Chapter 11.3: Albert Ellis & Rational Emotive Therapy

As Simple as A-B-C

Even though Albert Ellis was more of a therapist than a theorist, his interpretation of cognitive theory has gained a great deal of notability over the past twenty plus years.  On the surface, his model is quite simple and often described as the A-B-C process.

According to Ellis, we experience Activating Events (A) everyday that prompt us to look at, interpret, or otherwise think about what is occurring.  Our interpretation of these events result in specific Beliefs (B) about the event, the world and our role in the event.  Once we develop this belief, we experience Emotional Consequences (E) based solely on our belief.


Lets look again at the scenario presented in the last chapter.  We originally used the approach to demonstrate a typical humanistic exchange.  Lets go back to the beginning and see how Ellis or other cognitive therapists might have done things differently.  If you recall the solution in the previous chapter, you will notice that the means may be completely different, but the end is remarkably similar.

Therapist:I’m very curious about what’s going on with you.  What do you see as your reason for your coming in to talk with me today?

Client:Well, I see myself as a loser.  I can’t seem to accomplish anything and my husband says he wants a divorce because I just sit around all day doing nothing.  I just don’t see any way out of this whole mess.11.2

Therapist:What makes you see yourself as a loser?

Client:I can’t get anything done, my husband hates me, I’m lazy.  I’m just a loser.

Therapist:So you’ve accomplished nothing at all in, say, the last month.


Therapist:Wow, that’s really hard to believe.  Why don’t you rethink that answer and look at some of the things you have accomplished.

Client:Like what?

Therapist:Start with the basics.  Today you showered, you ate breakfast, you got the kids ready for school.


Therapist:So that’s a little more than nothing isn’t it?

Client:I guess.  But I still feel like…

Therapist:Hold on a second.  Why are you negating the fact that you accomplished something today.

Client:Because it’s not enough for my husband.

Therapist:This is about you though.  Do you think you accomplished something today?


Therapist:How does it feel to know you are at least taking care of your basic needs and seeing that your children are getting their needs met.

Client:I guess it feels good.

Therapist:You guess?

Client:No, it does, it could be a lot worse, I really could be doing nothing.

Therapist:But you’re doing something?

Client:Yes, I’m not a total loser.  Maybe I need to talk with my husband about this.  He thinks I sit around all day and watch soaps.  But I clean, cook his dinner, take care of the kids.

Therapist:So perhaps the two of you need to find some middle ground

Client:Exactly, I know I’m not perfect and maybe I could do more, but he needs to see what I do do rather than just what I don’t.  I think we are going to have a heart to heart talk tonight.