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  • Writer's pictureJaclyn Hall

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy SIMPLIFIED: The ABC in REBT & How It Can Help You!

“Reality is not so much what happens to us; rather, it is how we think about those events that create the reality we experience. In a very real sense, this means that we create the reality in which we live.” – Albert Ellis, Founder of REBT

At Keys to Counseling in Tampa, FL, I specialize in a specific type of therapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Established by Dr. Albert Ellis in 1955, REBT is an active, directive, solution-focused, and goal-oriented approach to counseling and it is recognized as the pioneering form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

In REBT, we utilize the ABC Model of Emotion as a template for how to conduct therapy. The purpose of this model, which is traditionally comprised of five elements: A,B,C,D, and E, is to show that it is our beliefs or basic attitudes (B) about the activating events or adversities within our lives (A) that are responsible for causing our emotional and behavioral consequences (C). For example, if we are experiencing an unhealthy negative emotion, such as anxiety, we are likely engaging in a dysfunctional or unhelpful behavior, such as avoidance. Both the anxious emotion and avoidant behavior are consequences of the beliefs/basic attitudes that we hold about the activating events/adversities we are facing. This is the most important concept within the ABC Model of Emotion and it is known as the B-C connection, because B causes C.

Once we identify our beliefs/basic attitudes, we can challenge them by asking ourselves disputing questions (D). Based upon the example above regarding the unhealthy negative emotion of anxiety, once we dispute our beliefs, we will likely determine that they are indeed irrational, because they are responsible for causing our anxious emotions and avoidant behaviors. Therefore, we will then strive to develop effective new rational beliefs (E), which will help us to experience healthier emotions. Though the original model does not contain the letter F, I personally prefer to include the addition of the letter F, defined as the functional new behavior, which represents the behavioral change that accompanies a more rational way of thinking.

For the purposes of this blog, I will refrain from getting into the intricacies of this model; rather, I will simplify it by summarizing it as follows.

When faced with an adversity or a challenging circumstance, REBT will ask a series of questions, such as:

A = What happened?

C = How did you feel about what happened? What did you do?

B = What did you tell yourself about A that resulted in C?

D = How can you challenge what you told yourself?

E = What effective new beliefs can you tell yourself instead?

F = What functional new behaviors will you engage in to accompany your new beliefs?

Remember, the basic premise of REBT is to highlight that, contrary to popular belief, our emotions and behaviors are not a direct result of the challenges that we face within our lives. Alternatively, it is the beliefs or basic attitudes we hold about our adversities which are responsible for determining our emotional and behavioral reactions to adverse circumstances and events. To reiterate, A (activating event/adversity) does not directly cause C (emotional and behavioral consequences). A contributes to C, but is not directly responsible for causing C. B (our beliefs about A) is responsible for causing C. As I stated above, this is known as the B-C connection, which is the fundamental concept behind REBT. In order to cement our comprehension of the B-C connection, it is helpful to practice utilizing B-C language, as opposed to A-C language.

A-C language sounds like, “when I arrived home from work, my partner’s grumpiness made me so upset and ruined my day, because his bad attitude caused me to yell at him, which resulted in a big argument.”

B-C language sounds like, “when I arrived home from work, I ruined my own day by making myself unhealthily upset about my partner’s grumpiness. I chose to yell at him, and by choosing to yell at him, I contributed to starting the argument that followed”

When we use B-C language, we learn to take (blame-free) emotional and behavioral responsibility for our lives, as well as help us to identify, challenge, and change our stubbornly-held irrational beliefs that are responsible for disturbing ourselves. Living life with a B-C mentality is the most empowering decision we can make for ourselves! In essence, B-C living means that adversities, other people, world events, and life in general do not have the power to push our buttons and unhealthily upset us. Remember, there is a significant difference between healthy negative emotional distress and unhealthy negative emotional disturbance. The goal of REBT is to strive to experience strong healthy negative emotions regarding adverse challenges within our lives, as opposed to unhealthy negative emotions: this is the difference between feeling healthily distressed versus unhealthily disturbed. Additionally, for every unhealthy emotion, there is an unhelpful behavior to accompany it, and both are the result of irrational beliefs/attitudes. Likewise, healthy emotions are generally linked to helpful and functional behaviors, both of which can be attributed to rational beliefs/attitudes. 

What I appreciate most about REBT’s ABC Model of Emotion is that it is widely applicable to virtually every personal challenge that accompanies the human experience from anxiety and depression, to pain and illness, injustice, betrayal, grief, economic hardships, addiction, adjustment, political differences, relationship issues, and self-esteem. As a counselor, this allows me to help people with a variety of issues, and it also encourages profound success to be achieved on a self-help level as well, with an easy-to-understand model that we can personally apply to our adversities; thereby, independently improving the quality of our own lives in a relatively short amount of time! It is a simply empowering approach to psychological and emotional health that advocates for autonomy and long-term philosophical transformation of life perspective!

At Keys to Counseling in Tampa, Florida, my mission is to promote healthy living through rational thinking! I provide both individual and couples counseling, and I would be honored to cognitively, emotively, and behaviorally accompany you on your journey to living, being, and staying better! 


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