Cognitive Behavioural Therapy & The ABC Model
The ABC Model is one of the most famous cognitive behavioural therapy techniques for analysing your thoughts, behaviour and emotions.
The Basis of CBT
Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT works on the assumption that your beliefs influence your emotions and your behaviour and that by identifying and addressing problematic thoughts you can help to change your behaviour and experiences for the better.
The ABC Model of CBT
The ABC Model asks you to record a sequence of events in terms of:
- A - Activitating Event (also sometimes described as a 'Trigger')
- B - Beliefs (for example, the thoughts that occur to you when the Activating Event happens)
- C - Consequences - how you feel and behave when you have those Beliefs (consequences may be divided into two parts: your actions and your emotions)
Set out as a table, the ABC Model might look like this:
|A - Activating Event||B - Beliefs||C - Consequences|
|Write down the event or situation that triggered your thoughts and feelings.||Write down the thoughts that went through your head when the activating event occurred (or after it)||
How did you act then?
What did you feel then?
ABC Model - Example
An example of how the model might be used to describe a particular situation is given below:
|A - Activating Event||B - Beliefs||C - Consequences|
|My boss asks me if I have completed a piece of work||
- "she thinks I am not working hard enough"
- "she is trying to catch me out"
I say defensively that I have nearly finished the work, although in fact I still have some way to go
I feel annoyed, angry and resentful
Thinking Errors and Assumptions
Looking at the example above you can then ask whether the beliefs highlighted are justified by the Activating Event. One of the approaches of CBT would be to ask you to reflect on whether the beliefs are justified or are based on erroneous assumptions or thinking errors.
In this particular example, the beliefs"She thinks I am not working hard enough" and "She is trying to catch me out" might be examples of what is sometimes called 'Mind Reading' - i.e. making assumptions about what other people are thinking. Your beliefs may be justified and accurate beliefs but they may not. It is important to clarify whether the situation and the evidence justifies your beliefs and then decide how you want to act once you have done that.
Balancing Statements in CBT
If on reflection you consider that the Beliefs are not justified, then you might think of some Balancing Statements which you can remind yourself of when the activating event occurs to help keep what is happening in perspective. In the example given above, possible Balancing Statements might be:
"It is possible that she thinks I am not working hard enough, but it is also possible that she is simply enquiring about the work because there is a deadline coming and she does not mean it personally" or
"I may be jumping to conclusions here because I am anxious about falling behind and feel I need more support. It would be better for me to voice my concerns and seek some more help or more time rather than to try to pretend I am coping better than I am."
NB. Note that the important thing about Balancing Statements is that, as the name implies, they seek to be balanced and accurate. If you do, in the above example, feel that there is genuine evidence to indicate that your boss thinks you are not working hard enough or is trying to catch you out then it is not the role of Balancing Statements to ignore that evidence but to reflect on it in a balanced way and then decide how that will influence your choice of actions.
You can find a further example of a balancing statement in my Balancing Statements Form.
One technique that you can use to help you reach a balanced view is to ask yourself what a neutral person or a trusted reliable friend might say or think in the same circumstances.
Exploring Your Options
CBT encourages you to think about what your options are for dealing with negative or imbalanced thoughts both by using balancing thoughts to address your thought processes and by thinking about practical actions that you might take to improve or cope with a problematic situation you find yourself in.
Making Practical Decisions
Once you have introduced sensible balancing thoughts into your thinking processes, the idea is that you then make considered practical decisions about how you will act or respond in the situation.
In the situation given above using the ABC Model, this could help you to react in a more constructive way - for example rather than responding defensively to your boss's statement, you might:
- Try to explain to your boss the difficulties that you are having with the work and seek support, or
- If for some reason that is not possible or practicable then you might decide to try to speak to someone else appropriate within the organisation to help deal with the issue, or
- If you feel that neither of those is a realistic option then you might explore avenues outside the organisation where you can gain personal support or wind down from work pressures,
- Or you might even consider whether to try to change jobs or roles if your genuine conclusion is that for whatever reason this particular role is not something that you want to stay in in the medium term.
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