ron Pies MD
    Author: Everything Has Two Handles: The Stoic’s Guide to the Art of Living

  • Will Ross

    Thanks for helping to spread the word about Albert Ellis and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT).
    I think you may have over-complicated the ABC model. The model itself is quite simple, but putting it to use correctly requires practice.
    Author: A Guide to Shameless Happiness

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