In typical usage of the term, the ABD student has completed the required preparatory coursework, and passed any required preliminary and comprehensive examinations, but has not completed the research requirements, typically including the writing and defense of a dissertation .  A student attaining this level may be granted a formal Candidate in Philosophy degree or status at a few institutions. Some universities, including Columbia , Yale and George Washington , may award a formal Master of Philosophy (. or MPhil) degree for these achievements.    In some universities, All But Dissertation is a formal status. 
Sure, the best way to avoid the psychic wounds of not completing the dissertation is to squeeze that bad boy out any way you can. But we must also remember that students leave . programs for innumerable reasons, usually complex combinations of things in and out of their control. Terminal ABDs will work for much of their lives to overcome what is at best a sense of lingering incompleteness, and at worst lasting anguish and damage. But it is the academic establishment’s treatment of those who fail initiation—disowning, shame, refusal to reveal attrition—that is one of its dirtiest secrets.