What is the Ellis ABC Model? Albert Ellis believed in a more rational approach to psychotherapy. His method proved to be the basis of what is now known as cognitive therapy or “talk therapy”, used to treat people with depression, anxiety, and other related disorders.

The ABC Model refers to three components of experience in which a person can ascertain if his or her belief system is distorted. The “A” is the “activating event”. This event is the one we encounter and objectively describe. The “B” is the “belief”, that is, what you believe is the truth about the event. The “C” is the “consequent emotion”. This is the result of the feelings that you experience as a result of the event.

Here is an example:

The Activating Event: You are told by your boss that he is unhappy with your work.
The Belief: I’m a failure.
The Consequent Emotion: Anxiety and depression.

In other words, the activating event triggers an emotion that we believe to be true, and the consequence is that we become anxious and depressed because we have a negative view about ourselves and very little faith in our own capability.

Conversely, someone else who is confronted with the same remark by his or her boss may react in an entirely different way. For example:

The Activating Event: You are told by your boss that he is unhappy with your work.
The Belief: I did my best.
The Consequent Emotion: Disappointed, but confident things will get better.

The difference between these two scenarios is how we perceive ourselves. According to Albert Ellis, “Some people make very dismal and hopeless interpretations of everything. Consequently, these people tend to be down more often. Some people, on the other hand, seem to be able to assess most situations in a manner that rarely makes them experience the extremes of negative emotions. They just seem to be balanced emotionally most of the time.”

Cognitive therapy allows people to understand their thought processes so that all distortions and misconceptions are identified in a more realistic manner. While it is true that some people are thinking all the time about how they are perceived, they usually spend little time trying to understand the logic behind these thoughts. In cognitive therapy, the patients are told to practice the techniques daily so that when confronted with a situation, they can immediately identify it and process it in a healthier manner.

This is not to say that you have to analyze every thought in every situation. The Ellis ABC model should be utilized in situations where the risk of distortion is greater.

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