The critical A
When I initially studied Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) between 2009 and 2011, while in graduate school for counseling, I was introduced to the ABC Model. Whereas an Action occurs, the Belief about it then leads to a Consequence.
While I understood that this straightforward psychotherapeutic method could be of significant use in my own life, I didn’t seek certification to practice REBT at the time. In 2021, underwent training from the Albert Ellis Institute and received an official REBT practitioner certificate.
During the training process, emphasis was devoted to establishing the “critical A” (Action)—information about an activating event that a person considers to be most meaningful. Per my notes from the period of instruction, “REBT is about specificity.”
Specificity may be defined as the quality of belonging or relating uniquely to a particular subject, or simply the state of being precise or particular. In this regard, the practice of REBT concerns the quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate.
Awareness of the critical A is crucial when helping clients with formulating precisely what about an Action they Believe is most bothersome. Without concrete focus, an event or situation may become too abstract than to address in a single session.
For example, suppose a client’s Action involves an undesirable performance review at work. In this case, client X may provide the following details:
Well, I have bad news. You see, today, I received a poor performance review from my boss. I knew that bastard would find a way to screw me over! Can you believe he had the audacity to list under the Suggested Areas of Improvement section that I need to improve across most areas of focus!? I mean, my last review—from a different supervisor, was exemplary. Now, under this new asshole, I’ve somehow failed to meet expectations? My overall performance went from 95% previously to 45% at present. My performance is apparently “consistently below expectations,” though not one complaint has ever been listed in my official file. You know what else? You’re not gonna’ believe this! He…ooooh, this slimy prick said in order to “win” his “good graces,” I’d need to “start demonstrating” that I actually want my position—something I’ve maintained before he ever entered this damned company! I’ve given 13 years to this organization, though he waltzes in within the past three months and now has the gall to make me “win” what I don’t want in the first place!?
Though I may infer a number of foreseeable Beliefs about client X’s reported Action, the event is far too broad than to fit into a manageable ABC formula: Action + Belief = Consequence ÷ Disputation = Effective new belief.
Therefore, it is worthwhile to use precision and establish the critical A. After briefly discussing the event, client X reports the following with specificity:
Today, I received a performance review that wasn’t what I expected or what I think I deserve.
Sometimes, clients may consider it necessary to provide all sorts of details so that I can develop a clear picture of why the Consequence (e.g., anger) is so uncomfortable. However, specificity of the critical A will allow for more time to be devoted to the Belief and how we can Dispute this self-disturbing narrative.
When thinking of a concrete example from rap that could illustrate the abstract Actions with which some of my newer clients present, I thought of “Precision” by Paranom and Purpose. While no diss is intended, see if you can decipher what is being stated in the nonconcrete lyrics:
Crashin’ where the masses lay
Amassin’ master fades
Lashin’ task to prey
Catch the faster blade
That slash the gashes
On a pasture’s wave
Grass is casted in the atlas
Crushed between the page
Rushin’ in the wind
Your pipes just gaspin’ on a silent grave
Avenge amendments to the messages
To residents of regiments
That effortlessly will manage the Everest
Muster seed forces
To move the portions of the Earth
With the faith of the purp
The escapin’ inertia exerted
Right through the pores is
Fertile creative aura
Murder death to your order
This is chaos
‘Til we all civilized, so move your way out
A seven dimension hologram
Rise is the layout
Pullin’ your weight out
Is the soul and the heart of a champion
On the mantle
Your contortionist dismount
The unfortunate abortionist
Rebirth conquerin’, route
The might odyssey
Of exhibition in typography
Plight gotta be the hunger
Fight plungin’ in the wonder
Righteousness on the come up
Lightenin’ that strike the under
Guard that 1-2 like John Stockton
Maracas that shake the soundscapes
Drown a siren properly
Stop and frisk the shots
That targeted hypocrisy
Can’t put a finger followin’ the diction
A language of fire
‘Cause the friction of hearts
Sparked when they started
Listenin’ to the art
Imparted secrets to departed
From Boston to Martians
He live and he awesome
Arrive with your caution
Your demise in a coffin
This more a wildebeest tossin’
Than beats flossin’
On the facial
Willies quiet interracial
Try to fit in the power
Like your throat is outer spatial
Whenever I question I cause the answer
All my chancellors livin’ the real vantage
Though I enjoy the track and how lyrics dance along the instrumental, I have no idea what is being communicated. Similarly, abstraction with a presented Action can be a bit confusing.
Therefore, it’s necessary to use precision when framing the critical A. Drilling down to the core of an event affords clients an opportunity to better determine the self-disturbing Belief about the occurrence. Without specificity, it’s easy to become lost in thought.
I’m grateful to have learned about precision through focus on the critical A. For a number of years prior to having undergone official REBT training, I became effortlessly entranced with Action-based details which offered little more than broad descriptors about occurrences.
Using “Precision” by Paranom and Purpose as an example, I hope to have demonstrated how—though perhaps well-intentioned—obviously abstract content can lead to bewilderment when trying to understand presented information. It’s dizzying!
For this reason, specificity is the solution to the proper framing of an ABC scenario. As is the case with client X, once an Action is concretely formulated, the real work within a session may begin.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
Photo credit, photo by: sofijaV, fair use
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