Lesson 4: ABCDE Approach to Faulty Cognitions

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According to Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavioral Model, a student needs to break down an experience into three areas (A, B, and C) to discover if distortions or irrational beliefs are present.

A is the activating event, experience, or adversity. The student must describe this experience in objective terms, with no views or opinions. For example, “I received a C in English on my first term report card.”

B is the student’s belief about what is true about this activating event (A). “I have never gotten above a C for this teacher, I am no good, I will never get above a C, I’m a failure.”

C is the consequence (a feeling or behavior) that is the result of the student’s interpretation of A and belief (B) about it. Students need to be taught and reminded that the consequence is a choice, and can be beneficial or not. Usually, unhealthy behaviors are responses to irrational or inaccurate beliefs/cognitions. An example of a consequence that can be destructive is to stop trying to improve the C grade, with the illogical reasoning “I should have done well but I didn’t, so now everyone thinks I’m useless. I’ll never be able to do English.”

Once the ABCs are discovered and explored, the intervention (DE) begins.

First, dispute (D) or challenge the dysfunctional beliefs. Why must you be perfect? Does doing poorly on this report card, in this subject mean you are bad at everything? Does it make you totally inadequate? Where is the evidence that people think you are useless?

Next, examine effective new philosophies, emotions, and behaviors (E) to take action against the faulty cognitions and dysfunctional beliefs. Have the student change any “must” statements to preferences. Taking action means answering the questions from the disputing stage (D) and making changes to the beliefs (B). “There is no reason why I can’t do better in English. I don’t have to be great at everything. Most likely, if I keep trying, I’ll succeed at this. I’d prefer to do well. Not doing well this time does not mean I can’t do well the next time.”

For more on Ellis’ ABCDE approach, see the Albert Ellis Institute at https://albertellis.org

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