It's Not Magic, It's Your Brain: The ABCs of Making You, Better


As part of the course of treatment during psychotherapy, I explain to clients that the brain is what will help them change. The cells in our brains using chemical and electrical interactions enable us to see, walk, talk, think, and feel. In therapy we are working to change some of those chemical interactions. So, by changing how we think and behave we can change chemical interactions and thereby change how we feel physically and emotionally. It’s a pretty straightforward concept: the key to change is not magic, it’s the brain.

Cognitive behavioral psychologists use models and methods to work with people to help them change. Upon beginning therapy, I introduce clients to the ABCs, one model that my clients find useful and easy to understand:  Action, Brain, and Consequences (adapted from Ellis and Dryden, 1987).

The model flows like this:
Action: (When something happens) => Brain: (We have thoughts about the action in our Brain) => Consequences: (There are consequences for our thoughts. These include emotions, sensations in our body, or doing something (behaviors).

Here’s an example: Action: My boss yells at me. Brain: I have thoughts about my boss. (Who does she think she is?! She thinks I’m stupid! I’ll show her!) Consequences: I feel angry (emotion.) I quit (behavior.)

In the example, my boss did not “push my buttons” nor did my boss "make" me quit. I had thoughts before my behavior. It was those thoughts that made me angry. It was my anger that led to the possible poor choice (consequence) of quitting a job.

In this model there is one area upon which we can have a high impact to change our behaviors and our emotions. That is our thoughts. The model assumes that if we can become aware of our thinking, we can make choices to change how we think and thus, improve the consequences. Importantly, psychologists work to help people overcome unproductive thinking habits that may be difficult to accomplish alone.

Many times, I encounter people looking for answers to change other people around them. They often feel frustrated, angry, depressed and anxious over their lack of success. The ABC model demonstrates that change can begin with what we can control--our thoughts and behaviors. We have the ability within ourselves (our brains) to change ourselves, our situations, and our lives. Understanding how to use this ability effectively becomes empowering.


Read More!!!  Your Brain and Willpower

The information provided here is not intended as a substitute for personal psychotherapy. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, contact your individual mental health professional, call 911, or go to the closest hospital emergency room.