Albert Ellis (September 27, 1913 - July 2007) is an American cognitive
behavioral therapist who in 1955 developed Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT).
The following has been adapted from the Wikipedia website.
Ellis was born to a Jewish family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the eldest of three children, with a brother two years younger and a sister who was four years younger. Ellis' father
was a businessman who experienced minimal success at a succession of business ventures; he showed only a modicum of affection to his children and was often away from home on business trips during their
In his autobiography, Ellis characterized his mother as a self-absorbed woman with a bipolar disorder.*** At times, according to Ellis, she was a "bustling chatterbox who never listened". She would expound on her strong opinions
on most subjects but rarely provided a factual basis for these views. Like his father, Ellis's mother was emotionally distant from her children. Ellis recounted that she was sleeping when he left for school and was usually not at home when he returned.
Instead of reporting feeling bitter, he took on the responsibility of caring for his siblings. He purchased an alarm clock with his own money and woke and dressed his younger brother and sister. When the Great Depression struck, all three children sought
work to assist the family.
Ellis was sickly as a child and suffered numerous health problems through his youth. At the age of five he was hospitalized with a kidney disease. He was also hospitalized with tonsillitis, which led to a severe streptococcal infection
requiring emergency surgery. He reported that he had eight hospitalizations between the ages of five and seven. One of these lasted nearly a year. His parents provided little or no emotional support for him during these years, rarely visiting or consoling
him. Ellis stated that he learned to confront his adversities as he had "developed a growing indifference to that dereliction".
Ellis entered the field of clinical psychology after first earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in business from the City University of New York. He began a brief career in business, followed by one as a writer. These endeavors took place
during the Great Depression that began in 1929, and Ellis found that business was poor and had no success in publishing his fiction. Finding that he could write non-fiction well, Ellis researched and wrote on human sexuality. His lay counseling in this
subject convinced him to seek a new career in clinical psychology.
In 1942, Ellis began his studies for a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Columbia University, which trained psychologists mostly in psychoanalysis.
He completed his Master of Arts in clinical psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University in June 1943, and started a part-time private practice while still working on his Ph.D. degree – possibly because there was no licensing
of psychologists in New York at that time. Ellis began publishing articles even before receiving his Ph.D.; in 1946 he wrote a critique of many widely-used pencil-and-paper personality tests. He concluded that only the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality
Inventory*** met the standards of a research-based instrument.
After the completion of his doctorate, Ellis sought additional training in psychoanalysis. Like most psychologists of that time, he was interested in the theories of Sigmund Freud.
Shortly after receiving his Ph.D. in 1947, Ellis began a personal analysis and program of supervision with Richard Hulbeck (whose own analyst had been Hermann Rorschach, a leading training analyst at the Karen Horney Institute.) Karen
Horney would be the single greatest influence in Ellis's thinking, although the writings of Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm and Harry Stack Sullivan also played a role in shaping his psychological
models. Ellis credits Alfred Korzybski and his book, Science and Sanity, for starting him on the philosophical path for founding rational-emotive therapy.
By January 1953 his break with psychoanalysis was complete, and he began calling himself a rational therapist. Ellis was now advocating a new more active and directive type of psychotherapy. By 1955 he dubbed his new approach Rational
Therapy (RT). RT required that the therapist help the client understand — and act on the understanding — that his personal philosophy contains beliefs that lead to his own emotional pain. This new approach stressed actively working to change
a client’s self-defeating beliefs and behaviors by demonstrating their irrationality and rigidity. Ellis related everything to these core irrational beliefs such as "I must be perfect"
and "I must be loved by everyone." Ellis believed that through rational analysis, people can understand their errors in light of the core irrational beliefs and then construct a more rational position.
In 1954 Ellis began teaching his new technique to other therapists, and by 1957 he formally set forth the first cognitive behavior therapy by proposing that therapists help people adjust their thinking and behavior as the treatment
for neuroses. Two years later Ellis published the book How to Live with a Neurotic which elaborated on his new method. In 1960 Ellis presented a paper on his new approach at the American Psychological Association convention in Chicago. There was mild
interest, but few recognized that the paradigm that in a generation would become the zeitgeist had been set forth.
At that time the prevailing interest in experimental psychological was behaviorism, while in clinical psychology it was the psychoanalytic schools of notables such as Freud, Jung, Adler, and Perls. Despite the fact that Ellis’ approach
emphasized cognitive, emotive, and behavioral methods, his strong cognitive emphasis provoked almost everyone with the possible exception of the followers of Alfred Adler. Consequently, he was often received with hostility at professional conferences
and in print.
Despite the slow adoption of his approach, Ellis founded his own institute. The Institute for Rational Living was founded as a not-for-profit organization in 1959. By 1968 it was chartered by the New York State Board of Regents as a
training institute and psychological clinic. This was no trivial feat as New York State had a Mental Hygiene Act which mandated psychiatric management of mental health clinics. Ellis had broken ground by founding an institute purely based on psychological
control and principles.
In 2003 Albert Ellis received an award from the Association for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (UK) for the formulation and development of REBT. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Association. At the same time he celebrated his 90th
birthday, an event attended by luminaries such as Bill Clinton and the Dali Lama.
In 2004 he was taken ill with serious intestinal problems, which led to hospitalization and the removal of his large intestine. He returned to work after a few months of being nursed back to health by Debbie Joffe, his assistant, who
later became his wife. In 2005 he was subjected to removal from all his professional duties, and from the board of his own institute after a dispute over the management policies of the institute.
The Essence of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: A Comprehensive Approach to Treatment by Albert Ellis, Ph.D. (The following has been adapted from The
Essence of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy website).
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is a comprehensive approach to psychological treatment that deals not only with the emotional and behavioral aspects of human disturbance, but places a great deal of stress on its thinking component.
Human beings are exceptionally complex, and there neither seems to be any simple way in which they become “emotionally disturbed,” nor is there a single way in which they can be helped to be less-defeating. Their psychological problems arise
from their misperceptions and mistaken cognitions about what they perceive; from their emotional underreactions or overreactions to normal and unusual stimuli; and from their habitually dysfunctional behavior patterns, which enable them to keep repeating
nonadjustive responses even when they “know” that they are behaving poorly.
REBT is based on the assumption that what we label our “emotional” reactions are largely caused by our conscious and unconscious evaluations, interpretations, and philosophies. Thus, we feel anxious or depressed because
we strongly convince ourselves that it is terrible when we fail at something or that we can’t stand the pain of being rejected. We feel hostile because we vigorously believe that people who behave unfairly to us absolutely should not act the way
they indubitably do, and that it is utterly insufferable when they frustrate us.
Like stoicism, a school of philosophy that existed some two thousand years ago, rational emotive behavior therapy holds that there are virtually no good reasons why human beings have to make themselves very neurotic, no matter what
kind of negative stimuli impinge on them. It gives them full leeway to feel strong negative emotions, such as sorrow, regret, displeasure, annoyance, rebellion, and determination to change social conditions. It believes, however, that when they experience
certain self-defeating and unhealthy emotions (such as panic, depression, worthlessness, or rage), they are usually adding an unrealistic and illogical hypothesis to their empirically-based view that their own acts or those of others are reprehensible
or inefficient and that something would better be done about changing them.
Rational emotive behavior therapists — often within the first session or two of seeing a client — can almost always put their finger on a few central irrational philosophies of life which this client vehemently believes.
They can show clients how these ideas inevitably lead to emotional problems and hence to presenting clinical symptoms, can demonstrate exactly how they forthrightly question and challenge these ideas, and can often induce them to work to uproot them and
to replace them with scientifically testable hypotheses about themselves and the world which are not likely to get them into future neurotic difficulties.
12 IRRATIONAL IDEAS THAT CAUSE AND SUSTAIN NEUROSIS
Rational therapy holds that certain core irrational ideas, which have been clinically observed, are at the root of most neurotic disturbance. They are:
(1) The idea that it is a dire necessity for adults to be loved by significant others for almost everything they do — instead of their concentrating on their own self-respect, on winning approval for practical purposes, and on loving rather than
on being loved.
(2) The idea that certain acts are awful or wicked, and that people who perform such acts should be severely damned — instead of the idea that certain acts are self-defeating or antisocial, and that people who perform such acts are behaving stupidly,
ignorantly, or neurotically, and would be better helped to change. People’s poor behaviors do not make them rotten individuals.
(3) The idea that it is horrible when things are not the way we like them to be — instead of the idea that it is too bad, that we would better try to change or control bad conditions so that they become more satisfactory, and,
if that is not possible, we had better temporarily accept and gracefully lump their existence.
(4) The idea that human misery is invariably externally caused and is forced on us by outside people and events — instead of the idea that neurosis is largely caused by the view that we take of unfortunate conditions.
(5) The idea that if something is or may be dangerous or fearsome we should be terribly upset and endlessly obsess about it — instead of the idea that one would better frankly face it and render it non-dangerous and, when that
is not possible, accept the inevitable.
(6) The idea that it is easier to avoid than to face life difficulties and self-responsibilities — instead of the idea that the so-called easy way is usually much harder in the long run.
(7) The idea that we absolutely need something other or stronger or greater than ourselves on which to rely — instead of the idea that it is better to take the risks of thinking and acting less dependently.
(8) The idea that we should be thoroughly competent, intelligent, and achieving in all possible respects — instead of the idea that we would better do rather than always need to do well and accept ourselves as a quite imperfect
creature, who has general human limitations and specific fallibilities.
(9) The idea that because something once strongly affected our life, it should indefinitely affect it — instead of the idea that we can learn from our past experiences but not be overly-attached to or prejudiced by them.
(10) The idea that we must have certain and perfect control over things — instead of the idea that the world is full of probability and chance and that we can still enjoy life despite this.
(11) The idea that human happiness can be achieved by inertia and inaction — instead of the idea that we tend to be happiest when we are vitally absorbed in creative pursuits, or when we are devoting ourselves to people or projects
(12) The idea that we have virtually no control over our emotions and that we cannot help feeling disturbed about things
— instead of the idea that we have real control over our destructive emotions if we choose to work at changing the musturbatory hypotheses which we often employ to create them.
MAIN DIFFERENCES FROM OTHER SCHOOLS
1. De-emphasis of early childhood. While REBT accepts the fact that neurotic states are sometimes originally learned or aggravated by early teaching or irrational beliefs by one’s family and by society, it holds that these early-acquired
irrationalities are not automatically sustained over the years by themselves. Instead, they are very actively and creatively re-instilled by the individuals themselves. In many cases the therapist spends very little time on the clients’
parents or family upbringing; and yet helps them to bring about significant changes in their disturbed patterns of living. The therapist demonstrates that no matter what the clients’ basic irrational philosophy of life, nor when and how they acquired
it, they are presently disturbed because they still believe this self-defeating world- and self-view. If they will observe exactly what they are irrationally thinking in the present, and will challenge and question these self-statements they will usually
2. Emphasis on deep philosophical change and scientific thinking. Because of its belief that human neurotic disturbance is largely ideologically or philosophically based, REBT strives for a thorough-going philosophic reorientation of
a people’s outlook on life, rather than for a mere removal of any of their mental or psychosomatic symptoms. It teaches the clients, for ex ample, that human adults do not need to be accepted or loved, even though it is highly desirable that they
be. REBT encourages individuals to be healthily sad or regretful when they are rejected, frustrated, or deprived. But it tries to teach them how to overcome feelings of intense hurt, self-deprecation, and depression. As in science, clients are shown how
to question the dubious hypotheses that they construct about themselves and others. If they believe (as alas, millions of us do), that they are worthless because they perform certain acts badly, they are not merely taught to ask,
“What is really bad about my acts?” and “Where is the evidence that they are wrong or unethical?” More importantly, they are shown how to ask themselves, “Granted that my acts may be mistaken, why am I a totally bad person
for performing them? Where is the evidence that I must always be right in order to consider my-self worthy? Assuming that it is preferable for me to act well rather than badly, why do I have to do what is preferable?”
Similarly, when people perceive (let us suppose, correctly) the erroneous and unjust acts of others, and become enraged at these others, they are shown how to stop and ask themselves, “Why is my hypothesis that the people who
committed these errors and injustices are no damned good a true hypothesis? Granted that it would be better if they acted more competently or fairly, why should they have to do what would be better?” REBT teaches that to be human is to be fallible,
and that if we are to get on in life with minimal upset and discomfort, we would better accept this reality — and then unanxiously work hard to become a little less fallible.
3. Use of psychological homework. REBT agrees with most Freudian, neo-Freudian, Adlerian, and Jungian schools that acquiring insight, especially so-called emotional insight, into the source of their neurosis is a most important part
of people’s corrective teaching. It distinguishes sharply, however, between so-called intellectual and emotional insight, and operationally defines emotional insight as individuals’ knowing or seeing the cause of their problems and working,
in a determined and energetic manner, to apply this knowledge to the solution of these problems. The rational emotive behavior therapist helps clients to acknowledge that there is usually no other way for him to get better but by their continually observing,
questioning, and challenging their own belief-systems, and by their working and practicing to change their own irrational beliefs by verbal and behavioral counter-propagandizing activity. In REBT, actual homework assignments are frequently agreed upon
in individual and group therapy. Assignments may include dating a person whom the client is afraid to ask for a date; looking for a new job; experimentally returning to live with a husband with whom one has previously continually quarreled; etc. The therapist
quite actively tries to encourage clients to undertake such assignments as an integral part of the therapeutic process.
The REBT practitioner is able to give clients unconditional rather than conditional positive regard because the REBT philosophy holds that no humans are to be damned for anything, no matter how execrable their acts may be. Because of
the therapist’s unconditional acceptance of them as a human, and actively teaching clients how to fully accept themselves, clients are able to express their feelings more openly and to stop rating themselves even when they acknowledge the inefficiency
or immorality of some of their acts.
In many highly important ways, then, rational emotive behavior therapy utilizes expressive-experimental methods and behavioral techniques. It is not, however, primarily interested in helping people ventilate emotion and feel better,
but in showing them how they can truly get better, and lead to happier, non-self-defeating, self-actualized lives.