Anger Management: A Cognitive Behavioral Approach > Chapter 6 - Cognitive Restructuring

The A-B-C-D Model and Thought Stopping

Outline of Session 5

  • Instructions to Group Leaders
  • Check-In Procedure
  • Suggested Remarks
  • – The A-B-C-D Model
    – Thought Stopping
  • Homework Assignment

Session 5

Instructions to Group Leaders

In this session, present the A-B-C-D Model (a form of cognitive restructuring originally developed by Albert Ellis [Ellis, 1979; Ellis & Harper, 1975]) and the technique of thought stopping. Cognitive restructuring is an advanced anger management technique that requires group members to examine and change their thought processes. People differ in their ability to learn and apply these techniques. Some may be generally familiar with cognitive restructuring, whereas others may have little or no experience with this concept. In addition, some people may initially have difficulty understanding the concept or may not yet be ready to challenge or change their irrational beliefs. It is important to accept these group members, whatever their level of readiness and understanding, and help them identify how their irrational beliefs perpetuate anger and how modifying these beliefs can prevent further escalation of anger.

[Question #21. A form of cognitive restructuring originally developed by Albert Ellis is:]

In addition to presenting the A-B-C-D Model, include a discussion on thought stopping. Thought stopping is accepted and readily understood by most clients. Regardless of whether they view particular beliefs as irrational or maladaptive, most people recognize that these specific beliefs increase anger and lead to the explosion phase (10 on the anger meter). Thought stopping provides an immediate and direct strategy for helping people manage the beliefs that cause their anger to escalate.

Check-In Procedure

Ask group members to report the highest level of anger they reached on the anger meter during the past week. Make sure they reserve 10 for situations where they lost control of their anger and experienced negative consequences. Ask them to describe the anger-provoking event that led to their highest level of anger and to identify the cues that occurred in response to the anger-provoking event. Help them classify these cues into the four cue categories. Include, as part of the Check-In Procedure, a followup of the homework assignment from last week’s session. Specifically ask group members to report on the development of their anger control plans. In addition, inquire whether they practiced the progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

Suggested Remarks

(Use the following blocked or put this in your own words.)

The A-B-C-D Model

Albert Ellis developed a model that is consistent with the way we conceptualize anger management treatment. He calls his model the A-B-C-D or rational-emotive model. In this model, “A” stands for an activating event, what we have been calling the red-flag event. “B” represents the beliefs people have about the activating event. Ellis claims that it is not the events themselves that produce feelings such as anger, but our interpretations of and beliefs about the events. “C” stands for the emotional consequences of events. In other words, these are the feelings people experience as a result of their interpretations of and beliefs concerning the event.

According to Ellis and other cognitive behavioral theorists, as people become angry, they engage in an internal dialog, called “self-talk.” For example, suppose you were waiting for a bus to arrive. As it approaches, several people push in front of you to board. In this situation, you may start to get angry. You may be thinking, “How can people be so inconsiderate! They just push me aside to get on the bus. They obviously don’t care about me or other people.” Examples of the irrational self-talk that can produce anger escalation are reflected in statements such as “People should be more considerate of my feelings,” “How dare they be so inconsiderate and disrespectful,” and “They obviously don’t care about anyone but themselves.”

Ellis says that people do not have to get angry when they encounter such an event. The event itself does not get them upset and angry; rather, it is people’s interpretations of and beliefs concerning the event that cause the anger. Beliefs underlying anger often take the form of “should” and “must.” Most of us may agree, for example, that respecting others is an admirable quality. Our belief might be, “People should always respect others.” In reality, however, people often do not respect each other in everyday encounters. You can choose to view the situation more realistically as an unfortunate defect of human beings, or you can let your anger escalate every time you witness, or are the recipient of, another person’s disrespect. Unfortunately, your perceived disrespect will keep you angry and push you toward the explosion phase. Ironically, it may even lead you to show disrespect to others, which would violate your own fundamental belief about how people should be treated.

Ellis’ approach consists of identifying irrational beliefs and disputing them with more rational or realistic perspectives (in Ellis’ model, “D” stands for dispute). You may get angry, for example, when you start thinking, “I must always be in control. I must control every situation.” It is not possible or appropriate, however, to control every situation. Rather than continue with these beliefs, you can try to dispute them. You might tell yourself, “I have no power over things I cannot control,” or “I have to accept what I cannot change.” These are examples of ways to dispute beliefs that you may have already encountered in 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

People may have many other irrational beliefs that may lead to anger. Consider an example where a friend of yours disagrees with you. You may start to think, “Everyone must like me and give me approval. ” If you hold such a belief, you are likely to get upset and angry when you face rejection. However, if you dispute this irrational belief by saying, “I can’t please everyone; some people are not going to approve of everything I do,” you will most likely start to calm down and be able to control your anger more easily.

Another common irrational belief is, “I must be respected and treated fairly by everyone.” This also is likely to lead to frustration and anger. Most folks, for example, live in an urban society where they may, at times, not be given the common courtesy they expect. This is unfortunate, but from an anger management perspective, it is better to accept the unfairness and lack of interpersonal connectedness that can result from living in an urban society. Thus, to dispute this belief, it is helpful to tell yourself, “I can’t be expected to be treated fairly by everyone.”

Other beliefs that may lead to anger include “Everyone should follow the rules,” or “Life should be fair,” or “Good should prevail over evil,” or “People should always do the right thing.” These are beliefs that are not always followed by everyone in society, and, usually, there is little you can do to change that. How might you dispute these beliefs? In other words, what thoughts that are more rational and adaptive and will not lead to anger can be substituted for such beliefs?

For people with anger control problems, these irrational beliefs can lead to the explosion phase (10 on the anger meter) and to the negative consequences of the postexplosion phase. It is often better to change your outlook by disputing your beliefs and creating an internal dialog or self-talk that is more rational and adaptive.

Exhibit 6. The A-B-C-D Model

A-B-C-D Model*

A = Activating Situation or Event


B = Belief System
What you tell yourself about the event (your self-talk).
Your beliefs and expectations of others



C = Consequence
How you feel about the event based on your self-talk



D = Dispute
Examine your beliefs and expectations
Are they unrealistic or irrational?


*Based on the work of Albert Ellis, 1979, and Albert Ellis and R.A. Harper, 1975.

[Question #22. A-B-C-D Model includes:]

Thought Stopping

A second approach to controlling anger is called thought stopping. It provides an immediate and direct alternative to the A-B-C-D Model. In this approach, you simply tell yourself (through a series of self-commands) to stop thinking the thoughts that are getting you angry. For example, you might tell yourself, “I need to stop thinking these thoughts. I will only get into trouble if I keep thinking this way,” or “Don’t buy into this situation,” or “Don’t go there.” In other words, instead of trying to dispute your thoughts and beliefs as outlined in the A-B-C-D Model described above, the goal is to stop your current pattern of angry thoughts before they lead to an escalation of anger and loss of control.

[Question #23. An immediate and direct alternative to the A-B-C-D Model is:]

Homework Assignment

Have group members refer to the participant workbook. Ask them to monitor and record their highest level of anger on the anger meter during the coming week. Ask them to identify the event that made them angry, the cues that were associated with the anger-provoking event, and the strategies they used to manage their anger in response to the event. Ask members to review the A-B-C-D Model and to record at least two irrational beliefs and how they would dispute these beliefs. In addition, instruct them to use the thought-stopping technique, preferably once a day during the coming week. Remind them to continue to develop their anger control plans.

Anger Management: A Cognitive Behavioral Approach > Chapter 6 - Cognitive Restructuring
Page Last Modified On: April 18, 2015, 11:57 AM