How does the ABC model of CBT work?

In this blog we will answer the question, “How does the ABC model of CBT work?” and learn about its unique characteristics and uses.

How does the ABC model of CBT work?

The ABC model of CBT helps in providing a framework for the thought patterns and dysfunctional behaviors and is a very helpful tool to measure the functionality caused by the negative thought patterns. 

What is the ABC model?

The ABC is an acronym for:

A: Activating Event 

B: Belief about the event occurred. 

C: Consequences of the event such as a person’s behavior in response to the event. 

In the ABC model ‘B’ (Beliefs) is the component that links the other two. It is also considered as the most vital component as CBT is based on changing beliefs to modify behavior. 

The activating event works as triggers that generate automatic thoughts in a person. When these thoughts or beliefs are irrational then response to those beliefs is negative. 

The activation events could be everyday life events. Few examples of the activating events are given below. 

  • A friend doesn’t respond to your calls or texts. 
  • When you pass by an acquaintance on the street and greet them, they don’t greet you back. 
  • Your parents forgot to keep their promise. 
  • Your friend loses a bracelet you had gifted to them. 

All the above are activating events that are quite ambiguous. A person can infer both rational and irrational beliefs from these events. But if a person leans towards irrational beliefs then the emotions or consequences caused by these events are also negative and can cause mental distress. These emotions can lead to dysfunctional behavior. Emotions that can be generated for each of the above events due to operational beliefs are as follows. 

  • Hurt

Irrational belief- I am not a person worthy enough to talk to. 

  • Offended

Irrational belief-They purposely ignored me even after seeing me. 

  • Disappointed

Irrational belief- My parents don’t care about me

  • Anger

Irrational belief- They don’t value my feelings and gestures.

These negative emotions and beliefs then give rise to behaviors that are not helpful and make the situation worse.

Following are a few examples of irrational behaviors in response to each of these beliefs. 

  • Not calling that friend again and avoiding them and their calls
  • Purposely ignore the person when you meet them again and they try to talk with you.
  • Locking yourself in the room and not listening to anything your parents have to say.
  • Getting into an argument with your friend and saying hurtful things to them.

The ABC model of CBT adequately explains the chronology or pattern in which we interact or react to our surroundings.

How does the ABC model help in changing behaviors?

The ABC model does not just help us understand the pattern of how our behavior occurs but also gives us a method or technique to resolve it. 

We know that activating events trigger irrational beliefs that cause irrational dysfunctional behavior. Hence it is important to deal with irrational beliefs to modify the behavior. This is done by replacing irrational beliefs with rational beliefs.

Following are the steps to be followed to change the behavior according to the ABC model

  • Identifying the event

The first step is to identify the event that causes us to develop negative thoughts.It is necessary to identify the events in order to analyze the feelings that are triggered in us. 

  • Understanding the emotions

We need to understand the emotions that we feel and what causes us to feel those emotions during or after a triggering event. These emotions play a major part in contributing to our dysfunctional behavior.

  • Challenging the negative beliefs

The negative beliefs need to be challenged by negating them with the help of evidence. When we analyze the events and our emotions we can rationally think about the situation and understand what reasons or aspects of the event caused us to feel in a certain way. When we do that we negate the negative feelings by disapproving it by the evidence and conclusion we arrived at due to rational thinking. 

  • Replacing with positive thoughts.

Once the negative thoughts are challenged and disposed of they need to be replaced with positive and rational beliefs. These beliefs will help us modify our behavior in a more positive and functional way. 

The process is explained with the help of a few scenarios. Through this, we can understand how to deal with a triggering event and not let it affect our behavior.

  • Triggering Event (A)

My friend forgot to wish me on my birthday.

Mom gave my brother more money than me.

A colleague did not invite me to his party.

Boss scolded me at work

  • Feeling generated (B)
  • Hurt

Irrational belief- My friend does not consider me as a good friend or important enough to remember my birthday

  • Enraged 

Irrational belief- Mom loves my brother more than me. 

  • Isolated

Irrational belief- The colleague doesn’t like me and does not want to interact with me.

  • Humiliated

Irrational belief- I am not smart or capable that is why my boss scolded me.

  • Behavioral Response and consequences(C)

Ignoring that friend and not talking to them. Not letting them justify themselves, thus creating discord in the friendship

Throwing a tantrum for getting less money and getting punished for this behavior.

Being hostile with that colleague at the workplace without any valid reason thus creates tension in the workplace environment.

Making more mistakes because of being overly conscious and eventually getting reprimanded once again.

To change the above dysfunctional behaviors the belief system needs to change. The process of changing the belief system and its behavioral consequences with examples are as follows

Beliefs (B)

Replacing the above irrational beliefs with following rational beliefs.

  • My friend must be busy or perhaps have a valid reason for not calling me on my birthday. I shouldn’t come to any conclusion until we talk again.
  • My mother must have given more money to my brother for a reason.  Perhaps he needs more money, I shouldn’t think negatively as my current allowance is enough for me. 
  • Maybe they did not have my contact number or simply forgot. I shouldn’t let this minor thing affect our cordial relationship as they are obliged to socialize with me.
  • I got scolded because I made a mistake which is normal. This doesn’t mean I can’t work well. I will take this experience as a lesson and try to work more efficiently in the future.
  • The above rational thoughts would ultimately lead to positive effects on the person’s behavior which might even impact the behavior of people surrounding them

Behavior and Consequences (C)

The friend called and apologized for forgetting and promised to make it up for this mistake in the future.

Brother had an important test coming up and needed more money to buy resource material.

The colleague did not realize that they had not invited them and realized it when didn’t show up to the party. They felt bad for their unintentional mistake and apologized. 

It is important to consider that sometimes our irrational fears might turn out to be true. Let’s say, the colleague purposely chose to not invite you as they didn’t like you. In such cases, it is essential to remember that we cannot change other people’s behavior or have any control over them. We can only have control over our own thoughts and behaviors. Hence even if others’ behaviors affect us negatively we can choose to disregard them and react in a positive manner that doesn’t cause us psychological distress. So instead of reacting negatively for not being invited, you can choose to not let it affect you and remind yourself that not everyone is obliged to be nice to you.

Applications Of CBT

CBT is used for the treatment of a diverse range of mental health issues. Some of them are:

  • Anxiety Disorder

Many types of anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorders, Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), Phobias, Panic Attacks, PTSD are treated with the help of CBT

  • Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can prove to be fatal if not treated at the right time. CBT has been proven to be effective in controlling the various types of eating disorders such as Bulimia, Anorexia, Binge Eating, etc.,

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

In this disorder, intrusive thoughts that are accompanied by severe compulsions to behave in a certain way prove very stressful to the person suffering from it. CBT helps in curbing the symptoms and modifying the behavior so that the person can lead a normal life.

The effectiveness of CBT is not just limited to mental health conditions; it has also been proved to work very well to help people cope with certain physical illnesses as well as emotionally distressing events.

  • Chronic pain or serious illnesses
  • Low self-esteem
  • Divorce or break-ups
  • Grief
  • Stress Management
  • Insomnia
  • Relationship problems
  • Anger Issues

Thus, in today’s time, CBT is one of the leading treatment methods for several mental health issues and therapists are relying on it more with each passing day.  The ABC model of CBT has been termed as a very essential tool to measure and modify the behavioral consequences. 


We understood how the ABC model of CBT works, its processes and learned about its unique characteristics and uses.

Frequently asked Questions

Who created the ABC model of CBT?

Albert Ellis who developed the Rational Emotive Behavioral therapy can be credited for the creation of the ABC model. REBT is often considered a precursor to modern CBT. Hence the ABC model is a significant component of the therapy. Albert Ellis considered this model a major aid in cognitive therapy. 

When did Ellis first propose the ABC model?

The ABC model was formulated in 1955. Albert Ellis proposed through this model that 

  • Activating events(A)
  • Contribute to people’s emotional and behavioral reactions (C)
  • Because they’re influenced by people’s beliefs about said activating events (B)

What is the ABC chart?

The ABC chart is an observational tool developed to record information about a particular behavior. 

The aim of an ABC chart is to analyze what the behavior is communicating. The ‘A’ stands for the antecedent or the event that occurred before the behavior was exhibited.

‘B’ stands for the description of the behavior that occurred e.g. A man threw an item on the floor.

‘C’ stands for what occurred after the behavior or the consequence of the behavior 

e.g. People moved away from that man, and noise levels in the room decreased. 

What is Aaron Beck’s Theory?

Aaron Beck is known for developing cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy along with Ellis’ REBT therapy formed today’s modern CBT. Cognitive therapy proposes that our present thinking or cognition influences our emotions, behaviors, and experiences.

What is the ABCD model of Psychology? 

The ABCDE coaching model is a behavioral therapy model. It has five stages: 

A for Activating event or situation,

B for Beliefs,

C for Consequences,

D for Disputation of the beliefs 


E fan or Effective new approach to dealing with the problem.


Nunez, K. (2020, April 17). What Is the ABC Model in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Healthline.

Selva, J. B. (2021, February 17). Albert Ellis’ ABC Model in the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Spotlight. PositivePsychology.Com.

The Decision Lab. (2021, October 5). The ABC Model.