Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Cognitive Journaling Using the ABC Model

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has many different interventions including Cognitive Journaling using the “ABC Model ” or a variation of the model where we include the letter “D” for Disputing.

Disputing is just an alternative belief that would lead to healthier consequences.

Please look at our previous posts for a brief overview of CBT and a brief explanation of the “ABC Model”.

Below is an outline on the basic elements in Cognitive Journaling.

Activating Event

1. The situation. Briefly describe the situation that led to your unpleasant feelings. This will help you remember it later if you want to review your notes.

2. Initial thought. What thought first crossed your mind? This was probably a subconscious or automatic thought that you have had before.


1. Negative thinking. Identify the negative thinking behind your initial thought. Choose one or more from the list of common types of negative thinking.

2. Source of negative belief. Can you trace your thinking back to a situation or person? Is there a deep belief or fear driving your thinking? Search your heart.


1. Consider the consequences. What are the short-term and long-term consequences if you continue to think like this? Look at the physical, psychological, professional, and emotional consequences.


1. Challenge your thinking. Look at the evidence both for and against your thinking. Have you been in a similar situation before? What did you learn from it? What strengths do you bring to this situation? Make sure you see the whole picture.

2. Alternative thinking. The previous steps of the thought record helped you understand your thinking and lower your defenses. Now that you’ve considered the facts, write down a healthier way of thinking.

3. Positive belief and affirmation. Write down a statement that reflects your healthier beliefs. Find something that you can repeat to yourself.

4. Action plan. What action can you take to support your new thinking?

5. Improvement. Do you feel slightly better or more optimistic? This step reinforces the idea that if you change your thinking, you will change your mood. Gradually over time, your thinking and life will begin to improve.

Example of how a Cognitive Journal worksheet may look like:

Cognitive Journal

Cognitive Journal PIC

This thought record template is a variation of a public service provided by It can be printed without restrictions. For a more complete guide to cognitive therapy refer to the book “I Want to Change My Life” by Dr. Steven M. Melemis. This handout may complement the work you do with your doctor or therapist, but should only be used in combination with professional guidance.