Rational emotive behavior therapy focuses on the way you think about yourself, the world and others. It is an empowering approach reminding us that we are responsible for the way we think, feel and act. It teaches that irrational thinking leads to unhealthy negative emotions and behaviors. It focuses on the present moment-the “here and now” rather than on the past and how the past has influenced your life. It focuses on your mental wellbeing at the present moment.
I personally like using this form of cognitive behavior therapy in my sessions with clients. I find this technique to have many positive outcomes. Although many clients tell me that it is difficult to change the way they think, I ensure them that with time, practice and patience, they can master this great technique and make positive changes to the way they think, feel and behave. With this technique, I tell clients that it is not the event that caused their emotions, but rather it is how they interpreted the event-the meaning they gave to the event or situation that caused their emotions.The premise is that whenever we become upset, it is not the events taking place in our lives that upset us; it is the beliefs that we hold that cause us to become depressed, anxious, enraged, etc.
The A-B-C-D-E model is often used to explain how REBT works. For this blog post, I will only discuss the A-B-C. The D-E will be explained in upcoming posts.
A: The A is the activating event. In other words, it is the client’s perceived objective reality. It is something that just happened that is causing you to start thinking where your thoughts lead to certain feelings and behaviors. For example, let’s assume that my client received an email from her boss that he wants to see her in the morning, and she becomes anxious about this. She might tell herself, “My boss is going to criticize my work.” Her inference about her boss criticizing her may be true or false, but what makes it an inference goes beyond the data at hand. She views her anxiety about her boss criticizing her as a fact and not an inference. In REBT, we encourage clients to assume that their inferences are correct, even if they appear distorted.
B: The B is your belief about A. In other words, what are your beliefs about A or what do you say to yourself about A. These beliefs could be rigid or flexible and extreme or non-extreme.
- Rigid beliefs include musts, should’s, have to’s. It is usually (1) demands placed on self (such as “I must do well”). Rigid beliefs about self lead to depression, anxiety, guilt, shame. (2) Demands about others, such as “You must do this for me tomorrow.” This leads to anger and passive aggressiveness. (3) Demands about the world such as “Work must not be difficult as it is” which leads to feelings of hurt, self-pity, or procrastination.
- Flexible beliefs are usually rational and take the form of wishes, wants, and preferences. They are not transformed into musts, should’s, oughts, etc. There are three flexible beliefs which include (1) nondogmatic preferences about self such as “I would like to do well on my test, but it is not necessary for me to do so.” (2) Nondogmatic preferences about others such as, “I would prefer that you come to se me tomorrow, but regretfully you don’t have to.” (3) Nondogmatic preferences about the world such as “I would like for work not to be as difficult as it is, but unfortunately it does not have to be the way I want it to be.” In these three non-dogmatic preferences, you state what you want and then you acknowledge that you do not have to get what you want.
- Extreme beliefs are usually irrational. They include (1) “awfulizing” beliefs such as “It will be awful if I fail my test,” (2) discomfort intolerance beliefs such as “I will not be able to stand it if I fail my test” or “It will be unbearable if you do not come to see me,” and (3) depreciation beliefs such as “I am unworthy if I don’t do well on the test,” or “You are a bad person if you don’t come to see me tomorrow.”
- Non-extreme beliefs are rational and include (1) non-awfulizing beliefs such as, “I would like to do well on my test, but it is not necessary for me to do so; (it is bad if I do not do well, but not awful). (2) Discomfort-tolerance beliefs such as “It would be a struggle for me to stand not doing well on the test, but I could stand it” (3) Acceptance beliefs of self and others such as “If I do not do well on my test, it does not mean that I am unworthy.”
C: The C is the emotional, behavioral, and cognitive consequences of your beliefs about A. If you have an irrational belief about A, you will experience an unheallthy negative emotion such as anxiety, depression, guilt, or shame. You will also experience behavioral consequences which can either be overt actions (carrying out the behavior) or action tendencies (the urge to carry out the behavior but do not do so). In cognitive consequences , your belief will be distorted to the negative. If however, you have a rational belief about the same A, your thinking will be more balanced and will have a more realistic view of the situation.
This A-B-C is important for clients to understand because it will help them to identify their thought process which will make it easier for them to make positive changes and create more rational thinking.
To practice identifying the A-B-C’s, create three columns. On the top, put A (activating event), B (beliefs), C (consequences). Throughout the day, pay attention to the beliefs (B) or thought process that you had for an event (A) and the consequences (C) that you experienced behaviorally or emotionally. In the following post, I will discuss how to challenge or dispute your negative thoughts to positive thoughts.