Building Blocks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Hey there! Welcome again. We're continuing from the first part of CBT blogs which you can read from here.

The ABCs are the basic building blocks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. So there are:

• A = Activating event (antecedents): What event(s) occurred that triggered a response for you? Were there certain aspects of the event that made it more triggering? Are there certain specifics that are showing up over and over across multiple events? 

• B = Belief(s): What automatic thought(s) arose in response to the activating event? 

• C = Consequences: How did this make you feel, both emotionally and in your body? How did it affect your behaviour? Did it produce any changes in the way you view yourself, others, or the world around you? 


When we react to triggers, those reactions can involve four components: thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and behaviours. 

Prompting events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviour often become so tightly intertwined that there seems to be an inevitability to each of those pieces. V happened, so I will think X, so I will feel Y, and I will react by doing Z. When you work on teasing the pieces apart and consider them individual, suddenly there’s a lot less inevitability and more potential targets for change. 

When using the ABCs to evaluate our responses to events, we often fail to notice the B and directly link A and C. This feels quite disempowering, as there is a sense that we can’t change A, so we are forced to put up with C. If we can recognize that B is often distorted, particularly by mental illness, that gives us a target to work on that’s a lot more malleable than the event A that we have no control over. 

For example, another person can’t directly make you feel something. Their action is a prompting event, but your emotional response is not a foregone conclusion. That’s not to say that it’s easy to change your response, but separating prompting event and feeling response opens up a window, however tiny, for change to occur. 

Reflection questions:  

Can you think of a time in the last few days when you felt triggered, and identify the ABCs? 

When you were thinking of the B and C in your ABCs, how did you find it trying to separate out thoughts, emotions, physiological sensations, and behaviours? 

Identifying Emotions 

In order to understand how our emotions are fitting into the overall picture of our responses, we need to first be able to recognize those emotions. There may be one emotion that’s most prominent, with others bubbling away In the background. Using an emotion wheel or an emotion list can be really helpful in starting to identify those behind-the-scenes emotions. 

Emotions themselves are neither bad nor good. They’re a product of what your mind and body are reacting to, and can serve as clues to understand what’s driving your reactions. Let’s say you’re feeling anger towards someone, but you scratch beneath the emotional surface and discover there’s hurt, which is linked to various beliefs. That might be a crucial piece in linking your A-B-C’s for that situation. 

While emotions can be good clues to internal responses, they’re not a reliable way of evaluating others’ motives. If a friend was supposed to call to set up a coffee date for the two of you, and they didn’t, you might feel disappointed, hurt, or even worthless. Those emotions are completely valid, but what was going on in your “C” doesn’t mean that there was something inherent in “A” to produce that. 


Pritam Chakraborty

As I was moving through life, I occasionally saw brief glimpses of beauty.

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