June 25, 2007
The founder of rational emotive behavior therapy, Albert Ellis, died Tuesday at the age of 93 following an extended illness. His work and theories provided the basis for what is today known as rational-emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) a form of cognitive behavior therapy, which has become an effective treatment approach for many different disorders.
His straight talk approach to cognitive therapy, with an underlying focus on general principles was groundbreaking in its day; in contrast today, many counselors apply many of his theories and therapeutic principles in therapeutic situations. It is interesting to note that while Ellis's ideas were initially met with resistance within the psychological community, a 1982 survey of clinical psychologists ranked Ellis as the second most influential therapist (behind Carl Rogers and ahead of Sigmund Freud).
Where the Freudians maintained that a painstaking exploration of childhood experience was critical to understanding neurosis and curing it, Dr. Ellis believed in short-term therapy that called on patients to focus on what was happening in their lives at the moment and to take immediate action to change their behavior. “Neurosis,” he said, was “just a high-class word for whining.” He was also quoted as saying, “the trouble with most therapy is that it helps you to feel better,” he said in a 2004 article in The New York Times. “But you don’t get better. You have to back it up with action, action, action.”
His basic message was that all people are born with a tendency to distort everyday perceptions that sabotage their ultimate quest for happiness. But he recognized that people also had the capacity to change themselves. The role of therapists according to REBT is to intervene directly, using strategies and homework exercises to help patients first learn to accept themselves as they are (unconditional self-acceptance, he called it) and then to retrain themselves to avoid destructive emotions — to "establish new ways of being and behaving,” as he put it.
In 2005, Ellis became involved in legal disputes with the institute that he had founded after he was removed from its board and his weekly Friday seminars were canceled. While he was reinstated last year after a judge ruled that he had been wrongly removed, his relationship with the institute remained strained.