Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), died today at the age of 93, of apparent kidney and heart failure. The approach to psychotherapy Ellis pioneered helped change the very nature of therapy from the unlimited, undirected psychodynamic approach, to solution-focused, goal- and action-oriented shorter term therapy that emphasized the importance of a patient’s emotions and thoughts in the here-and-now (rather than focusing on one’s childhood).
Shortly after receiving his Ph.D. in 1947, Ellis began a personal analysis and program of supervision with Richard Hulbeck. 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), which was eventually called rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT).
Developed in the 1950’s, it challenged the deliberate, slow-moving methodology of Sigmund Freud, the prevailing psychotherapeutic treatment at the time.
REBT requires that the therapist help the client understand — and act on the understanding — that his or her own personal philosophy contains beliefs that lead to his or her 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.
“The trouble with most therapy is that it helps you feel better,” he told The New York Times in an interview in 2004. “But you don’t get better. You have to back it up with action, action, action.”
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 set forth would become the zeitgeist within a generation.
At that time the prevailing interest in experimental psychology 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.
Some critics complained that his seminars were more stand-up comedy than serious lecture. Still, despite his iconoclasm, or perhaps because of it, rational emotive behavior therapy became one of the most popular systems of psychotherapy in the 1970’s and 80’s. In 1985, the American Psychological Association presented Dr. Ellis with its award for “distinguished professional contributions.”
Dr. Ellis was the author or co-author of more than 60 books, many of them best sellers. Among them were “A Guide to Successful Marriage,” “Overcoming Procrastination,” “How to Live With a Neurotic,” “The Art of Erotic Seduction,” “Sex Without Guilt,” “A New Guide to Rational Living,” and “How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything – Yes, Anything.”
In 2003 Ellis received an award from the Association for Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (UK) for the formulation and development of REBT. At the same time he celebrated his 90th birthday, an event attended by luminaries such as Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.
In 2005, Dr. Ellis sued the institution after it removed him from its board and canceled his Friday seminars. He and his supporters claimed that the institute had fallen into the hands of psychologists who were moving it away from his revolutionary therapy techniques.
The board said it had acted out of economic necessity, asserting that payouts to Dr. Ellis for medical and other expenses were jeopardizing the institute’s tax-exempt status. Dr. Ellis was by then requiring daily nursing care. Some board members said they were uncomfortable with his confrontational style and eccentricities and saw him as a liability.
In January 2006, a state Supreme Court judge ruled that the board had been wrong in ousting Dr. Ellis without proper notice and reinstated him. But Ms. Rosellini, his spokeswoman, said Dr. Ellis’s relations with the board remained strained afterward.
Despite his failing health, Dr. Ellis maintained a demanding schedule late into his life.
Credit: This article includes material from the Wikipedia article, Albert Ellis, and wire sources, and is therefore not copyrighted by Psych Central.