ABC THEORY. The American psychologist Albert Ellis (1913–) developed rational-emotive therapy (RET), which is a directive, confrontational psychotherapy designed to challenge and modify clients’ irrational beliefs thought to cause their personal distress (Ellis, 1961, 1977, 1987). RET is based on Ellis’ ABC theory (Wood & Wood, 1993). The A refers to the activating event, the B to the person’s belief about the event, and the C to the emotional consequence that follows. Ellis claims that it is not the event that causes the emotional consequence, but rather the person’s belief about the event; that is, A does not cause C, but B causes C. If the belief is irrational, then the emotional consequence can be extreme distress. Because reality does not conform to such irrational beliefs as ‘‘Everyone should love me’’ or ‘‘I must be perfect,’’ patients who hold such beliefs are open to frustration and unhappiness. Irrational beliefs cause people to view an undesirable event as a catastrophe rather than merely as a disappointment, anxiety, or inconvenience; in addition, persons may go on to feel anxious about their anxiety and depressed about their depression (Ellis, 1987). RET and ABC theory help clients to see rationally and logically that their false beliefs and unrealistic expectations are the real causes of their problems. As clients begin to replace irrational beliefs with rational beliefs, their emotional reactions become more appropriate, less distressing, and more likely to lead to constructive behavior (Ellis, 1979). See also COGNITIVE THERAPY, THEORIES OF.
Ellis, A. (1961). A guide to rational living. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Ellis, A. (1977). The basic clinical theory of rational-emotive therapy. In A. Ellis & R. Grieger (Eds.), Handbook of rational-emotive therapy. New York: Springer.
Ellis, A. (1979). Rational emotive therapy. In R. J. Corsini (Ed.), Current psychotherapies. Itasca, IL: Peacock.